Elegante Welt

– issue seven, May 1914: New Season Number.

Mustard-yellow dust billows over your fingers

as you tease the magazine’s leaves apart.

Then you discover the ballroom at the stapled centre:

black ties, tiaras, a Milky Way of chandeliers.


One couple stands out. Her silk gown exposes

a salient of back where her partner’s fingers advance.

With a deft pink flick the artist made her smile;

but his lips are pinched under firing-slit eyes,

his arm thrust out like a carbine on bayonet drill.


One spring morning, a Frau Schmidt or Frau Fricke

forgot Kinder, Kirche, Küche for half an hour,

enraptured as she stared into the picture:

though rumours of war swelled like a stomach under satin

she cared for nothing but that dress, that man.


In her elegant world, love’s republic stretched from Brest

to Moscow: no one’s tongue contorted round Sarajevo;

so she stepped out and tangoed beside the gigolo,

their studs and sequins brilliant as the flares

of detachments linking for dawn manoeuvres.


William Stephenson