A Moment of Reflection

By Andrew Motion

28 June 1914

Although an assassin has tried
and failed to blow him to pieces earlier this morning,
Archduke Ferdinand has let it be known
he will very soon complete his journey
as planned along the quay in Sarajevo.

For a moment, however,
he has paused to recover his composure
at the window of a private room in the Town Hall,
after finding the blood of his aide-de-camp
spattered over the manuscript of the speech
he was previously unable to complete.

And indeed,
the prospect of an Austrian brewery in the distance
is reassuring,
likewise the handsome bulk of the barracks
filled with several thousand soldiers of the fatherland.

This is how those who survive today will remember him:

a man thinking his thoughts
until his wife has finished her duties—
the Countess Chotek, with her pinched yet puddingy features,
to whom he will whisper shortly,
‘Sophie, live for our children’,
although she will not hear.

As for his own memories:

the Head of the local Tourist Bureau has now arrived
and taken it upon himself to suggest
the Archduke might be happy to recall the fact
that only last week he bagged his three thousandth stag.

Was this, the Head dares to enquire,
with the double-barrelled Mannlicher
made for him especially—
the same weapon he used to dispatch
two thousand one hundred and fifty game birds
in a single day,
and sixty boars in a hunt led by the Kaiser?

These are remarkable achievements
the Head continues,
on the same level as the improvement
the Archduke has suggested in the hunting of hare,
by which the beaters,
forming themselves into a wedge-shape,
squeeze those notoriously elusive creatures
towards a particular spot
where he can exceed the tally of every other gun.

In the silence that follows
it is not obvious whether the Archduke
has heard the question.

He has heard it.

He is more interested, however,
in what these questions bring to mind:

an almost infinite number of woodcock,
pigeon, quail, pheasant and partridge,
wild boars bristling flank to flank,
mallard and teal and geese
dangling from the antlers of stags,
layer and layer of rabbits
and other creatures that are mere vermin—

a haul that he predicts will increase
once the business of today has been completed.

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