Lady Hester Stanhope

by Dorta Jagić


Lady Hester Stanhope

(born in Chevening, Southeast England, 1776 – 1839)

 

Dear Wirginia,

That wacky Lady Hester had her own room and dough.

After her employer, the British Prime Minister and bachelor,

beloved uncle William Pitt, died mildly in wealth,

the state assigned her

an enviable sum --

 £1200 a month.

British high society was stunned –

convulsed like the form of her red high-heels.

Years later she jumped

from the bottom of crystal glasses, through monocles,

towards the flying carpets and

tender birds of oriental letters.

She was 33.

How symbolic!

 

Exploring Ashkelon she knew

this quest would be known

as the first modern trek through the Holy land.

 

Romantics and celebrities admired;

they say when she came to Athens,

the drunken Lord Byron leapt in the sea

in proper welcome, like some male siren.

 

After the shipwreck near Cairo she lost all, took off

her thin dress, donned men’s waterproof clothing

and continued towards the spicy East.

Refusing the veil

she tore down every wall and veil of this world

until, with twenty-two camels,

she broke through eastern cities’ brass gates

tearing their strict laws apart.

With her nose-tip pointing towards Palmyra,

she crossed a desert of scorpions and Bedouins

 

became the only woman

welcomed with a laurel crown

in that strange city.

From then the turban on her shaved head

was as a fat ouroboros

gnawing at its own ego-tail.

 

Emir Mahannah el Fadel was not alone

in dubbing her Queen Hester. But the ancient clay

laughed at those titles.

She sought gold florins buried under Gaza,

yet only unearthed a seven-legged, headless

marble statue. Like an omen! She smashed and threw it

in the hungry gullet of the sea.

At last

she gave away her camels,

found peace in the Mar Elias monastery;

later atop Sidon hill in a house she called Dahr El Sitt,

she welcomed hundreds of refugees, ruled the region

with her monthly pension and lavish gifts.

The secret words of the desert wind

she translated to her whim:

I am the Morning Star, principal rider of this world.

 

At last, despite the silk, the alabaster and cashmere

she sank into senility, robbed by her servants.

Dear Wirginia,

she did not write in her cell, just lay alone

with two hunchbacked horses

seemingly sacred to her

in place of a bed –

received guests only at nightfall,

not wanting them to see her human

(all-too-human) face and hands,

walled into that fortress on the hill

like an idol, like a statue.

Translated by Miloš Đuđević and Damir Šodan