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July 11, 2011

Poetic Biography: “Dizzy in Westminster” by Elaine Feinstein

by quaesitor

Here’s another gem from Elaine Feinstein’s lovely anthology of city recollections and reflections. This time though it is of a more historical nature, the tribute from of a contemporary Jewish Briton about another, one of the great leaders of the Victorian era, Benjamin Disraeli (aka Dizzy).

Feinstein’s is a wonderfully succinct biographical sketch which conveys so much in just 5 stanzas. It superbly hints at psychological complexity, social hurdles mounted, political ambitions and rivalries, and even politically incorrect views and politics. But for all this realism, her admiration is justified and helps the reader understand Disraeli’s immense significance.

An excellent introduction to an extraordinary character.

Dizzy in Westminster

Glossy black ringlets, blistering waistcoats, silver buckled shoes
Where did you get the nerve for such flamboyance?
Not from your bookish father, skull-capped and scholarly,
whose anger with his Synagogue released you
into the gentile world, a baptised Jew.

Always in debt, and eager for renown, only
literary fame and a witty tongue gave you
entry to river parties and heady dinners
where politicians ate swans stuffed with truffles,
and named women readily became your tutors.

How did you bewitch those stolid gentlemen
Of the shires to choose you for a leader?
Baptism did not make you less a Jew,
cartoonists mocked your aquiline profile
and drooping lip. But Parliament was your theatre.

Across the Dispatch Box, Gladstone
disliked your eloquence and found you
slippery, your talent opportunist –
while you thought him a prig. Let us
confess your policy imperialist,

your cleverest foreign deals somehow
congruent with your own extravagance.
Yet courage trumps all and demands tribute.
You flattered, entertained, but never cringed.
And that, dear Earl of Beaconsfield, I salute.

from Cities, p57

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