Author:

The Last Caesar

I

Now there was one who came in later days
To play at Emperor: in the dead of night
Stole crown and sceptre, and stood forth to light
In sudden purple. The dawn’s straggling rays
Showed Paris fettered, murmuring in amaze,
With red hands at her throat–a piteous sight.
Then the new Cæsar, stricken with affright
At his own daring, shrunk from public gaze

In the Elysée, and had lost the day
But that around him flocked his birds of prey,
Sharp-beaked, voracious, hungry for the deed.
‘Twixt hope and fear beheld great Cæsar hang!
Meanwhile, methinks, a ghostly laughter rang
Through the rotunda of the Invalides.

II

What if the boulevards, at set of sun,
Reddened, but not with the sunset’s kindly glow?
What if from quai and square the murmured woe
Swept heavenward, pleadingly? The prize was won,
A kingling made and Liberty undone.
No Emperor, this, like him awhile ago,
But his Name’s shadow; that one struck the blow
Himself, the street-sweeping gun!

This was a man of tortuous heart and brain,
So warped he knew not his own point of view–
The master of a dark, mysterious smile.

And there he plotted, by the storied Seine
And in the fairy gardens of St. Cloud,
The Sphinx that puzzled Europe, for awhile.

III

I see him as men saw him once–a face
Of true Napoleon pallor; round the eyes
The wrinkled care; mustache spread pinion-wise,
Pointing his smile with odd sardonic grace
As wearily he turns him in his place,
And bends before the hoarse Parisian cries–
Then vanishes, with glitter of gold-lace
And trumpets blaring to the patient skies.

Not thus he vanished later! On his path
The Furies waited for the hour and man,
Foreknowing that they waited not in vain.

Then fell the day, o day of dreadful wrath!
Bow-down in shame, O crimson-girt Sedan!
Weep fair Alsace! weep, loveliest Lorainne!

So mused I, sitting underneath the trees
In that old garden of the Tuileries,
Watching the dust of twilight sifting down
Through chestnut boughs just touched with autumn’s brown–

Not twilight yet, but that illusive bloom
Which holds before the deep-edged shadows come;
For still the garden stood in golden mist,
Still, like a river of golden amethyst,
The Seine slipt through its pans of fretted stone,
And, near the grille that once fenced in a throne,
The fountains still unbraided to the day
The unsubstantial silver of their spray.

A spot to dream in, love in, waste one’s hours!
Temples and palaces, and gilded towers,
And fairy terraces!–and yet, and yet
Here in her woe came Marie Antoinette,
Came sweet Corday, Du Barry with shrill cry,
Not learning from her betters how to die!
Here, while the nations watched with bated breath,
Was held the saturnalia of Red Death!

For where that slim Egyptian shaft uplifts
Its point to catch the dawn’s and sunset’s drifts
Of various gold, the busy Headsman stood. . . .
Place de la Concorde–no, the Place of Blood!

And all so peaceful now, one cannot bring
Imagination to accept the thing.
Lies, all of it! some dreamer’s wild romance–
High-hearted, witty, laughter-loving France!
In whose brain was it that the legend grew
Of Mænads shrieking in this avenue,
Of watch-fires burning, Famine standing guard,
Of long-speared Uhlans in that palace-yard!
What ruder sound this soft air ever smote
Than a bird’s twitter, or a bugle’s note?
What darker crimson ever splashed these walks
Than that of rose-leaves dropping from the stalks?
And yet–what means that charred and broken wall,
That sculptured marble, splintered, like to fall,
Looming among the trees there? . . . And you say
This happened, as it were, but yesterday?
And here the commune stretched a barricade,
And there the final desperate stand was made?
Such things have been? How all things change and fade!
How little lasts in this brave world below!
Love dies; hate cools; the Cæsars come and go;
Gaunt Hunger fattens, and the weak grow strong.
Even Republics are not here for long!

Ah, who can tell what hour may bring the doom,
The lighted torch, the tocsin’s heavy boom!

Reminiscence

Though I am native to this frozen zone
That half the twelvemonth torpid lies, or dead;
Though the cold azure arching overhead
And the Atlantic’s never-ending moan
Are mine by heritage, I must have known
Life otherwhere in epochs long since fled;
For in my veins some Orient blood is red,
And through my thought are lotus blossoms blown.
I do remember . . . it was just at dusk,
Near a walled garden at the river’s turn
(A thousand summers seem but yesterday!),
A Nubian girl, more sweet than Khoorja musk,
Came to the water-tank to fill her urn,
And, with the urn, she bore my heart away!

Feeding The Sun

One day we notice that the sun
needs feeding. Immediately
a crash program begins: we fill rockets
with wheat, smoke-rings, razorblades, then,
after long aiming
–they’re off. Hulls specially alloyed
so as not to melt before the stuff
gets delivered we pour cattle rivers windmills,
aborigines etcet into the sun which
however, grows stubbornly
smaller, paler. Finally
of course we run out of things to feed the thing,
start shipping ourselves. By now
all the planets-moons-asteroids and
so on have been shoveled in though they’re
not doing much good it’s
still looking pretty weak, heck, nothing helps!
Now the last few of us left lift off.
The trip seems forever but then, touchdown.
Just before entering we wonder,
will we be enough. There’s
a last-second doubt in our minds: can we,
can this final sacrifice, our broughten crumb,
satiate
it–will a glutteral belch burst out then at last,–
and will that Big Burp be seen by far-off telescopes,
interpreted as a nova
by those other galaxies,
those further stars which have always seemed even more
starving
than ours?

The Passionate Shepherd To His Love

Come live with me and be my love,
And we will all the pleasures prove
That valleys, groves, hills, and fields,
Woods, or steepy mountain yields.
And we will sit upon rocks,
Seeing the shepherds feed their flocks,
By shallow rivers to whose falls
Melodious birds sing madrigals.

And I will make thee beds of roses
And a thousand fragrant poises,
A cap of flowers, and a kirtle
Embroidered all with leaves of myrtle;

A gown made of the finest wool
Which from our pretty lambs we pull;
Fair lined slippers for the cold,
With buckles of the purest gold;

A belt of straw and ivy buds,
With coral clasps and amber studs;
And if these pleasures may thee move,
Come live with me, and be my love.

The shepherds’s swains shall dance and sing
For thy delight each May morning:
If these delights thy mind may move,
Then live with me and be my love.

Shadblow

Because the shad
are swimming
in our waters now,

breaching the skin
of the river with their
tarnished silvery fins,

heading upstream
straight for our tables
where already

knives and forks gleam
in anticipation, these trees
in the woods break

into flower–small, white
flags surrendering
to the season.

Tenebrae

A moon, with vacant, chilling eye, stares
At the winter, enthroned vast and white upon the hard ground;
The night is an entire and translucent azure;
The wind, a blade of sudden presence, stabs.

Far away, on the skylines, the long pathways of frost,
Seen, in the distance, to pierce the expanses,
And stars of gold, suspended to the zenith,
Always higher, amid the ether, to rend the blue of the sky.

The villages crouched in the plains of Flanders,
Near the rivers, the heather, and the great forests,
Between two pale infinities, shiver with cold,
Huddled near old hearthsides, where they stir the ashes.

To JośE MarίA Palacio

Palacio, good friend,
is spring there
showing itself on branches of black poplars
by the roads and river? On the steeps
of the high Duero, spring is late,
but so soft and lovely when it comes!
Are there a few new leaves
on the old elms?
The acacias must still be bare,
and the mountain peaks snow-filled.
Oh the massed pinks and whites
of Moncayo, massed up there,
beauty, in the sky of Aragon!
Are there brambles flowering,
among the grey stones,
and white daisies,
in the thin grass?

On the belltowers
the storks will be landing now.
The wheat must be green
and the brown mules working sown furrows,
the people seeding late crops,
in April rain. There’ll be bees,
drunk on rosemary and thyme.
Are the plum trees in flower? Violets still?
There must be hunters about, stealthy,
their decoys under long capes.
Palacio, good friend,
are there nightingales by the river?
When the first lilies,
and the first roses, open,
on a blue evening, climb to Espino,
high Espino, where she is in the earth.

Fields Of Soria

Hills of silver plate,
grey heights, dark red rocks
through which the Duero bends
its crossbow arc
round Soria, shadowed oaks,
stone dry-lands, naked mountains,
white roads and river poplars,
twilights of Soria, warlike and mystical,
today I feel, for you,
in my hearts depths, sadness,
sadness of love! Fields of Soria,
where it seems the stones have dreams,
you go with me! Hills of silver plate,
grey heights, dark red rocks.

Passageways

Who set, between those rocks like cinder,
to show the honey of dream,
that golden broom,
those blue rosemaries?
Who painted the purple mountains
and the saffron, sunset sky?
The hermitage, the beehives,
the cleft of the river
the endless rolling water deep in rocks,
the pale-green of new fields,
all of it, even the white and pink
under the almond trees!

From The Roof

This wild night, gathering the washing as if it were flowers
&n bsp;animal vines twisting over the line and
slapping my face lightly, soundless merriment
in the gesticulations of shirtsleeves,
I recall out of my joy a night of misery

walking in the dark and the wind over broken earth,
&nb sp;halfmade foundations and unfinished
&nbsp ;drainage trenches and the spaced-out
&nbsp ; circles of glaring light
&nbs p;marking streets that were to be
walking with you but so far from you,

and now alone in October’s
first decision towards winter, so close to you–
&nbs p;my arms full of playful rebellious linen, a freighter
going down-river two blocks away, outward bound,
&nb sp;the green wolf-eyes of the Harborside Terminal
& nbsp;&n bsp;glittering on the Jersey shore,
and a train somewhere under ground bringing you towards me
to our new living-place from which we can see

a river and its traffic (the Hudson and the
hidden river, who can say which it is we see, we see
something of both. Or who can say
the crippled broom-vendor yesterday, who passed
just as we needed a new broom, was not
one of the Hidden Ones?)
&nb sp;Crates of fruit are unloading
across the street on the cobbles,
& nbsp;and a brazier flaring
&n bsp;to warm the men and burn trash. He wished us
luck when we bought the broom. But not luck
brought us here. By design

clean air and cold wind polish
the river lights, by design
we are to live now in a new place.