After the Conquest

At Micklegarth the lair-haired warriors walk

Along the wails that Theodosius built

Between Blachernae and the Studion:

These Anglo-Saxons, in their silver-gilt

Varangian armour and their purple silk

Tunics, recall, in broken Greek, the sun

At Hastings and the Normans’ quick-death arrow:

The listening Scythian mourns their target hero.


Off duty, wandering through the Golden Gate,

They marvel at Athenian sculptures, which

Show Hercules at work; then crowd into

Bazaars, where Persians charm them with the rich

Praises that suit the rugs whereon they sit.

While sipping syrups, being told that few

Have taste like theirs, and happily spending bezants

On a clockwork group of lacquered paper pheasants.


The lords in litters pass them on the way

That takes them to the howling Hippodrome:

And there they bet and shout and curse and bless.

While Blue and Green, in turns, startle New Rome:

Up in the railed Kathisma, like a high

Mosaic, sits the Emperor, doomed success,

Whose eyes are watching more than chariot races,

As slaves kneel, offer him Arabian ices.


Later, at dusk, they pray: immobile youths,

Before the icon of God’s Mother, ask

For small things and great in easy Saxon words,

As the Greek chanting rises, and their daytime mask

Of being only soldiers breaks: the wreaths

Of incense circle them like halos; birds

Might be singing round them in Sussex meadows,

Not jewel-crowned priests in Holy Wisdom’s shadows.


Night: and in the God Guarded Palace, where

The Emperor, like a mortal, rests, they pace,

Who earlier searched the ivory rooms in all

The other sacred palaces that grace

This paradise: Magnarius, the far

Off Bucoleon, Chalke, Daphne, the tall

Porphyry Palace, where the infant Caesar,

Asleep, may grow to be as great a loser.


In scented marble silence they keep watch:

Their silver buskins flash in the moonlight off

The Marmora: their helmets shine like those

The Emperor meets in dreams, when just a cough

Wakes him, and, alert, he calls out: and each

Guard kneels, as, ghostly, in scarlet night-clothes,

He moves among them, counting - who would gladly

Receive this sleep which he finds ever deadly.


At dawn, the streams of Asian sunlight play

On them like statues stood in porticoes.

Their exile all begun again, and as

The Grand Silentiary signals, each one goes

To line the halls that lead to Manganae,

Where the Christ Loving Emperor, after Mass,

Passes in dragon dress, diademed, anxious,

Whom the eunuchs glide after, whispering and unctuous.


It is day: so they may sleep at last,

Boots off, plumed helmets flung aside, and their

Dreams are of hawking high on Mendip Downs

Or swimming in the Severn, who despair

Wakeful, of England, conquered, and her best

Thanes marshalled here to guard disastered crowns:

Ah. young and smiling, in their dreams they wander:

Awake, each saves Greece again, a new Alexander.