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.