The water washes where the temple was,
Flooding the millet field, then draining off,
And so, surrounded by a realm of mud,
The battered almost faceless statues stand
On either side a vanished central door.
The scene thus set, now see two travellers pause
Below these twin colossi, scale the rough
Scarred stones that hold them up, and, peering, read
Inscriptions scrawled in Greek, left to remind
Late-comers that the Romans had been there.
Which of these names can move the heart the most?
This one, an emperor’s; that, a famous slave’s:
See, here two soldiers from the Danube wrote
In Latin letters: ‘We are far from home.’
And then: ‘Dion has heard the statue sing.’
All was in ruin when they wandered past
Karnak and Luxor, came to Thebes - the groves
Of marble lotus-columns levelled at
The Rameseum, and this Pharaoh’s name
Nothing to them, except some stone that sang.
And all is ruin still, and will be, when
These travellers, balancing beside this king,
Are one with Dion, who had heard the dawn
Fling notes across the sacrosanctive Nile
In eerie emulation of the birds.
Their names are not upon that russet stone,
Nor written here in what may last as long:
Like emperor, slave and soldiers, they have known
Their unimportance by gaunt Memnon’s smile -
Two travellers, who gave their lives to words.