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.