Circus Maximus

‘You will be hated by each side,’

     The tall charioteer said:

‘The Blues and Greens will both deride

     You until you are dead.


Then each will claim you for their own,

     Say you favoured them;

And crowds to whom you are unknown

     Will bellow out your name.


No neutrals in this circus win:

     The Reds and Whites are gone:

The wise are those who, young, begin

     To put their lives in pawn.’


‘And you, tall charioteer,’ I said,

     ‘On whose side do you drive?’

‘Who pays the most sees me ahead,’

     He said: ‘I race to live.’


‘But if you crash,’ I asked, ‘what then?’

     ‘What then?’ He twined the reins

Around his hands, twined them again,

     And smoothed his horses’ manes.


‘You think of things like that,’ he said.

     ‘No wonder you look pale.

These animals are thoroughbred.

     Like me, they do not fail.’


He turned his chariot round to wave

     Goodbye; then raced away.

The crowds were roaring when he gave

     His life for pay.


And when they streamed into the streets

     Below the Palatine,

I heard them say: ‘We lost our bets.

     He was not Blue or Green.’


This would, I think, have pleased him much,

     Who said their colours ran.

I have not since encountered such

     An unpersuaded man.


He thought me mad but wished me well

     And warned me of the crowd:

He had no false beliefs to tell

     Him to be proud.


I mourn him now who might have been

     A charioteer of fame.

He raced for gold, not Blue or Green,

     And left an unknown name.