Hadrian at Tivoli        

 
My marbles glisten more than bodies do

Except when they are washed away by love ...

 

Aiee!

Antinous!

You died for me.

For Rome. For all this world I, loveless, rule.

 

I have your statues by me everywhere.

And they but prove

Your absence like a smile

Given to someone else instead.

Who is it that you seem to see?

I cannot break your stare.

 

Answer!

 

Only the birds of evening ...

 

There

On that golden tile

The single swallow ...

 

Must I command?

Need Caesar speak again?

 

Not Caesar. No. For he is dead.

He died with you that evening on the Nile.

Or rather Hadrian, the youth from Spain.

For Caesar lives, alas.

Does he not stand

Before your image, incense in

His hand,

While Consuls, Senate, The Imperial People pass

In mourning robes along the Sacred Way?

 

My temples, arches, porticoes.

Gymnasia, theatres, baths ...

 

My donatives, Praetorian shows.

 

That gilded coffered dome

I gave the gods of Rome.

 

My walls and aqueducts.

 

This palace where the fountains play

All night,

All day.

 

My Tribunician acts

Of mercy

 

Have I not done these all for you?

 

So!

You are speechless still.

 

Must I, then, pray

To you?

 

Have I not done that too?

 

Ah, how I freeze

In all this sunlight

Dazzling from your eyes!

It was otherwise

Before you died,

O deified

Antinous!

 

Is there no comfort you can give

Me now?

What is the meaning of your love

If you have gone forever

Forever?

 

Will you not show

Me how to hope?

 

I wander down these stoa seeking ...

 

And now,

As evening stars

Appear,

That swallow goes

Into his nest

 

Above my painted room that glows

With colours drawn from Greece.

 

Apollo welcomes Mars.

 

And I returning from my Dacian battles

To triumph ...

 

No.

I will not think of this

It is best

To have no memories.

 

Who will release

Me from my slavishness?

 

Aurelius says...

Narcissus,

Whom you did not know,

Who joined my household

After...

 

Afterwards.

 

Narcissus says...

 

Ah, how it would amaze

You, dear Antinous,

To come upon him

When he thinks himself alone.

He prays

Before a cross!

I know.

It is not done.

And yet he does.

 

Is God a crucified forsaken Jew?

Surely it is more probable

That He is you.

Born shivering in a stable?

Dead on a hill with thieves?

This lacks the grace

Of Greece.

I would prefer

To see Him in your face

Revealing Beauty to incarnate Rome.

 

Narcissus speaks of love.

 

What was it

Made you sacrifice

Yourself for Caesar

And the world’s endangered peace

By plunging from

Caesar’s imperial gold-hung barge

Into the Lethe of the Nile?

 

I think this must be love’s

Immortal proof.

 

Are you not now a god

For doing this?

 

And yet I wonder...

 

Aurelius disapproves

Of Christ, of me, of you, of everyone.

He is aloof

And hesitates to call himself my son.

How hateful his unfeeling goodness is!

Verus shall be my heir.

At least he laughs.

And always when he speaks of you

It is with awe.

 

I am no stoic.

The day you died

I hid no tears.

Nor have I since.

Nor shall I.

 

Look!

Far off the sunset glares

Back from my palaces along the Palatine,

As though outrageous fires

Roared over Rome.

And now the temples seem

Stained with blood.

 

Effects of light at evening...

 

Yet...

 

No!

They shall not pillage

While I rule the world.

 

But later?

Well, later

Let them save themselves.

What love

Will they give me?

You gave

Yourself for them.

 

And yet I think I see them smiling

In the Senate

When I invoke your blessing

From the sky.

 

Where do we go,

                        Antinous,

                                      when we die?

 

That question stays with me

Since you have gone.

My soul shivers in this sunlight.

I shall be no emperor then.

 

Is life a dream?

And do we wake

At day-break?

 

Why do you seem

To look at me imploringly

Imploringly?

 

There is some answer

You would give

To still my questioning heart

That drives me where

I do not know.

 

Speak!

Speak!

 

But you cannot.

 

How deathly is this art!

These sculptures still are stone.

All their beauty leaves me

All alone.

 

Where

Can I find

Surcease

Of care?

 

Whom do I dare

To trust?

 

Narcissus tells me

I should spare

These people

Who will not worship you

Or me

Or anyone

Except their Christ.

 

I think Aurelius

Would find ways

Soon enough

To make them

Worship him.

 

But he shall not.

 

Verus

Can take my place.

 

The waters running through this marble lake

Swim with imperial shadows,

As I pace

Beside the gods.

 

Antinous!

Answer me!

This Christ to whom Narcissus prays...

 

Why was I not told the truth

When young

That life is death prolonged

For just so many years

As last beyond our birth?

 

Archon of Athens

Am I!

What philosophy

Can staunch my tears?

What beauty is there worth

The want of love?

 

I should be

Socrates

With all my questions.

 

Ah, God -

Whoever You may be -

Antinous,

Who drowned

Without a sound

Of lamentation;

Or Christ,

Who bore

A cross

Forgivingly:

Both dying,

So they say,

For me:

 

Have pity

On this emperor in his marble world

Of lies and loss.

 

I, Hadrian,

Caesar Augustus,

Implore

Peace.

 

And now the light no longer falls on Rome.

The swallows are beneath the tiles.

 

I must go in.