How quickly they vanish away into nothing,

These famous people:

Can Grande della Scala,

Galeazzo Visconti,

Maximilian I.


What spectacle of splendour in the next world

Do their magnificent tombs open on?

But perhaps they are not now so important

As they once were.

Goodness is greatness there.

And here -

Is there anyone to care

How they are?

The timid professors,

Who would have fluttered away from them like hens

In the time of their triumph,

Peck away in querulous columns

At the poor tattered tapestries of their glory

Flung down to carpet

A chicken-house.


And the tombs,

Those monumental withdrawing rooms,

So insistent in their lack of beauty,

Go on guarding the dust


Can Grande della Scala,

Galeazzo Visconti,

Maximilian I,

In the churches where they may have lounged and laughed

At Mass,

Unthinking of the piteous tombs,

Which seem so sad and small

In the dark little pictures dotted through their lives.


Dilettanti of religion,

Then they may have flung away their unreturning time,

Scatter of gold along the alabaster floor,

Who now attend with such perfect attention

The Masses said these several centuries

That God may be pleased to undo

The damage done

By pride -

The sense of being someone

Grand and great,

Who need not bother

To be good.


‘Remember, man, that thou art dust.’

They were wise to have their tombs in church;

And we should

Pray for them, whose state

Was once so splendid:

Can Grande della Scala,

Galeazzo Visconti,

Maximilian I,

And for others who live as insecurely,

If we wish to be remembered ourselves

In the long years that can lie ahead

Of the poor inconsequential dead.

For God is very just.