Wednesday, February 09, 2005


Julius Caesar

H.J. Rose called Caesar "one of the most unsuitable authors for a beginner that can be imagined." Here is a poem by Arthur Christopher Benson (1862–1925) on Caesar, entitled After Construing:
Lord Caesar, when you sternly wrote
  The story of your grim campaigns,
And watched the ragged smoke-wreath float
  Above the burning plains,

Amid the impenetrable wood,
  Amid the camp's incessant hum,
At eve, beside the tumbling flood
  In high Avaricum,

You little recked, imperious head,
  When shrilled your shattering trumpet's noise,
Your frigid sections would be read
  By bright-eyed English boys.

Ah me! who penetrates to-day
  The secret of your deep designs?
Your sovereign visions, as you lay
  Amid the sleeping lines?

The Mantuan singer pleading stands;
  From century to century
He leans and reaches wistful hands,
  And cannot bear to die.

But you are silent, secret, proud,
  No smile upon your haggard face,
As when you eyed the murderous crowd
  Beside the statue's base.

I marvel: that Titanic heart
  Beats strongly through the arid page,
And we, self-conscious sons of art,
  In this bewildering age,

Like dizzy revellers stumbling out
  Upon the pure and peaceful night,
Are sobered into troubled doubt,
  As swims across our sight

The ray of that sequestered sun,
  Far in the illimitable blue,—
The dream of all you left undone,
  Of all you dared to do.
Caesar described the siege of Avaricum in the seventh book of De Bello Gallico. The Mantuan singer is Vergil.

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