Tuesday, April 30, 2013


After Construing

A.C. Benson (1862-1925), "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,      5
    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,     10
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     15
    Amid the sleeping lines?

The Mantuan singer pleading stands;
    From century to century
He leans and reaches wistful hands,
    And cannot bear to die.     20

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     25
    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,     30
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,     35
    Of all you dared to do.
8 Avaricum: Attacked by Julius Caesar, defended by Vercingetorix in 52 B.C. (De Bello Gallico 7.15-31)
17 Mantuan singer: Vergil

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