Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, BRUTUS AND ANTONY, by EDGAR LEE MASTERS

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

BRUTUS AND ANTONY, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: How shall I write this out? I do not write
Last Line: Than brutus left it.
Subject(s): Antony, Marc (83-30 B.c.); Brutus, Marcus Junius (85 B.c.- 42 B.c.) ; Marcus Antonius; Anthony, Mark

Part I

(Lucilius Talks at a Feast Given to Aristocrates in Rome)

B. C. 20

How shall I write this out? I do not write.
Talk to you? Yes, and tell of Antony,
And how I knew him. There at Philippi
I let myself be captured, so to give
Time to escape to Brutus -- made pretense
That I was Brutus, and so Brutus flies
And I am captured. Antony forgives me,
And to his death I was his faithful friend.
Well, after Actium, in Africa,
He roamed with no companions but us two,
Our friend Aristocrates, here, myself,
And fed upon his bitter heart. Our guest
Nods truth to what I say, he knows it all.
And after certain days in solitude
He seeks his Cleopatra. As for her,
She was the sovereign queen of many nations;
Yet that she might be with her Antony,
Live with him and enjoy him, did not shun
The name of mistress, and let Fulvia keep
Her wifehood without envy. As for him,
A lover's soul lives in the loved one's body,
And where bode Cleopatra, there his soul
Lived only, though his feet of flesh pursued
The Parthian, or Caesar's hateful heir....
And if this Antony would wreathe his spear
With ivy like a thyrsus; from the chamber
Of his beloved rush to battle, helmet
Smelling of unguents and of Egypt; leave
Great action and great enterprise to play
Along the seashore of Canopus with her;
And fly the combat, not as Paris did,
Already beaten, with lift sail, desert
The victory that was his, yet true it is
His rank, his eloquence, his liberal blood,
His interest in all grades and breeds of men,
His pity and his kindness to the sick,
His generous sympathies, stamped Antony
A giant in this dusty, roaring place
Which we call earth. Who ruined Antony?
Why, Brutus! For he gave to Antony
The truth of which the Queen of Egypt stood
As proof in the flesh: -- Beauty and Life. His heart
Was apt to see her for mad days in Rome,
And soul created sateless for the cup
Of ecstasy in living.

On a day
Myself and Aristocrates and Antony,
We two companioning him in Africa,
Wandering in solitary places, Antony
Brooding on Actium, and the love that kept
His soul with Cleopatra, up he speaks,
And asks us if we knew what Brutus said,
While nearing death, to Cassius. "No," we said.
And Antony began to tell of Brutus: --
How all his life was spent in study, how
He starved his body, slept but briefly, cut
His hours of sleep by practice; fixed his thought
On virtue and on glory; made himself
A zealot of one purpose: liberty;
A spirit as of a beast that knows one thing:
Its food and how to get it; over its spirit
No heaven keeps of changing light; no stars
Of wandering thought; no moons that charm
Still groves by singing waters, and no suns
Of large illumination, showing life
As multiform and fathomless, filled with wings
Of various truth, each true as other truth.
This was that Brutus, made an asp by thought
And nature, to be used by envious hands
And placed to Caesar's breast. So Antony
Discoursed upon our walk, and capped it off
With Brutus' words when dying. They were these:
"O virtue, miserable virtue, bawd and cheat;
Thou wert a bare word and I followed thee
As if thou hadst been real. But even as evil,
Lust, ignorance, thou wert the plaything too
Of fortune and of chance."

So Antony
Consoled himself with Brutus, sighed and lapsed
To silence; thinking, as we deemed, of life
And what it yet could be, and how 'twould end;
And how to join his Cleopatra, what
The days would hold amid the toppling walls
Of Rome in demolition, now the hand
Of Caesar rotted, and no longer stayed
The picks and catapults of an idiot world!
So, as it seemed, he would excuse himself
For Actium and his way in life. For soon
He speaks again, of Theophrastus now,
Who lived a hundred years, spent all his life
In study and in writing, brought to death
By labor; dying lay encompassed by
Two thousand followers, disciples, preachers
Of what he taught; and dying was penitent
For glory, even as Brutus was penitent
For virtue later. And so Antony
Spoke Theophrastus' dying words, and told
How Theophrastus by a follower
Asked for a last commandment, spoke these words:
"There is none. But 'tis folly to cast away
Pleasure for glory! And no love is worse
Than love of glory. Look upon my life: --
Its toil and hard denial! To what end?
Therefore live happy; study, if you must,
For fame and happiness. Life's vanity
Exceeds its usefulness."

So speaking thus
Wise Theophrastus died.

Now I have said
That Brutus ruined Antony. So he did,
If Antony were ruined -- that's the question.
For Antony hearing Brutus say, "O virtue,
Miserable virtue, bawd and cheat," and seeing
The eyes of Brutus stare in death, threw over him
A scarlet mantle, and took to his heart
The dying words of Brutus.

It is true
That Cicero said Antony as a youth
Was odious for drinking-bouts, amours,
For bacchanals, luxurious life, and true
When as triumvir, after Caesar's death,
He kept the house of Pompey, where he lived,
Filled up with jugglers, drunkards, flatterers.
All this before the death of Brutus, or
His love for Cleopatra. But it's true
He was great Caesar's colleague. Caesar dead,
This Antony is chief ruler of all Rome,
And wars in Greece, and Asia. So it's true
He was not wholly given to the cup,
But knew fatigue and battle, hunger too,
Living on roots in Parthia. Yet, you see,
With Caesar slaughtered in the capitol,
His friend, almost his god; and Brutus gasping
"O miserable virtue"; and the feet of men
From Syria to Hispania, slipping off
The world that broke in pieces, like an island
Falling apart beneath a heaving tide --
Whence from its flocculent fragment wretches leap --
You see it was no wonder for this Antony,
Made what he was by nature and by life,
In such a time and fate of the drifting world,
To turn to Cleopatra, and leave war
And rulership to languish.

Thus it was:
Caesar is slaughtered, Antony must avenge
The death of Caesar. Brutus is brought to death,
And dying scoffs at virtue which took off
In Brutus' hand the sovran life of Caesar.
And soon our Antony must fight against
The recreant hordes of Asia, finding here
His Cleopatra for coadjutor....
He's forty-two and ripe. She's twenty-eight,
Fruit fresh and blushing, most mature and rich;
Her voice an instrument of many strings
That yielded laughter, wisdom, folly, song,
And tales of many lands, in Arabic,
And Hebrew, Syriac and Parthiac.
She spoke the language of the troglodytes,
The Medes and others. And when Antony
Sent for her in Cilicia, she took time,
Ignored his orders, leisurely at last
Sailed up the Cydnus in a barge whose stern
Was gilded, and with purple sails. Returned
His dining invitation with her own,
And bent his will to hers. He went to her,
And found a banquet richer than his largess
Could give her. For while feasting, branches sunk
Around them, budding lights in squares and circles,
And lighted up their heaven, as with stars.
She found him broad and gross, but joined her taste
To him in this. And then their love began.
And while his Fulvia kept his quarrels alive
With force of arms in Rome on Octavianus,
And while the Parthian threatened Syria,
He lets the Queen of Egypt take him off
To Alexandria, where he joins with her
The Inimitable Livers; and in holiday
Plays like a boy and riots, while great Brutus
Is rotting in the earth for Virtue's sake;
And Theophrastus for three hundred years
Has changed from dust to grass, and grass to dust!
And Cleopatra's kitchen groans with food.
Eight boars are roasted whole -- though only twelve
Of these Inimitable Livers, with the Queen
And Antony are to eat -- that every dish
May be served up just roasted to a turn.
And who knows when Marc Antony may sup?
Perhaps this hour, perhaps another hour,
Perhaps this minute he may call for wine,
Or start to talk with Cleopatra; fish --
For fish they did together. On a day
They fished together, and his luck was ill,
And so he ordered fishermen to dive
And put upon his hook fish caught before.
And Cleopatra feigned to be deceived,
And shouted out his luck. Next day invited
The Inimitable Livers down to see him fish,
Whereat she had a diver fix his hook
With a salted fish from Pontus. Antony
Drew up amid their laughter. Then she said:
"Sweet Antony, leave us poor sovereigns here,
Of Pharos and Canopus, to the rod;
Your game is cities, provinces and kingdoms."
Were Antony serious, or disposed to mirth?
She had some new delight. She diced with him,
Drank with him, hunted with him. When he went
To exercise in arms, she sat to see.
At night she rambled with him in the streets,
Dressed like a servant-woman, making mischief
At people's doors. And Antony disguised
Got scurvy answers, beatings from the folk,
Tormented in their houses. So it went
Till Actium. She loved him, let him be
By day nor night alone, at every turn
Was with him and upon him.

Well, this life
Was neither virtue, glory, fame, nor study,
But it was life, and life that did not slay
A Caesar for a word like Liberty.
And it was life, its essence nor changed nor lost
By Actium, where his soul shot forth to her
As from a catapult a stone is cast,
Seeing her lift her sixty sails and fly.
His soul lived in her body as 'twere born
A part of her, and whithersoever she went
There followed he. And all their life together
Was what it was, a rapture, justified
By its essential honey of realest blossoms,
In spite of anguished shame. When hauled aboard
The ship of Cleopatra, he sat down
And with his two hands covered up his face!
Brutus had penitence at Philippi
For virtue which befooled him. Antony
Remorse and terror there at Actium
Deserting with his queen, for love that made
His body not his own, as Brutus' will
Was subject to the magic of a word....
For what is Virtue, what is Love? At least
We know their dire effects, that both befool,
Betray, destroy.

The Queen and Antony
Had joined the Inimitable Livers, now they joined
The Diers Together. They had kept how oft
The Festival of Flagons, now to keep
The Ritual of Passing Life was theirs.
But first they suffered anger with each other
While on her ship, till touching Tenarus
When they were brought to speak by women friends,
At last to eat and sleep together. Yet
Poison had fallen on their leaves, which stripped
Their greenness to the stalk, as you shall see....
Here to make clear what flight of Antony meant,
For cause how base or natural, let me say
That Actium's battle had not been a loss
To Antony and his honor, if Canidius,
Commanding under Antony, had not flown
In imitation of his chief; the soldiers
Fought desperately in hope that Antony
Would come again and lead them.

So it was
He touched, with Cleopatra, Africa,
And sent her into Egypt; and with us,
Myself and Aristocrates, walked and brooded
In solitary places, as I said.
But when he came to Alexandria
He finds his Cleopatra dragging her fleet
Over the land space which divides the sea
Near Egypt from the Red Sea, so to float
Her fleet in the Arabian Gulf, and there,
Somewhere upon earth's other side, to find
A home secure from war and slavery.
She failed in this; but Antony leaves the city,
And leaves his queen, plays Timon, builds a house
Near Pharos on a little mole; lives here
Until he hears all princes and all kings
Desert him in the realm of Rome; which news
Brings gladness to him, for hope put away,
And cares slipped off. Then leaving Timoneum, --
For such he named his dwelling there near Pharos --
He goes to Cleopatra, is received,
And sets the city feasting once again.
The order of Inimitable Livers breaks,
And forms the Diers Together in its place.
And all who banquet with them, take the oath
To die with Antony and Cleopatra,
Observing her preoccupation with
Drugs poisonous and creatures venomous.
And thus their feast of flagons and of love
In many courses riotously consumed
Awaits the radiate liquor dazzling through
Their unimagined terror, like the rays
Shot from the bright eyes of the cockatrice,
Crackling for poison in the crystal served
By fleshless hands! A skeleton steward soon
Will pass the liquer to them; they will drink,
And leave no message, no commandment either --
As Theophrastus was reluctant to --
Denied disciples; for Inimitable Livers
Raise up no followers, create no faith,
No cult or sect. Joy has his special wisdom,
Which dies with him who learned it, does not fire
Mad bosoms like your Virtue.

I must note
The proffered favors, honors of young Caesar
To Cleopatra, if she'd put to death
Her Antony; and Antony's jealousy,
Aroused by Thyrsus, messenger of Caesar,
Whom Cleopatra gave long audiences,
And special courtesies; seized, whipped at last
By Antony, sent back to Caesar. Yet
The queen was faithful. When her birth-day came
She kept it suitable to her fallen state,
But all the while paying her Antony love,
And honor, kept his birth-day with such richness
That guests who came in want departed rich....

Wine, weariness, much living, early age
Made fall for Antony. October's clouds
In man's life, like October, have no sun
To lift the mists of doubt, distortion, fear.
Faces, events, and wills around us show
Malformed, or ugly, changed from what they were.
And when his troops desert him in the city
To Caesar, Antony cries out, the queen,
His Cleopatra, has betrayed him. She
In terror seeks her monument, sends word
That she is dead. And Antony believes
And says delay no longer, stabs himself,
Is hauled up dying to the arms of her,
Where midst her frantic wailings he expires!
Kings and commanders begged of Caesar grace
To give this Antony his funeral rites.
But Caesar left the body with the queen
Who buried it with royal pomp and splendor.
Thus died at fifty-six Marc Antony,
And Cleopatra followed him with poison,
The asp or hollow bodkin, having lived
To thirty-nine, and reigned with Antony
As partner in the empire fourteen years....

Who in a time to come will gorge and drink,
Filch treasure that it may be spent for wine,
Kill as Marc Antony did, war as he did,
Because Marc Antony did so, taking him
As warrant and exemplar? Why, never a soul!
These things are done by souls who do not think,
But act from feeling. But those mad for stars
Glimpsed in wild waters or through mountain mists
Seen ruddy and portentous will take Brutus
As inspiration, since for Virtue's sake
And for the good of Rome he killed his friend;
And in the act made Liberty as far
From things of self, as murder is apart
From friendship and its ways. Yes, Brutus lives
To fire the mad-men of the centuries
As Caesar lives to guide new tyrants. Yet
Tyrannicide but snips the serpent's head.

The body of a rotten state still writhes
And wriggles though the head is gone, or worse,
Festers and stinks against the setting sun....

Marc Antony lived happier than Brutus
And left the old world happier for his life
Than Brutus left it.

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