Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, CELSUS AT HADRIAN'S VILLA, by EDGAR LEE MASTERS



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CELSUS AT HADRIAN'S VILLA, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: This is the place, my friend aristo. Here
Last Line: And watch the waterfalls, and have some wine.
Subject(s): Celsus (2d Century)


This is the place, my friend Aristo. Here
We sit and muse on the state of the world. Alas!
What are we coming to?

The tufa walls
Inlaid with yellow lichens look like bronze
Gold filagreed. And through those rifts and breaks
There are the trunks of ilex, gnarled and dark.
Look! Nature mocks us. Hadrian is asleep
These nearly hundred years. Does cyclamen
Crimson about these walls grow less profuse?
Or these anemones laugh less to the sun?
Or bramble, honeysuckle, bougainvillea
Desert the gardens of the emperor?
The merle and golden-crested wrens build nests,
Sing the hymeneal song! But man, poor man,
Forsakes his triumphs, work, his palaces.
And barbarous weeds sprout over them and creep,
And choke his wisdom and his art.

Let's sit
Here in this colonnade. Philosophers
From Rome and Athens, Alexandria,
From mystic India, walked this colonnade,
And let the mind run free. It is no more,
Unless we fight the human weeds that spring
Under the rains that darken Rome. Let's up
With hoes and root them.

Here's cat-brier -- chop!
Cat-brier, Christian meekness, fair to view --
But how it stinks! And briars: pain and loss
For ecstasy and gain beyond -- I chop!
Chop here, Aristo, get your friends to chop,
Lest all the world be given up to weeds,
As Hadrian's Villa is about to be.
Rome soon will stretch her templed neck to breathe
Above the thorns, the hyssop. Even now
The state is crumbling with the heresy
That Rome should not be reverenced and saved,
But every soul saved. The Imperial City
To which each Roman is a servitor
Put by for doctrine making every heart
Worthy of saving from the wreck of life --
I chop this weed. And for the soul of Rome,
The lazar soul, the slave, the fuller, cobbler,
The fool, the God-forsaken and the child ...
What if Rome fall? The City of God remains
Eternal in the Heavens. Yes, but Earth,
Where is thy city, if it be not Rome?
Destroy your Romans, Hadrians, what is left? --
Itinerant exorcists and prophets, idlers,
And sacred beggars, leper lips that curse
Rome and her beauty! These the citizens
Of the City of God! What will that city be?
Themselves externalized, as Rome has flowered
From Roman minds; but never a Hadrian Villa
In the City of God, never from scowls and sores!
No! You shall have a world of trade and lies,
Of itching and denials, for a world
Of freedom and expression, wine and song.
These huckstering Jews are planting in our Rome
The faith that they persuaded God to kill
His Son to save them. And a huckstering
Will taint the flesh of all who eat this god.
But yet how they will rub their palms and coo
And ape a meekness. Here! Aristo, chop!...

But just so long as stones remain in place
Of Hadrian's Villa, eyes will look upon them
And sense the mind of Rome, and what it was:
That eyes were made for seeing, ears for hearing,
Hands made to touch, tongues made to taste, minds made
To think, imagine, love given to indulge
For rapture. There's no law of heaven or earth
That trims eyes, ears, the senses,
Of use; but all were made to leaf and bloom
The idea of the eye, the ear, the hand.
And only reason with regard for health
Of eyes, ears, hands, may guide and say: how far....
See now what Hadrian's mind created here: --
A tragic theatre, a comic theatre.
What for? For eyes' sake, for exploring life.
Katharsis? Yes. But use? No use to him
Who thinks life sin, the world's end near, for Jews
Who like the frogs in marshes croaking, say:
"For our sakes was the world created, we
Alone are chosen of God." No use for him
Who sees enough of suffering in life
Without its mimicry; sees not the art
Of shooting light between the mystery
Of human fate, and waking sympathy
Through understanding. Christian weeds I chop,
Whose roots begin to sap the tragic roots
Of Sophocles.

But I say eyes may see:
And if I wish to watch the lions fight
What interdicts me, and what reason for it?
Now look how Hadrian's mind puts into flower:
A temple for Greek books, and one for Latin;
And there's the stadium, and there's the baths.
These Christians frown the bath. If I make out
Jesus may come today, and wherefore wash?
Besides the naked bathers cling and kiss
Within the tepidarium at times, and hence
Out with all bathing!

There's the palace too
Which o'ertops Nero's Golden House, they say.
And what guest chambers here! The laughing soul
Of Hadrian glows amid his friends. What's best
In life, Aristo? Why, when the soul is freed,
From business, traffic, grasping, thought of self,
The aches of the day, and being freed shines forth
As star companions star, in smiles and words
Of praise, affection. Hadrian loves the faith
Of happiness, and lets his guests fare free,
Wander eight miles of garden, enter vales
Of Tempe, watch a mimic Peneus
Flow by; encounter fauns amid the brakes;
Surprise Bacchantes sleeping; hear from hills
A chorus of Eurpides soothe their souls
With dreams before Faustina's sculptured face,
Or Antinous, Apollo, Venus; bathe
Their glowing bodies in the pools; partake
Of food or wine, gifts of the gods. Such life
Is passing, soon will pass. Aurelius
Lies under thought, which thrived before the day
Of Paul for all of that, the folly sees not
Of slaying Christians, while himself is teaching
The Christian doctrine! Ugliness, denial,
Self-laceration, beggary, are older
Than Jesus -- and I chop!

But let the world
Submit to weeds, in time what will you have?
Not Hadrian's Villa, but a villa walled,
Walls spiked and guarded, and a house of walls
Empty of sculpture, where a miser-man,
Guarding his gold, a lone man eating bread
And milk, rules realms and countries from the book
Of Enoch, Exodus, the Septuagint,
And these purported writings of one Paul;
And who has made his heart a granary
For seed of faith and trade. This weed I chop!
For then your world lies flatter than the land
Of that campagna, made a marsh for frogs,
Dull grass and feculent roots, as it would lie
If once invaders smashed the aqueducts
And drowned our lovely plain!

You see, my friend
Why I fight back the weeds. This is not all,
For I know what engenders Christian faith:
Man dreams he can be saved, but saved from what?
Sin? What is sin? Age? What can save from age,
What keep the spring of youth, its rosy flesh,
Its spirit never tiring, hope undarkened,
Its courage without fears, long dreams and days?
Why nothing! All's illusion that holds forth
A medicine for wrinkles, shrunken arms.
Therefore what saves from death? Does Jesus save?
Does Jesus ease a soul's pain, cure a loss
Save as these devotees may soothe their hearts
With prospects of to-morrow, or of heaven?
No! good Aristo, all this Roman realm,
Washed by this sea, for centuries has been
As fertile as the valley of the Nile
For seed of this salvation dream, the seed
Of Mithra and Osiris, Krishna, Budda,
Adonis, Tammuz, Dionysus, Attis,
What is this seed of Jesus? Nothing new:
The virgin birth? That's old as human dreams.
There's Dionysus born of Semele,
A virgin, and of Zeus; great Dionysus
The resurrection of the year, the mad
Intoxicating power of nature, wine.
There is a myth that Jesus at a feast
Turned water into wine, a Bacchic feat.
One myth blends in another like mosaics
Of microscopic jewels. I go on.
Zeus fathers many sons of virgins born,
Is not content with one. He takes Danae
And Perseus is the fruit, who slays the Gorgons
And saves Andromeda, the human soul.
Devaki is a virgin, weds Vishnu,
And Krishna comes. A virgin is the mother
Of Budda. Horus springs from virgin Isis,
Our Lady, Queen of Heaven, Star of the Sea,
Mother of God, so called for centuries
Before the days of Mary. Neith, the virgin,
Was mother of Osiris. Mithra's born
Of a virgin mother.

This is what I mean
By fertile soil of Egypt, Persia, Greece,
That crops the seed of Jesus. Is this all?
All saviours tally fully. All were born
In caves or stables, chambers under ground;
All labored for the welfare of the race;
All were light bringers, healers, mediators
Between the gods and men. All fell in death,
Descended to the underworld. All rose
To strive for men in heaven; all created
Communions, churches, rites of water, wine,
Last suppers, brought the entheos, spilt their blood;
God, Krishna, Dionysus, Hercules.
And as for that Tammuz was crucified,
Prometheus was nailed and chained.

You know!
These from the mysteries of the heart, from life; --
Death of the year, birth of the year, the hope
That shines amid the mist of doubts and days;
The dream that says if nature leave the grave
Of winter, what's the life of man, to be
Shut from the law that wakes the fallen seed?
If God renews the wine, I drink the juice
Of the grape and live! If God be in the bull,
And must be, life is life, and all is life
Of one divinity, I drink the blood,
I wash therein, cleanse sin, and celebrate
A ritual of salvation, endless life!...
I trace all Krishnas, Mithras in this god,
Hope's latest dream.

What's needed but a flame
That draws these older flames? What but a man
Of inspiration, labor, sacrifice,
A poet, hater of the scurvy times,
Killed for his blasting eyes, accusing tongue,
To have your Christos? Jesus lived. Why not?
'Tis credible; killed by the Jews, why not?
And made a sacrifice for many -- doctrine
World old and wide. From Babylon the Jews
Brought Hammurapi, brought Sacaea too,
A ritual for prisoners doomed to die,
By which they would be decked in kingly robes,
Stripped, scourged and hanged even as we have done
At Saturnalia. How else "King of the Jews,"
Except by ancient custom? Think, Aristo,
Would great Tiberius suffer such sedition
Except as drama and in mockery?
Aristo, if this Jesus were the god
As Mithra, Dionysus are, 'twere well
With Rome and Hadrian's Villa. Understand
If these infatuate zealots, Jews would keep
Their god, belief, but still conform to Rome,
Rome's gods, the empire reverence, who would care?
No Roman! No one! But to hear these prophets
Cry through our cities, camps: to everlasting
Flames commit our cities and our lands,
And curse us out of Jewish scriptures, draw
The imprecations of the epileptic
Paul upon us, this I fight, I chop!
I stand with sword against the enervation
Of private judgment, that the common man
Is heaven's prize. This demos mania
And ruin of the empire I oppose.
And when these plagues of Christians grow too loud,
And Rome arouses, wants the lions fed,
Or crosses painted with a little red,
I go to see. These anarch colleges,
Illicit schools, called churches, quiet down
When in the circus Christian bones are crunched....

Now for my consolation if Rome fall;
If lowliness and other worldiness;
If meekness, sacrifice; if life's denial;
If all this creed out of inverted thought,
Shame for the lust of life, the Orient's
Sick perfume, drugs, if all of this be taken
Into the body of Rome, the world; the poison
Of Jesus swallowed -- this my consolation:
Life, being God, is stronger than God's Son;
Life will digest it, and evacuate
What cannot be digested, and retain
What can be used. Another Rome will rise
If our Rome fall. Let's go up there, a while,
And watch the waterfalls, and have some wine.





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