Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, HADRIAN IN EGYPT, by GORDON BOTTOMLEY

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

HADRIAN IN EGYPT, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Rare hadrian had wondered in all lands
Last Line: The trouble of beauty in a brooding poet.
Subject(s): Egypt; Hadrian, Roman Emperor (76-138)

RARE Hadrian had wondered in all lands
And came at last to Egypt that was first,
A very arsenal of dynasties:
And there he kissed the Sphinx, saying "Perchance
Men fashioned her on the first brink of time
After the face of some insatiate Queen,
Some passionate girl who thought she ruled the earth;
So I who jingle her empire in one hand,
Unhampered by it when I would shake the world,
In dominance kiss this high cryptic face,
The master of her secrets even when unknown
And arbiter of the past by heritage."
Thereafter a dark pyramid he cored,
A pitiful phalanstery of kings;
And took one mummy from its pall of bats,
Unrolling it; its long, brown bandages
Stretched like the tale of unrecorded years
Between him and the past. "Ay, this" he said
"Is empery indeed, wise predecessor,
For all my unending heirs are no less hushed."
Then came he to Canopus, where he amassed
The noblest girls of Egypt without pity;
And when he launched upon the Nile by night
They bore sweet flames and sailed with him for Thebes.
A bare barbaric river is that Nile,
Flanked by fierce cities of sombre sullen temples
Low-browed and heavy-stalked as elephants.
The night Antinous was drowned at Besa
A low moon topped old Memphis in their wake
And melted down the water past them like
The glistening glissandos of a song,
A song that seemed to rock into existence
And rock away to silence down the night.
And on that night stood Hadrian at the prore
Near ivory Antinous whom he honoured:
Sometimes he spoke, in mournful monotones,
And ever and again slow words slid past
As honey drips from the comb, honey in moon-light....
"And with a chisel stern have digged my names
Into the old Sun-greeter's stony knees
That shall not wipe them from this planet's ending
By kneeling to any upstart conqueror.
Upstart? Nay Memnon is an upstart too,
Crouching to this undated mother of life,
This hoar stream wrinkled as a crocodile
That stirs a slow tail in the sun all day,
This render of indomitable Thebes....
Ay, Thebes, Thebes, Thebes, lair of great men and ghosts.
It was in Thebes that Queen Hatasu glowed,
Who strode her palace bearded like a man
And married wives who feigned to bear her children:
She was so dazzled by ruling over men
She thought she must be God of all the Gods
To undo her birth and make herself anew
In the utmost image of power she could conceive --
And proved her womanhood immitigable.
I too, for all my matchless epic doings,
Am impotent before two worlds of darkness
Greater than any darkness in a womb;
The lean uneasy Jews seethe with sedition,
A new Osirian bull has startled Memphis
Into the knowledge of its ancient strength
To shake a people's souls with mystery;
And if I die choked round by revolutions,
The soul -- the little soul, Antinous --
Goes beggared to a realm it cannot rule,
Lost in a terrible equality
And guested in some unimagined way,
And only leaves behind it on my earth
A Greekish tragedy's clatter of Ototois,
A Caesar's pompous head upon a coin."
And as he spoke the unconscious boatmen sang
"O faint, O far, uncertain in the sun,
Lost islands seem to float, dropped one by one,
Then turn to stone by the cold moon undone...."
While, as the dripping oars came back and dipped,
Pale shattered gold of moonlit midsummer waters
Set all the midnight trembling, trembling like
The trouble of beauty in a brooding poet.

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