Hadrian at Tivoli

by Hervey Allen

Hervey Allen

Above the long white peristyle
I see the cones of cypresses,
Italian sunlight on the tile,
The lily ponds with ibises,
While I, who am the master here,
And sovereign lord of discontent,
Await my master drawing near
Who is not half so impotent.

Whither then, pallid one,
Where will you flit to,
Whither then, rigid one,
Poor moth of destiny —
Sad little winged one,
Hurrying soul of me?

Only once on this earth comes the face
That is bright with the love of the soul,
With the love that we need to be whole;
And I who am worshiped on earth,
I, Caesar, a god but a man,
I sought it, disguising with mirth
The steps of my wandering span.
And my dreams I had built into brick,
Into temples and bridges that rose
Down the roads of the world as I went,
Though my soul it lay heavy and sick
On the needles of sharp discontent
In the beds that it built for repose.

Faces like the gods on coins
Drugged my dreams, but who purloins
His happiness must pay despair.
So I clutched my wraith desire
In a Cretan virgin's hair.
I was warmed by Libyan maids
Lipped and breasted like the Sphinx;
Comforted by hips like Hathor's
Matched with green eyes of the lynx.
Tired I grew of my lone body;
Many evenings have I strayed
In Oronte's starlit gardens
Envying hidden boy and maid.

So I built this house of Caesar,
Sacking temples for my ease,
And the ravished dreams of sculptors
Look across my cypress trees,
While the toneless conchs of tritons
In mosaic wake the floors,
Foaming round the bows of heroes
Rowing past Homeric shores.
Yet the falling rainbows mix
With the darkening stream of Styx.

Shall I bid my coiffed Egyptians
Read from painted books of Pasht,
Or command the Greek musicians'
Lyric wires and cymbals clashed?
Æsculapius himself
Could not cure my soul's disease!
Nostrums that his priests dispense —
What are these?

Give me the day of my life,
That hour forever the same,
When we rode through the Bithynian hills
With our helmets and vesture aflame;
When in fire from Olympian snow
Like Apollo he sat by the spring
Where at evening the young shepherds go
To water their flocks and to sing.

Lift up your face to me now
As you lifted it up to me then.
Aurelius the lord of the world
Would look on its beauty again —
On those eyes like a Greek afternoon,
On that leonine frontlet that curled,
Bright as nuggets from mountains of Spain,
Bright with joy that I turned into pain.

Though I gave you a tomb in a star,
And your brows are a dream for the race,
Yet you trouble me now and you mar
My sleep and my days in this place,
O beautiful shepherd I stole,
Till I ask of my fluttering soul.

Whither then, lonely one,
Where will you flit to,
Whither then, pallid one
Poor moth of destiny?
Sad and unmated one,
Hurrying soul of me,
Hadrian's dying here,
Dying at Tivoli!

Last updated September 05, 2017