To You Biographers of Caesar

To you biographers of Caesar,
            I am that murdered general, 
a Roman nose engraved on silver coin;
an alabaster column in perfect Roman order,
            a sword, a plough, a prefect,
a century of soldiers—
a bumper crop in Tunis or in Spain.

 To you biographers of Peter, 
            I am that Prince Apostle,
a Hebrew man enshrined beside the Po;
a traitor and evangelist fell prey to Roman order,
            a sword, an ear, a net for men,
a century of soldiers—
an empty cross along the Apis train.     
 To you biographers of Arthur,
            I am that coming high-king,
a Celtic myth in Celtic pride entwined;
a pauper and a prince, once, before the Roman order,
            a sword, a stone, a chalice, 
a fief of noble soldiers—
the Cup of Christ long kept by England's swain.   
 To you historians of Athens,
            I am that naval power,
the wisdom of my people long beheld;
Master over Sparta before the Roman order,
            a sword, a fleet, the polis, 
a city-state of scholars—
the light of pagan Europe in my blade.   

 You genealogists of Adam,
            I am the father sinner,
God's firstborn from the dirt of Eden's shade;
a farmer and a workman, the sewer of disorder, 
            a sword, a tree, the rocky earth,
left to my warring children—
their history still in my image made. 

I wrote this maybe 15 years ago while I was reading Leaves of Grass.  The poem is really nothing like “To a Historian,” but I loved that title so much.  I think that was the impetus.

I Pray Like a Robber

“I pray like a robber asking alms at the door of a farmhouse to which he is ready to set fire.” – Léon Bloy

I came across this some time ago, I don’t remember how. I ended up having to write a poem about it. Does that ever happen to you?

To Statecraft Embalmed – Marianne Moore

An early work, and I love it. “To Statecraft Embalmed” starts with an image that might just as easily refer to a certain (current) political figure:

The only version of the full text I can find online isn’t formatted exactly how piece is presented in her Collected Works, a volume I seem to have misplaced precisely as I sat down to write this post.

The whole thing reads to me as uncanny prophesy, hard plumage and all.

Nativity Ode – John Milton

Also called “On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity” or “On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity, 1629” or “On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity, Compos’d 1629.”

I wrote a seminar thesis on this once. It’s not just about connecting the birth of Christ to the passion in theological terms. Milton is making a sort of quantum confession: the birth of God in time collapses our reality. The Christmas Day of 1629 becomes, itself, “the happy morn;” the liturgical hymn of Philippians 2:6-8 (and 9-11) is transfigured into Milton’s second stanza; everywhere the light is breaking in, nowhere can the natural order contain the “spooky action” (no longer at a distance).

In other words, John Milton was a genius.