Rome Revisited

I travelled light this time
And came to Rome without
Religious certainty
To pin my conscience down,
Free now to excavate,
From strata of belief
And primitive taboos,
Some vestiges of truth.
Now, gods and ages merge.
Inscriptions, sculpted all
By one perennial hand,
In unison proclaim
The noble promises
And hollow alibis
Of each successive age.
St. Peter’s colonnades
And fallen architraves
Of Augustan temples
Possess this in common:
All are, terminally,
In varying stages
Of decomposition.
No crying of the geese,
High on the Capitol,
Can protect the City
Against time and reason.

13th November 1990

Giant Tortoises

Was this the one that carried on its back
The elements of the Earth and caused to break,
By each seismic step, the bulging crust
And fire to flow along the widening cracks?
Was this the one that sightless Aesop knew,
Which furnished fables to a later sage,
And served as tutor to the Roman troop,
Their corporate armour modelled on its shell?

The sun burns down and drifting sand blows through
The whitened carapace but legends live.

Seychelles 1969

The Mill-stream

Under the tangled late summer grasses
After the rain shower full the stream passes,
Flooding and gushing down through the bracken,
Not till the mill-pond does its flow slacken.
Down through red campion, hart’s tongue and wild bramble,
Over the boulders, see the stream scramble!
Lost in a tunnel of ferns by the roadside,
Hidden from view as it runs down the hillside,
Bullrushes, foxgloves, speedwell and mallow
Border its passage through fields lying fallow.
Down through the mill-race, through sluice gates turning,
Over the mill-wheel splashing and churning.
Round goes the wheel and the stones grind and grumble
And into the sacks the flour starts to tumble.
Here all is noise with the rumble and creaking,
But high in the loft where the sunlight is streaming,
On fat sacks of grain in the dust calmly seated,
The ghosts of past millers with smocks neatly pleated
Gossip of things as they once used to be,
While the stream rushes onwards down to the sea.

Quetivel Mill, St Peter’s Valley, Jersey