Monday 13 June 2022

The Silver Age

More evidence of what a fine poet Thom Gunn was. This one, evocative and enigmatic, could almost be an Auden, or even a Cavafy. Note the inconspicuously clever construction: each line of each stanza rhymes or half-rhymes with the corresponding line in all the other stanzas, and each stanza ends with the word 'moonlight'. The effect is strangely haunting (well, I find it so)...

The Silver Age

Do not enquire from the centurion nodding
At the corner, with his head gentle over
The swelling breastplate, where true Rome is found.
Even of Livy there are volumes lost.
All he can do is guide you through the moonlight.

When he moves, mark how his eager striding,
To which we know the darkness is a river
Sullen with mud, is easy as on ground.
We know it is a river never crossed
By any but some few who hate the moonlight.

And when he speaks, mark how his ancient wording
Is hard with indignation of a lover. 
'I do not think our new Emperor likes the sound
Of turning squadrons or the last post.
Consorts with Christians, I think he lives in moonlight.'

Hurrying to show you his companions guarding,
He grips your arm like a cold strap of leather,
Then halts, earthpale, as he stares round and round.
What made this one fragment of a sunken coast
Remain, far out, to be beaten by the moonlight?

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