ALEXANDRIA, 31 BC

 

After the procession, the trumpets
And the drums, the gilded chariots,
The trophies, the ships’ beaks of bronze,
The swags of roses, the snow-tunicked slaves,
The maidens, each brow wreathed with leaves,
The magnificent, incomparable procession
That is the splendour and order of the city,
After it all, after the dream,
The exquisite and too brilliant dream,
With the plaster images of the gods,
The bad history and worse lies,
The deliverance, the triumph at Actium,
And the acclamations that mean nothing,
The grave chanting of the sober priests,
The libations and burnt offerings,
The baubles, the well watered wine,
The shying, refractory horses,
The surly, indifferent children,
The intense, insufferable heat,
After it all, the Caesars and their crowns,
The neighbourhood is itself again,
Sheets hanging out to dry, the shouting,
The loud laughter in each stair,
The smell of cooking and new bread,
The ordures and the wastes, the stench and flies,
Men idle, spitting and throwing dice,
Ogling and chaffing girls, a birth,
First things that are always first.

 

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