This is the completion of the 1st and 2nd Meetings poem. In fact, I have so far posted these Antinous & Hadrian poems in reverse order. This is the first, as the series at present stands; 'Alexandria & Canopus' comes second; 'Hadrian and His God' third. There are other poems in the sequence, not yet finished. I am very happy to report that Hadrian and His God is currently the most watched of my videos on You Tube. Ave Antinoe!
What was this?
What spoke to me through him?
Which of the Olympians?
Apollo in form and with Apollo's voice
entrancing the birds and trees,
all the surrounding landscape and my soul:
entrancing, changing, uplifting,
until this place seemed Heaven and we both gods.
I had known and half-loved many boys
and yet I felt when I saw him again,
as he taught me the words of that ancient hymn
(he enchanted at my trick of memory -
perfect memory is only a trick),
I felt, and I wrote it down in my private book:
I fall, am made again, am made anew
in depth and height, in being and in spirit.
These valleys and these mountains dance,
the stream rolls on, clouds condense to rain
and scatter across the earth. I am cloud and stream,
mountain and valley, earth and sky.
I am all this and more, both him and me.
And I felt, and I wrote this down too in my book:
The beams of his eyes have shattered two worlds;
nothing but ruins, nothing but ruins.
The quiet pool of the mind is now stirred up
and the outward world is burning, all aflame.
Myself am from myself far far away.
The weak and feeble soul has left its cave
and wanders in the ways of earth and air.
People say my poetry's extreme, is precious,
over-precious, lacking the Latin clarity.
The Senate laughed at my provincial accent;
and now they say I am too much the Greek.
But this boy spoke as I did, understood
the purpose and the striving of my song.
At our second meeting
he was dressed befitting
the guest of the Emperor
and his eyes were shining.
I wore my most beautiful jewels
and precious raiment;
(Did I wish to dazzle him? I did!)
the priest's hood over my forehead
as I addressed my god,
pontifex maximus welcoming his lord.
Also like a father with his child,
fond father to this beautiful,
this modest Bithynian boy.
He was not shy. He carried it off
as an everyday event,
yet with due reverence
to our separate stations.
I took him out into the gardens.
We wandered there for many hours
beside the streams, among the bowers.
And in an arbour seated face to face,
my arm along the back of his marble chair,
my fingers playing with his luxuriant hair,
he taught me his Spartan rhythms, Spartan rhymes,
his low voice husky now with speech still clear,
the gentle breathing and the lion's roar
of these transfigured verses in his mouth;
watching each others lips and teeth and tongues
as I repeated after him that victorious song.
The sun was going down behind the hills,
the birds all singing, the small green frogs all choiring.
The sunset glowed upon his glorious skin,
his eyes were huge. I thanked him then,
embraced him; and he smiled.
The memory of that smile was with me still
when I lay down that evening on my couch,
my brain repeating the ancient verse,
my inner eye rehearsing all I had seen.
His figure strolled beside me in my dream;
his hand was in my hand.
After our second meeting, I wrote this,
thinking of his Spartan rhythms,
the tenor of his voice, his eager eyes
(what other lad so loved his poetry?),
staring at me as he mouthed the words,
watching each others lips and teeth and tongues.
I have chosen you. Nothing will now suffice
but that I own and hold you as my own;
but that you take the gift which I extend;
but that the gift by him to whom it is given
is accepted in the spirit with which I gave -
not as a sign of amity
nor in worship of your perfect natural parts
but as a symbol
signifying that here,
within your breast, within my breast,
the withdrawn and recalcitrant world of the senses,
for but one moment cleared of eddying mists,
and as in a mirror seen
surveyed what yet it might become
and recognised the goal to which it moved.
Not bad for a provincial,
even if in Greek and not in Latin!
I wrote this, I the Emperor wrote this
to that young boy,
to that Bithynian boy Antinous.
The music here is the fourth of Richard Strauss's beautiful 'Four Last Songs' : 'Twilight' sung by the lovely Elisabeth Schwarzkopf who died in the autumn aged 90. I dedicate this to the memory of her incomparable voice which will long outlive her.