For the Undefeated


IMPERILED stands the day. Up the bright street
The shadows slowly creep and darken slowly
The sunlit pavement and the yellow leaf.
Windless, the trees are heavy in the air,
The flags hang silent, and the clouds come on
As impercept ibly as time. Dangerous
Are these approaching thunderheads and these
Attendant lightnings, and the night that falls
Unnoticed, terrible, in the heart.
In the city men walk with canes tapping
Like blind beggars, and the open windows
Bring in no light, nor do they throw the lamplight
Into the garden. Talk is in whispers.
We have locked our valuables away,
And forgotten how to spell in our own language.
Dust gathers on the piano and the violin case,
And when we kiss one another it is furtively in corners.
A bomb fell on the Museum among the Impressionists
And the plaster casts of Greek gods.
The librarian burned his books. The post office
Stopped sending letters except for the government,
And the radio stopped playing Brahms.
Night fell, and the doctor broke the test tubes in his laboratory,
The lawyer couldn’t keep up with the legislature,
The Broadway stars went back on the road,
And the rain fell all night upon the city,
And the darkness over it was like mist.


Do you remember, Maximilius, the rain
Falling in Gaul, and the legions marching,
Footsore, south to the Alps and Rome?
Three weeks from home, Maximilius,
And the Huns behind us. Have you forgotten
The skins across their shoulders and the horns of deer
Stuck in their helmets, the great knives,
The war cries shrilling in the blood?
Rain was falling in Appia and the night
Drew down behind us as we fled.
Do you remember, Maximilius, the darkness
Gathering in Rome?
Have you forgotten, Crito,
The killing of brothers and the Thracian hordes
Walking within our temples? Do you remember
Dusk here in Athens among the olive trees,
Dusk in the markets, in the streets, between
The radiant pillars of the Parthenon? Crito,
Remember how the evening came and stole within,
Chilling as hemlock.
Do not forget, Atahualpa,
The Spanish horses prancing in the golden sun,
Nor the slaves bearing ingots for the conqueror.
Remember always in your heart, O King, the vines
Creeping among the caryatids of temples, the crumbling
Of the walls of Cuzco, and the black midnight
That seized you, strangling, here upon your altar.


Under our portals now the shadows lengthen,
And our fires turn swift to ashes. Into our keyhole
Seeps the ancient dust. What we have saved of silver
Tarnishes, and the towers we built to stand forever
Mock us. In our factories men put away their tools,
And we close our books, shut off the radio, eat
A last meal, for night has come.
But if night falls, believe me,
Dawn will return. If we must sleep
Let it be as children, dreaming of tomorrow,
Or as lovers sleep, waking in the night to rise
And go out into the gardens and walk
In darkness among the flowers, not seeing color
But knowing the rose also is awake.
And many of us, sleepless,
Will sit together through the long night, talking
Of friends remembered and dead poets and the earth
Warm in the spring between our fingers. Some
Will die in the slow hours of returning day,
Some have already fallen asleep never to wake, some
Will always sit patiently in the shadows waiting
For yesterday to return.
The darkness claims us.
Let us climb the hill and look for tomorrow.
We will sleep in the meadows where the sun,
Rising, may find us early. We will know,
Even in darkness, that the earth turns beneath us,
And we will dream of our seeds in the earth
And of the harvesting of them, and of the dawn
That will dazzle the treetops when we wake.