The Death of Virgil

[A meagre offering in honour of the birth of Publius Vergilius Maro on this day in 70 BCE.]

Phoebus descends on Megara, beats down
the crops with his coming, anxious so
to see the poet shaping in song
the trip from Troy to Rome;
but the healer in his eagerness falls
in weight too great even for this
mortal of immortal fame, who pales
beneath the gaze of needy gods.

Now from Andes to the Andes Virgil’s dancing
lines, lightfoot and firebright,
sound, but no more the slow voice speaks
fleet Latin, spells the mouth out incantation;
still, folding its bones, from Bangalore, from Beijing
to Brindisi, the sea holds benthic
peacefulness, and all is quietly
full of the sound of surrounding water: heavy
in its depth and gravity, light as light
saturating sky, inseparable, like wind
in air, or woven in sea like the smoky foam
wringing the waving wash; still life
beats on, numbers’ and nature’s forces soaking
the sponge of brain, of skin, of eye, of ear, of lung,
of gill; and still from distant rooftops
twists the smoke—welcome
or war. See them!—
By campfire, farm–fire, hill–fire, men–
at–arms, at ploughs, at pipes,
warming to song.

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