We were speaking of Allen Tate‘s Aeneas at Washington, weren’t we? Well, let me observe in passing that, for one who isn’t all that keen on Virgil – and even less on the Aeneid, I post an awfully good deal about it all…
Oh well, it’s because of the play, mostly, and because I truly like Tate’s take on Aeneas, with its bitter suggestion that the notion of rebuilding elsewhere what had gone up in fire may have gone astray. Tate’s Troy remains a half-forgotten golden shadow, its intended rebirth is an empty shell – and one may well question if it was worth the high price that was paid for it.
I myself saw furious with blood
Neoptolemus, at his side the black Atridae,
Hecuba and the hundred daughters, Priam
Cut down, his filth drenching the holy fires.
In that extremity I bore me well,
A true gentleman, valorous in arms,
Distinterested and honourable. Then fled
That was a time when civilization
Run by the few fell to the many, and
Crashed to the shout of men, the clang of arms:
Cold victualing I seized, I hoisted up
The old man my father upon my back,
In the smoke made by sea for a new world
Saving little—a mind imperishable
If time is, a love of past things tenuous
As the hesitation of receding love.
(To the reduction of uncitied littorals
We brought chiefly the vigor of prophecy,
Our hunger breeding calculation
And fixed triumphs)
I saw the thirsty dove
In the glowing fields of Troy, hemp ripening
And tawny corn, the thickening Blue Grass
All lying rich forever in the green sun.
I see all things apart, the towers that men
Contrive I too contrived long, long ago.
Now I demand little. The singular passion
Abides its object and consumes desire
In the circling shadow of its appetite.
There was a time when the young eyes were slow,
Their flame steady beyond the firstling fire,
I stood in the rain, far from home at nightfall
By the Potomac, the great Dome lit the water,
The city my blood had built I knew no more
While the screech-owl whistled his new delight
Stuck in the wet mire
Four thousand leagues from the ninth buried city
I thought of Troy, what we had built her for.