written by John Masefield
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Like bones the ruins of the cities stand.
Like skeletons and skulls with ribs and eyes
Strewn in the saltness of the desert sand
Carved with the unread record of Kings’ lies.
Once they were strong with soldiers, loud with voices,
The markets clattered as the carts drove through.
Where now the jackal in the moon rejoices
And the still asp draws death along the dew.
There at the gates the market men paid toll
In bronze and silver pennies, long worn thin;
Wine was a silver penny for a bowl;
Women they had there, and the moon, and sin.
And looking from his tower, the watchman saw
Green fields for miles, the roads, the great King’s law.
Now they are gone with all their songs and sins,
Women and men, to dust; their copper penny,
Of living, spent, among these dusty inns;
The glittering One made level with the many.
Their speech is gone, none speaks it, none can read
The pictured writing of their conqueror’s march;
The dropping plaster of a fading screed
Ceils with its mildews the decaying arch.
The fields are sand, the streets are fallen stones;
Nothing is bought or sold there, nothing spoken:
The sand hides all, the wind that blows it moans,
Blowing more sand until the plinth is broken.
Day in, day out, no other utterance falls;
Only the sand, pit-pitting on the walls.
None knows what overthrew that city’s pride.
Some say, the spotted pestilence arose
And smote them to the marrow, that they died
Till every pulse was dusty; no man knows.
Some say, that foreign Kings with all their hosts
Sieged it with mine and tower till it fell,
So that the sword shred shrieking flesh from ghosts
Till every street was empty; who can tell?
Some think, that in the fields, or in the pit,
Out of the light, in filth, among the rotten,
Insects like sands in number, swift as writ,
Famined the city dead ; it is forgotten.
Only the city’s bones stand, gaunt in air,
Pocked by the pitting sandspecks everywhere.
So shall we be; so will our cities lie.
Unknown beneath the grasses of the summer,
Walls without roofs, naves open to the sky.
Doors open to the wind, the only comer.
And men will grub the ruins, eyes will peer,
Fingers will grope for pennies, brains will tire
To chronicle the skills we practised here,
While still we breathed the wind and trod the mire.
Oh, like the ghost at dawn, scared by the cock,
Let us make haste, to let the spirit dive
Deep in seifs sea, until the deeps unlock
The depths and sunken gold of being alive,
Till, though our Many pass, a Something stands
Aloft through Time that covers all with sands.
|Works by this author are in the public domain in countries where the copyright term is the author's life plus 51 years or less.|