Empire

 

I usually find I can’t sustain a long poem unless I’m on holiday alone, able to get away from unusual distractions, even though there will be other things to think about.  That’s what happened here on a holiday. I’d felt I had a poem in me about the collapse of a glorious and cultured empire for some time.

 

EMPIRE

 

1

The empire’s heavy with scented blooms

A thousand scents, a thousand shapes

Umbellifer and ornate lily

The darkest iris, palest rose

The old Recorder of the Flowers

Each month in leather and brass bound book

Records the new varieties

The rich museums have many rooms.

 

The empire sings a thousand songs

Each city sang a different tune

Last year, each temple has its own.

The imperial gardens’ vibrant birds

Cannot outsing ten thousand choirs

The Emperor hears each song that flowers

Remembers one his mother sang:

Though blurred with power and wine, he longs.

 

The book of all the empire’s guards,

The armies, fortresses and fleets,

Defeats the sourest minister

Who’d number them and set their place

The sun on ranks of helmets shines

And blinds the eyes of tired bards.

 

The queen is in her carven tower

With silver and ebony interwoven

With jumping deer and dolphins’ play

With measured mark of rose and clover

And all the screens that ring her bower

Show everything that grows and dies,

The struggle of a sandy farm,

A somnolent priest’s ingenious lies,

Regiments changing hour by hour.

 

2

A restless baby cries as though

It never cried before, the cock

That rules a servant’s smallholding

Triumphant marks the dawn’s return.

The bells sound out from tower to tower

Seas in the dawn may seem to burn

To those without the power to know.

 

The clocks grind slow, sand on the wind

Has clogged them, the astronomer

Has lost the stars in clouds of dust

The birds sing less, the attentive guards

Along the watchtowers of the walls

In sandstorms see the ghosts of men

In dust devils the shaking heads

Of trampling horses of the dead

And nothing when the blur has thinned.

 

The famished horsemen, lifeless shacks,

The starving women, rag-held bones,

The baglike carcases of goats

The drying up of ancient wells

In the uncounted and unflowered lands

Reported by the empire’s spies

And clients set moving old replies

The walls grow thicker, more patrols

Search for the early warning cracks.

 

The warning sirens came too late

The mechanisms were at fault.

The gates did not shut as they should

In just one section of the line.

The desperate barbarians swarm

Through corridors rising rivers of blood.

And through the crumbling walls of thought

The tangling of all intricate forms

Of gold and music crushed, a roar

Rises: the unformed world’s in spate.

 

3

The gardens are all overgrown

The bells are silent; silent cage

Abandoned where the bird once sang

Is crushed with buckle, bugle, crown

And all that rose up high is down.

 

The children play with sceptre and skull

A rose ascends the temple wall

The smallholding is burnt, and burnt

The servant of the emperor’s will

This wonderful lady’s smile is fixed

Her sparkling brooch is grown dull.

 

The queen still sits in living tower

The images of deer and dance

Still play on all the watchful screens

Comforting the wondering queen

With aching song and shimmering flower,

 

But nothing outside the tower survives

That she would dare to recognise

And nothing is seen but dust and death

By all its hundred thousand eyes.

 

4

The wandering girl has found a thing

Untwisted, goes around her wrist

And polished, sparkles in the light;

The wandering girl begins to dance

And as the tower crumbles down

The wandering girl begins to sing.

 

 

The “barbarians” are ruthless destroyers, but are seen to be desperate for a good reason and to be manipulated by the empire. At the end, something is reborn. What is the queen in her enchanted tower and why does the rebirth destroy her?

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3 Comments

  1. Reblogged this on Greatpoetrymhf’s Weblog and commented:
    simonsworlds13.wordpress.com

    Reply
  2. LadyBlueRose's Thoughts Into Words

     /  April 5, 2012

    WOW I like your holiday thinking Simon…
    This is well I can’t think of words
    so I will read again in the morning…
    it is too wonderful to just say Beautifully scripted

    )0(
    maryrose

    Reply
    • Thanks, LadyBlueRose. One thing that stands out about it for me is the fast flow of the words and images. It has hardly any punctuation (only where it’s essential for the meaning) and the images follow one another like a speeded-up dream. That’s what I mean about needing to get away from things to be this taken up by the poem.

      Reply

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