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Altogether elsewhere

December 24, 2013

Consider “The Fall of Rome,” from W.H. Auden’s (pre-conversion) collection Another Time. Despite the Roman backdrop and the mention of reindeer, this poem has nothing to do with Christmas, unless, perhaps, we are meant to notice its absence. A good poem for the end of Advent.

The piers are pummeled by the waves;
In a lonely field the rain
Lashes an abandoned train;
Outlaws fill the mountain caves.

Fantastic grow the evening gowns;
Agents of the Fisc pursue
Absconding tax-defaulters through
The sewers of provincial towns.

Private rites of magic send
The temple prostitutes to sleep;
All the literati keep
An imaginary friend.

Cerebrotonic Cato may
Extol the Ancient Disciplines,
But the muscle-bound Marines
Mutiny for food and pay.

Caesar’s double-bed is warm
As an unimportant clerk
Writes I DO NOT LIKE MY WORK
On a pink official form.

Unendowed with strength or pity,
Little birds with scarlet legs,
Sitting on their speckled eggs,
Eye each flu-infected city.

Altogether elsewhere, vast
Herds of raindeer move across
Miles and miles of golden moss,
Silently and very fast.

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