A LIKENESS - Willa Sibert Cather Poems


Poems » willa sibert cather » a likeness

Portrait Bust of an Unknown, Capitol, Rome

In every line a supple beauty --
  The restless head a little bent --
Disgust of pleasure, scorn of duty,
  The unseeing eyes of discontent.
I often come to sit beside him,
  This youth who passed and left no trace
Of good or ill that did betide him,
  Save the disdain upon his face.

The hope of all his House, the brother
  Adored, the golden-hearted son,
Whom Fortune pampered like a mother;
  And then, -- a shadow on the sun.
Whether he followed Csar's trumpet,
  Or chanced the riskier game at home
To find how favor played the strumpet
  In fickle politics at Rome;

Whether he dreamed a dream in Asia
  He never could forget by day,
Or gave his youth to some Aspasia,
  Or gamed his heritage away;
Once lost, across the Empire's border
  This man would seek his peace in vain;
His look arraigns a social order
  Somehow entrammelled with his pain.

"The dice of gods are always loaded";
  One gambler, arrogant as they,
Fierce, and by fierce injustice goaded,
  Left both his hazard and the play.
Incapable of compromises,
  Unable to forgive or spare,
The strange awarding of the prizes
  He had not fortitude to bear.

Tricked by the forms of things material --
  The solid-seeming arch and stone,
The noise of war, the pomp imperial,
  The heights and depths about a throne --
He missed, among the shapes diurnal,
  The old, deep-travelled road from pain,
The thoughts of men which are eternal,
  In which, eternal, men remain.

Ritratto d'ignoto; defying
  Things unsubstantial as a dream --
An Empire, long in ashes lying --
  His face still set against the stream.
Yes, so he looked, that gifted brother
  I loved, who passed and left no trace,
Not even -- luckier than this other --
  His sorrow in a marble face.