A Visit to the Ruins


This charming archaeologist, with her spade,
Surveys my ruins, measures the daisied mound,
Three mouldering plinths, one column still erect.
Her twenty summers from its millennial shade
Take stock of all that history underground.
Cutting the first sods, what does she expect?

Has she some theory, or is she digging blind?
Does dream or sober fact impel her, while
She sinks a trial trench, pegs out her grid?
Is it foreknowledge of what she hopes to find
Moulds her young mouth to that archaic smile?
And when her spade rings on the marble lid,

The King’s sarcophagus, all its seals intact,
Still smiling will she raise his golden mask,
Touch with warm lips that face of crumbling bone,
Or will its hollow sockets not refract
Tears dropping from live eyes again? I ask,
Will she disturb my quiet or her own?

Or, if she seeks inscriptions, to restore
From primitive script my long-lost Song of Songs,
Whose extant fragments baffle her scholar’s art,
Has she the scholar’s instinct, which before
She spells its words, by the true Gift of Tongues,
Can call their music already from her heart?

Thinking to reconstruct me as I was
In the great years before the Kingdom fell,
Can she imagine such arrogant splendour; can
Her notes from cinder, debris, sherds and dross
Bring to fierce life the tale these relics tell
Of those last moments when the sack began:

The throne-room wrecked, the roar of “kill and kill”,
The women raped and slaughtered where they lie,
The shattered images ravished of their gold;
And, whiter than his statue and as still,
The young King, dying in all that butchery,
Watching the hangings as the flames take hold?

Well, if she can! Some things her practised eye
Will miss: her sceptic mind will not observe
Ghosts slink to deeper layers among the dead;
She will not hear a skeleton’s minimal sigh
Greet the sharp sun, nor, as she turns fresh turf,
The mandrake’s shriek, torn bleeding from its bed.

No training could enable her to foresee
Her last discovery when it comes to pass:
The eponymous founder’s tomb, identified,
Gapes as the granite slab is levered free;
She steps towards that black hole and sees, alas,
That there is nothing, nothing at all inside!

Nothing … and then the darkness swirls and sighs
And, out of the illimitable past,
A voice of terror, speaking her own tongue,
Calls her by name, and calls again, and cries:
“At last you have come home, at last, at last!
Where have you been, child, why did you stay so long?”

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