Please note that the poems and essays on this site are copyright and may not be reproduced without the author's permission.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

The Dream of Constantine


Parhelion or "sun dog" [similar to that said to have been seen in the "vision" or "dream" of the Emperor Constantine I, on the eve of his victory over Maxentius, 312 CE]: photo by Ralph F. Kresge/US National Weather Service/NOAA (image by Saperaud, 9 November 2005)

To Constantine in the constant cañon of his morbid discontent
Vision distorted by the acridity of some mysterious potion
Guarded conspiracies in the family, rebellion bruited, haystacks aflame at the borders

The latest hue and cry from the provinces fading into the din of background noise
The breakdown of communications with the common people,
The haze of stars, the tingle, the flame, the wincing shame of the general decay
Across the great breadth of the subject lands, not in his imperial tent alone --

Or again, later, the epidemic of lamentation about the way life was lived now --
The disputes among the wizards, the coins thrown down upon the marble tiles,
The relentless advance of barbarian industry at the exposed frontiers,

The news
that the knights sent out to explore the ruins had not been heard from,
That shadows were lengthening across the paved courtyard, even as day was expected to
Be coming on -- the troublous murmurings, the brazen trumpeting from the stables --
To the good ruler once seen banging his tankard in high revelry, all woes forgotten,

At the jolly reunion, none of this would have needed to be explained --

So that the attacks of insomnia which had become ever more frequent with the years
Were now no longer interrupted by the brief welcome respites of fitful slumber --
And the cold night wind, another sign, turning back the light of the stars
So that the victims could not make out the astronomical figures on the bills of accounting, this too --
And the light of the stars turning up again on the night wind,

Blowing out over the dark mountains, across the vast lost stretches of the subdued continents
Which must now be left to the helpless ones, the hapless inheritors,
To whom the empty words, without the experiences to which they had once referred,
Could mean less than nothing -- mere words, so plainly useless against the fates --

The relentless advance also of memories of the poisoned son, the wife left to boil in her bath -- and
Other smothered memories, now unfolding themselves into limbless monsters of pain --

All of this occurred exactly as had been written.

File:Piero - The Dream of Constantine.jpg

Legend of the True Cross -- the Dream of Constantine: Piero della Francesca, c. 1452-1456, San Francesco, Arezzo

One of the two right hands of the marble Colossus of Constantine: Roman, c. 313-324 CE, recovered from the west apse of the Basilica of Maxentius, 1487; Palazzo dei Conservatori, Capitoline Museums, Rome (image by Jastrow, 2006)

Marble head of the Colossus of Constantine: Roman, c. 313-324 CE, recovered from the west apse of the Basilica of Maxentius, 1487; Capitoline Museums, Rome (image by Jean-Christophe Benoist, 3 August 2007)

Marble foot of the Colossus of Constantine: c. 313-324 CE, Capitoline Museums, Rome (image by Anthony Majanlahti, 24 June 2005)

Cañon de Chelly -- Navajo. Seven riders on horseback and dog trek against background of canyon cliffs: photo by Edward S. Curtis, 1904 (Library of Congress)




". . . memories, now unfolding/ themselves
. . .
All of this occurred exactly as had been written."


light coming into fog against invisible
ridge, song sparrow calling from branch
in foreground, sound of wave in channel

point of reference which is
not opposite to it, as

condition, fact of painting
after that, blue there

cloudless blue sky reflected in channel,
fog on horizon to the left of the point

Anonymous said...

When I first saw this yesterday (or was it the day before; things have been kind of a blur lately), I thought I must read it, but I can’t now because it will take a while and I don’t want to rush and spoil my enjoyment. So as planned, I read it this morning at an hour that still looked like night. It is really terrific – stirring, moving and bitterly funny – and beautiful to look at. And without being the slightest bit nostalgic (I think Crispus and Fausta would second this view), set against the pseudo-spectacle of our own flat-screen news, which makes everything small and the small stuff even smaller, this captures a grandeur in life that it’s difficult to feel at a moment when the big (in terms of being almost universally reported) news story concerns the appearance and actions of a heckler employed by disappeared radio personality Howard Stern at a seedy Brooklyn news conference held by an even seedier politician whose public stock-in-trade was speaking more viciously, rapidly, and much louder than anyone else in the room and whose private business (conducted on public time using public funds) consisted of fervent button pressing and keystrokes. Anyway, The Dream of Constantine is great. Boiling your wife -- what will they think of next?

TC said...

Well, Curtis, I think he'd already had her poisoned in the bath, so that the boiling part was pretty much redundant... though it probably helped compose the total object lesson.

Whether Fausta was actually fooling about with Crispus -- Constantine could not miss the whispered rumours from behind every pillar -- may well be academic, as well.

The historians have her between a rock and a hard place.

As to Howard Stern, Constantine would perhaps have simplified matters by stepping on him.

(And they talk about "larger than life...")

By the by, it's perhaps interesting from an... er, curatorial point of view to note that the remains of the Colossus of Constantine were unearthed by that industrious student of art history, Michelangelo.

But the mystery of the two right hands lingers on...

Anonymous said...

The thought of the Constantine foot, like the Monty Python foot, crushing Howard Stern is, I think, an amusing one that conveys cartoon violence stress-relief through symbolism in a satisfying way. Still, from years of taking taxis in New York City during Howard Stern's FM radio heyday, I can't tell you how many new immigrants to the US probably learned most of their English from his show. Pakistanis, Haitians, drivers from Africa and elsewhere would look back at me and chuckle: "Howard Stern....very funny man....heh, heh." They were very sincere and you simply had to smile back. I'm pondering the things I might be able to do with two right hands, as well as all the things I couldn't do if one of my thumbs were misplaced.