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The Fall of Rome By W.H. Auden For Cyril Connolly

April 08, 2001

The piers are pummelled 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 wealth or pity,

Little birds with scarlet legs,

Sitting on their speckled eggs,

Eye each flu-infected city.

Altogether elsewhere, vast

Herds of reindeer move across

Miles and miles of golden moss,

Silently and very fast.

From "Scanning the Century: The Penguin Book of the Twentieth Century in Poetry," edited by Peter Forbes (Penguin: 596 pp., $22.95 paper)

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