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Poem by 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 Cæsar's trumpet,
        Or chanced the riskier game at home 
    To find how favor played the stumpet
        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. 

Willa Sibert Cather

Willa Sibert Cather's other poems:
  1. The Tavern
  2. Poppies on Ludlow Castle
  3. Spanish Johnny
  4. Evening Song
  5. London Roses

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