Old Greek Lovers

A poem by Edward Powys Mathers

They put wild olive and acanthus up
With tufts of yellow wool above the door
When a man died in Greece and in Greek Islands,
Grey stone by the blue sea,
Or sage-green trees down to the water's edge.
How many clanging years ago
I, also withering into death, sat with him,
Old man of so white hair who only,
Only looked past me into the red fire.
At last his words were all a jumble of plum-trees
And white boys smelling of the sea's green wine
And practice of his lyre. Suddenly
The bleak resurgent mind
Called wonderfully clear: "What mark have I left?"
Crying girls with wine and linen
Washed the straight old body and wrapped up,
And set the doorward feet.
Later for me also under Greek sun
The pendant leaves in green and bitter flakes
Blew out to join the wastage of the world,
And wool, I take it, in the nests of birds.

From the Arabic of John Duncan.

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