from Alexandrian Songs
Three times I saw him face to face.
The first time was in the gardens -
I had been sent to fetch food for my comrades,
and to make the journey shorter
I took the path by the palace wing;
suddenly I caught the tremor of strings,
and, being tall of stature,
I peered through the broad window and saw him:
he was sitting alone and sad,
his slender fingers idly plucking the strings of a lyre;
a white dog
lay silent at his feet,
and only the fountain's splashing
mingled with the music.
Sensing my gaze,
he put down his lyre
and lifted his lowered face.
Magic to me his beauty
and his silence in the empty room,
in the noontide stillness.
Crossing myself, I ran away in fear,
away from the window...
Later, on guard duty at Lochias,
I was standing in the passage
leading to the quarters of the imperial astrologer.
The moon cast a bright square on the floor,
and the copper buckles of my sandals
as I trod the patch of brightness.
From the inner chamber,
a slave bearing a torch before them,
three men came forth,
he being one.
He was pale,
but it seemed to me
that the room was lit
not by the torch, but by his countenance.
As he passed, he glanced at me
and said, "I've seen you before, my friend,"
and withdrew to the astrologer's quarters.
Long after his white robes were lost to view
and the torch had been swallowed in darkness,
I stood there, not moving, not breathing,
and afterwards in the barracks,
feeling Martius, who slept next to me,
touch my hand in his usual way,
I pretended to be asleep.
And then one evening
we met again.
We were bathing
near the tents of Caesar's camp,
when suddenly a cry went up.
We ran, but it was too late.
Dragged from the water, the body
lay on the sand,
and that same unearthly face,
the face of a magician,
stared with wide-open eyes.
Still far off, the Emperor was hurrying toward us,
shaken by the grievous tidings;
but I stood seeing nothing,
not feeling tears unknown to me since childhood
running down my cheeks.
All night I whispered prayers, raving of my native Asia, of Nicomedia,
and angel voices sang:
A new god
is given unto men!"
(translated by Michael Green)
Go to Kuz'min's page.