Martin Robertson

Now and Then

Athens, Hill of the Muses; Evening

The quarried rock drops to the slums,

like looking from a train into backyards

of English slums, but worse (and better,

as sun-scorched poverty is better

than rain-logged poverty).  The sun burns

on the quarry-face.  The other way,

above this bare hill and a pine-green hill,

from the Acropolis, the Parthenon

burns back stilly at the setting sun.

Crossing the thistle-bristling rock

one stumbles in the square-cut marks of man

having flatness enough for a small dwelling,

hundreds of small dwellings.  


Here, they say,

the poor of Attica, herded in

between the long walls, learnt to live in slums,

and watched the Spartan soldiers burn their fields,

and learnt to steal.  Here the plague

struck them, thousands; struck through the city,

struck Pericles, whose statesmanship

had brought them there, had raised the Parthenon.

(Pheidias, his arbiter of art

escaped the plague.  He was not of the slums,

but stole, perhaps, and died, they say in gaol.)

Their Parthenon endures; and thus shall, sad,

crowded cuttings in the rock endure;

where now, out of the slums, Athenian poor

climb, for love no doubt, demonstrably

for another purpose.  


Marvellous marble hidden,

the slums hidden behind, down in their valley

one might be far—but for the ancient cuttings

(a road here rutted in the rock) and in them

the recent waste.  


Climbing among pines

the Parthenon lifts again its lovely head

or rather (here is west) its lovely tail

(the greeks gave temples fronts and backs alike,

just as to statues generally gave faces

no more expressive than their lovely bottoms).

Now the sun goes down.  Parthenon glows

above the shaded wall, and near at hand

glows the monument of Philopappos

(a Syrian princeling of the Roman age

honoured by rich Athenians of that age

with this rather pretentious monument

which time has tanned and broken to harmony).

The sky is green.  Hymettus

miraculously blushes, soon

is grey again.