We kneel before the portals of our past in vain . . .

by Robert Hillyer

Dim gardens sleep in darkness, quiet trees
Weave their uncertain boughs against the sky;
Out of the prison of a cloud there flees
The fugitive moon, slender and whitely shy.
There is music faltering upon the breeze
Despairing like the phantom of a sigh;
The night dreams deep in loveliness, yet I
Have deeper dreams and lovelier memories.

For I have seen leaping from out the grey
And sombre groves the young Antinous,
Dancing and chanting, vanishing away.
Leaving the passionate gardens tremulous.
O Love! O Laughter! fleet and sinuous,
Full swiftly follows the despondent day.

How wan and weary-eyed the cloudy dawn
Creeps through the mist with sick and halting tread;
The splendour of these wasted bowers is gone,
The old illusion of the dark is dead.
Some godly auspices have been withdrawn,
On high some awful sentence has been said;
See how the garlands rot upon the head
Of yon dispirited and stony faun.

And Adrian’s ship with wild teeth in the foam,
With blazoned pinions to the foggy breeze,
Bears on its decks the mightiest lords of Rome,
Imperial hosts upon disconsolate seas, —
The gods shall spare the majesty of these.
But one white laughing boy returns not home. . . .

Come, let us hasten hence and weep no more,
The sinking sea resumes its tranquil ways,
Night looms expectant at the eastern door
And trails the last cloud into lifeless haze.
Antinous is dead; we kneel before
The portals of our past in vain, nor raise
The laughing phantoms of our yesterdays
Upon this desolate and empty shore.

Now deepening pools of shadow overflow
Into the sea of dark. A far-off bell
Sobs with a sweet vibration, long and slow,
A last farewell, forevermore farewell.
And will he wake and hear? We cannot tell.
And will he answer? Ah, we do not know.

Leave a comment


  1. I had not heard of Hillyer, or this poem, previously–thanks for posting it!

    (I just finally got a hold of Adrienne Rich’s poem “The Antinous Diaries” this past weekend…I’m a little disappointed in it, but oh well…)


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