Yet this will haunt me, not until I die,
But till our fiery world turns ashen grey
And no known planets people the clear sky . . .
What was the face I turned away this day?
It may be, I who am given to mercy dreamed,
Making a beggar rich. Sometimes it seemed
His was a common face, to sway the crowd
In its weak passions . . . Sometimes, deathly proud
As a great king’s, who being overthrown
Yet keeps his desperate foothold on his throne,
Until the curs close round him, belling loud.
I would not have such stuff flung out of Life —
Not by these hands, that have kept clean in strife
And builded greatly. Orchards, vineyards, towers
Unfolding on this dusk like vast blue flowers
Might, had they tongues, turn now to speak my praise.
Have I not walked with Justice all my days,
Welcomed the brave and generous in my home
And, against odds, held up the pride of Rome?
Even the blind and leper at my gate
Might have my kindness, if they would but wait
Till I could reach them through such noble press . . .
Why comes not one, to heal my loneliness?
How his hands twisted, as the stiff scourge bit . . .
A king, forsooth . . . And this has come of it,
Thorns and a yelping pack, the open shame
Of a thief’s cross, to eat his dreams like flame.
What lies they told, those bound and writhing hands —
That they dominion held o’er far-off lands
Beyond the last blue margin of the foam
In a fool’s kingdom, counted greater than Rome;
That they had borne the sceptre, and knew well
Mastery of more than such as I dare tell,
And that they laid this splendour down, and pressed
The head of some blind starveling to a breast
Which is all love; that they, being more than free,
Turned, like a weary child’s, to plead with me . . .
Well, leader, beggar, take your cross, and go
Unto your kingdom. How should Pilate know?