Nero shrugged his shoulders when he heard
the future that Apollo prophesied:
Beware the age of seventy-three.
The oracle at Delphi never lied;
he took her at her word.
Untroubled, he slept on secure.
At thirty he could dedicate his life
to pleasure pure and simple, unperturbed,
the deadline more than forty years away.
Jaded, he limps back to Rome
hung-over from his trip to Greece,
transformed, translated by excess:
the actors, races, stadiums, flowing wine,
Achaean cities sloping to the shore
with naked bodies lolling on the beach,
stars reflected in the purple sea…
So Nero dreams. And meanwhile
on the arid flats of Spain
Galba drills his legions secretly.
Galba, a sprightly seventy-three.
Notes on this poem
This poem is from The Cavafy Variations, due for publication by Rack Press in 2013.