The Pines of Rome

The Pines of Rome

As ghosts of old legionaries, of the upright
farmers of that unbelievable republic,
the pines entail their roots among the rubble
of baroque and modern Rome.

Out by the catacombs they essay a contradiction,
clattering their chariot-blade branches to deny
the Christian peace, the tourist's easy frisson,
a long transfiguration.

Look away from Agnes and the bird-blind martyrs,
the sheep of God's amnesia, the holy city
never built, to the last flag of paganism
flying in mosaic.

Then say the pines, though we are Papal like the chill
water of the aqueducts, refreshment from a state
divinity, we know that when they tombed the martyrs
they ambushed them with joy.

Rome is all in bad taste and we are no exception
is their motto. Small wonder that Respighi, 'the last Roman',
adds recorded nightingales to his score The Pines
of the Janiculum.

And the scent of pines as we dine at night
among the tethered goats and the Egyptian waiters
is a promise that everything stays forever foreign
which settles down in Rome.

Therefore I nominate a Roman pine to
stand above my slab, and order a mosaic
of something small and scaly to represent
my soul on its last journey.


from Collected Poems Vol 2, 1984-1999 (Oxford University Press, 1999), copyright © Peter Porter 1999, used by permission of the author

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1Death in the Pergola Tea-Rooms

2Tobias and the Angel

3Reading MND in Form 4B

4The Great Poet Comes Here in Winter

5The History of Music

6The Sadness of the Creatures

7Sex and the Over Forties

8Mort Aux Chats

9Anger

10Dreamtime

11The Easiest Room in Hell

12An Exequy

13Gertrude Stein at Snail's Bay

14Non Piangere, Liu

15The Future

16Doll's House

17A Sour Decade

18And No Help Came

19Woop Woop

20A Chagall Postcard

21Civilization and its Disney Contents

22Little Buddha

23Wish We Were There

24Wittgenstein's Dream

25The Camp

26A Great Reckoning in a Little Room

27Old Goldfields, Maryborough

28The Lion of Antonello da Messina

29The Pines of Rome

30Leaving Mantua

31Both Ends Against the Middle

32To My Granddaughters Sweeping Spelsbury Church

33Max is Missing

34The Last Hours of Cassiodorus

36The Last Wave Before the Breakwater

38Mutiny of the Bountiful

35Tasso's Oak

37Afterburner

39Well, Francis, Where's the Sun?