In the year of grace something or other
The new emperor was crowned
With a minimum of fuss. (A near thing,
For his predecessor had anointed another.)
As new emperors will, he looked around:
And saw the shambles staring
Him in the face, the ruin he was heir to.
The waste and ravage of the Caligulas
Was comprehensive; words failed him.
Shaking himself, he wondered where to
Begin the long slog back from this pass:
Briefly, fears assailed him.
Which of course was good. For it set him apart
From his forebears, who used the seeming
Infinitude of the empire’s strength
To plunder at will: fear played no part
In their relentless scheming,
Each milking his reign’s length.
But it’s bad for a ruler to be frightened
Into inaction; so he set about trying
To rebuild what wasn’t destroyed
In a day by decreeing a heightened
Sense of purpose for the dead and dying –
Which, as an entertainment, they enjoyed.
The dumb multitudes soon set him at ease,
And a pliant Senate endorsed his vision –
There were no Ciceros (long exiled
To the obscurity of the lesser colonies)
To question the mechanics of the mission.
And those that did were reconciled
To despairing silence: there was just
So much after all that they could do.
The deafness of centuries befell
Him. History moved in. Ages thence, his bust
Joined the marbled others. The face was true:
The eyes a dreamer’s, you could tell.