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Antony and Cleopatra

Antony and Cleopatra by William Haines Lytle (1826–1863)

I am dying, Egypt, dying.
     Ebbs the crimson life-tide fast,
And the dark Plutonian shadows
     Gather on the evening blast;
Let thine arms, O Queen, enfold me,
     Hush thy sobs and bow thine ear;
Listen to the great heart-secrets,
     Thou, and thou alone, must hear.

Though my scarr'd and veteran legions
     Bear their eagles high no more,
And my wreck'd and scatter'd galleys
     Strew dark Actium's fatal shore,
Though no glittering guards surround me,
     Prompt to do their master's will,
I must perish like a Roman,
     Die the great Triumvir still.

Let not Cæsar's servile minions
     Mock the lion thus laid low;
'Twas no foeman's arm that fell'd him,
     'Twas his own that struck the blow;
His who, pillow'd on thy bosom,
     Turn'd aside from glory's ray,
His who, drunk with thy caresses,
     Madly threw a world away.

Should the base plebeian rabble
     Dare assail my name at Rome,
Where my noble spouse, Octavia,
     Weeps within her widow'd home,
Seek her; say the gods bear witness--
     Altars, augurs, circling wings--
That her blood, with mine commingled,
     Yet shall mount the throne of kings.

As for thee, star-eyed Egyptian,
     Glorious sorceress of the Nile,
Light the path to Stygian horrors
     With the splendors of thy smile.
Give the Cæsar crowns and arches,
     Let his brow the laurel twine;
I can scorn the Senate's triumphs,
     Triumphing in love like thine.

I am dying, Egypt, dying;
     Hark! the insulting foeman's cry.
They are coming! quick, my falchion,
     Let me front them ere I die.
Ah! no more amid the battle
     Shall my heart exulting swell;
Isis and Osiris guard thee!
     Cleopatra, Rome, farewell!


Media Credits

W. H. Venable, in his book Beginnings of Literary Culture in the Ohio Valley: Historical and Biographical Sketches, (Cincinnati: Robert Clarke & Co., 1891), provides us with some background on Lytle's poem, Antony and Cleopatra:

"Anthony and Cleopatra was written at the Lytle Homestead, Lawrence street, Cincinnati, in July, 1858. The author dashed it off in a glow of poetic excitement, and left the manuscript lying upon the writing-table, in his private room, where it was found by his friend, Wm. W. Fosdick, the poet. 'Who wrote that, Lytle?' inquired Fodsick. 'Why, I did,' answered Lytle, 'How do you like it?' Fosdick expressed admiration for the poem, and taking the liberty of a literary comrade, he carried the manuscript away, and sent it to the edition of the Cincinnati Commercial..."

(Venable, footnote, at p. 284)

 

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