My Claudia, it is long since we have met, So kissed, so held each other heart to heart! I thought to greet thee as a conqueror comes, Bearing the trophies of his prowess home, But Jove hath willed it should be otherwiseÂ Jove, say I? Nay, some mightier stranger-god Who thus hath laid his heavy hand on me, No victor, Claudia, but a broken man Who seeks to hide his weakness in thy love.
How beautiful thou art! The years have brought An added splendor to thy loveliness, With passion of dark eye and lip rose-red Struggling between its dimple and its pride. And yet there is somewhat that glooms between Thy love and mine; come, girdle me about With thy true arms, and pillow on thy breast This aching and bewildered head of mine; Here, where the fountain glitters in the sun Among the saffron lilies, I will tellÂ If so that words will answer my desireÂ The shameful fate that hath befallen me.
Down in Jerusalem they slew a man, Or godÂit may be that he was a godÂ Those mad, wild Jews whom Pontius Pilate rules. Thou knowest Pilate, ClaudiaÂ -- a vain man, Too weak to govern such a howling horde As those same Jews. This man they crucified. I knew nought of himÂhad not heard his name Until the day they dragged him to his death; Then all tongues wagged about him and his deeds; Some said that he had claimed to be their King, Some that he had blasphemed their deity 'Twas certain he was poor and meanly born, No warrior he, nor hero; and he taught Doctrines that surely would upset the world; And so they killed him to be rid of himÂ Wise, very wise, if he were only man, Not quite so wise if he were half a god!
I know that strange things happened when he diedÂ There was a darkness and an agony, And some were vastly frightenedÂnot so I! What cared I if that mob of reeking Jews Had brought a nameless curse upon their heads ? I had no part in that blood-guiltiness. At least he died; and some few friends of hisÂ I think he had not very many friendsÂ Took him and laid him in a garden tomb. A watch was set about the sepulchre, Lest these, his friends, should hide him and proclaim That he had risen as he had fore-told. Laugh not, my Claudia. I laughed when I heard The prophecy. I would I had not laughed!
I, Maximus, was chosen for the guard With all my trusty fellows. Pilate knew I was a man who had no foolish heart Of softness all unworthy of a man! My eyes had looked upon a tortured slave As on a beetle crushed beneath my tread; I gloried in the splendid strife of war, Lusting for conquest; I had won the praise Of our stern general on a scarlet field; Red in my veins the warrior passion ran, For I had sprung from heroes, Roman born!
Claudia, how may I tell what came to pass? I have been mocked at when I told the tale For a crazed dreamer punished by the gods Because he slept on guard; but mock not thou! I could not bear it if thy lips should mock The vision dread of that Judean morn.
Sudden the pallid east was all aflame With radiance that beat upon our eyes As from noonday sun; and then we saw Two shapes that were as the immortal gods Standing before the tomb; around me fell My men as dead; but I, though through my veins Ran a cold tremor never known before, Withstood the shock and saw one shining shape Roll back the stone; the whole world seemed ablaze, And through the garden came a rushing wind Thundering a paeon as of victory.
Then that dead man came forth! Oh, Claudia, If thou coulds't but have seen the face of him! Never was such a conqueror! Yet no pride Was in itÂnought but love and tenderness, Such as we Romans scoff at; and his eyes Bespake him royal. Oh, my Claudia, Surely he was no Jew but very god!
Then he looked full upon me. I had borne Much staunchly, but that look I could not bear! What man may front a god and live? I fell Prone, as if stricken by a thunderbolt; And, though I died not, somewhat of me died That made me man. When my long stupor passed I was no longer MaximusÂI was A weakling with a piteous woman-soul, All strength and pride, joy and ambition goneÂ My Claudia, dare I tell thee what foul curse Is mine because I looked upon a god?
I care no more for glory; all desire For conquest and for strife is gone from me, All eagerness for war; I only care To help and heal bruised beings, and to give Some comfort to the weak and suffering. I cannot even hate those Jews; my lips Speak harshly of them, but within my heart I feel a strange compassion; and I love All creatures, to the vilest of the slaves Who seem to me as brothers! Claudia, Scorn me not for this weakness; it will passÂ Surely 'twill pass in time and I shall be Maximus strong and valiant once again, Forgetting that slain god! and yetÂand yetÂ He looked as one who could not be forgot!