The Roman Centurion’s Song

…from the quills of the dead white poets

Rudyard Kipling (1865 – 1936)

Roman Occupation of Britain, A.D. 300

Legate, I had the news last night --my cohort ordered home
By ships to Portus Itius and thence by road to Rome.
I've marched the companies aboard, the arms are stowed below:
Now let another take my sword. Command me not to go!

I've served in Britain forty years, from Vectis to the Wall,
I have none other home than this, nor any life at all.
Last night I did not understand, but, now the hour draws near 
That calls me to my native land, I feel that land is here.

Here where men say my name was made, here where my work
    was done;
Here where my dearest dead are laid--my wife--my wife and
    son;
Here where time, custom, grief and toil, age, memory, service,
    love,
Have rooted me in British soil. Ah, how can I remove?

For me this land, that sea, these airs, those folk and fields surffice.
What purple Southern pomp can match our changeful Northern
      skies,
Black with December snows unshed or pearled with August
   haze--
The clanging arch of steel-grey March, or June's long-lighted
   days?                      

You'll follow widening Rhodanus till vine an olive lean
Aslant before the sunny breeze that sweeps Nemausus clean
To Arelate's triple gate; but let me linger on,
Here where our stiff-necked British oaks confront Euroclydon!

You'll take the old Aurelian Road through shore-descending
   pines
Where, blue as any peacock's neck, the Tyrrhene Ocean shines.
You'll go where laurel crowns are won, but--will you e'er forget
The scent of hawthorn in the sun, or bracken in the wet?

Let me work here for Britain's sake--at any task you will--
A marsh to drain, a road to make or native troops to drill.
Some Western camp (I know the Pict) or granite Border keep,
Mid seas of heather derelict, where our old messmates sleep.

Legate, I come to you in tears--My cohort ordered home!
I've served in Britain forty years. What should I do in Rome?
Here is my heart, my soul, my mind--the only life I know.
I cannot leave it all behind. Command me not to go!

About Paul Jacko

Jacko was born in Czechoslovakia not long before the communist putsch in February 1948. He studied industrial chemistry there and left in 1969 for Australia, where he became a lawyer and established his own practice. He has now retired and beside hunting, fishing, camping, prospecting and playing golf he amuses himself by writing.
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