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Forty Years On

Except where blast-furnaces and generating stations
   have inserted their sharp profiles,
or a Thru-way slashes harshly across them, Bohemia’s contours
   look just as amiable now
as when I saw them first (indeed, her coast is gentler,
   for tame hotels have ousted
the havocking bears), nor have her dishes lost their flavor
   since Florizel was thwacked into exile
and we and Sicily discorded, fused into rival amalgams,
   in creed and policy oppugnant.
Only to the ear is it obvious something drastic has happened,
   that orators no more speak
of primogeniture, prerogatives of age and sceptre:
   (for our health we have had to learn
the fraternal shop of our new Bonzen, but that was easy.)
   For a useful technician I lacked
the schooling, for a bureaucrat the Sitz-Fleisch: all I had
   was the courtier’s agility to adapt
my rogueries to the times. It sufficed. I survived and prosper
   better than I ever did under
the old lackadaisical economy: it is many years now
   since I picked a pocket (how deft
my hand was then!), or sang for pennies, or traveled on foot.
   (The singing I miss, but today’s
audience would boo my ballads: it calls for Songs of Protest
   and wants its bawdry straight
not surreptitious.) A pedlar still, for obvious reasons
   I no longer cry my wares,
but in ill-lit alleys coaxingly whisper to likely clients:
   Anything you cannot buy In the stores I will supply, English foot-wear, nylon hose, Or transistor radios; Come to me for the Swiss Francs Unobtainable in banks; For a price I can invent Any official document, Work-Permits, Driving-Licenses, Any Certificate you please: Believe me, I know all the tricks, There is nothing I can’t fix.
   Why, then, should I badger?
No rheum has altered my gait, as ever my cardiac muscles
   are undismayed, my cells
perfectly competent, and by now I am far too rich
   for the thought of the hangman’s noose
to make me oggle. But how glib all the faces I see about me
   seem suddenly to have become,
and how seldom I feel like a hay-tumble. For three nights running
   now I have had the same dream
of a suave afternoon in Fall. I am standing on high ground,
   looking out westward over
a plain well-managed by Jaguar farmers. In the enloignment,
   a-glitter in the whelking sun,
a sheer bare cliff concludes the vista. At its base I see,
   black-shaped like a bell-tent,
the mouth of a cave by which (I know in my dream) I am to
   make my final exit,
its roof so low it will need an awkward duck to make it.
   ”Well, will that be so shaming?”
I ask when awake. Why should it be? When has Autolycus
   ever solemned himself?

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