That has no place in the years


When You Go Away by W. S. Merwin

for Dido

When you go away the wind clicks around to the north
The painters work all day but at sundown the paint falls
Showing the black walls
The clock goes back to striking the same hour
That has no place in the years

And at night wrapped in the bed of ashes
In one breath I wake
It is the time when the beards of the dead get their growth
I remember that I am falling
That I am the reason
And that my words are the garment of what I shall never be
Like the tucked sleeve of a one-armed boy


Now Dido
Took Aeneas with her among her buildings,
Showed her Sidonian wealth, her walls prepared,
And tried to speak, but in mid-speech grew still.
When the day waned she wanted to repeat
The banquet as before, to hear once more
In her wild need the throes of Ilium,
And once more hung on the narrator’s words.
Afterward, when all the guests were gone,
And the dim moon in turn had quenched her light,
And setting stars weighted weariness to sleep,
Alone she mourned in the great empty hall
And pressed her body on the couch he left:
She heard him still, though absent — heard and saw him.
Or she would hold Ascanius on her lap,
Enthralled by him, the image of his father,
As though by this ruse to appease a love
Beyond all telling.
Towers, half-built, rose
No farther; men no longer trained in arms
or toiled to make harbors and battlements
Impregnable. Projects were broken off,
Laid over, and the menacing huge walls
With cranes unmoving stood against the sky.

– Virgil’s Aeneid, book 4, lines 75 – 88, as translated by Robert Fitzgerald