TO LYCOMEDES ON SCYROS by Joseph Brodsky
I abandon this city, as once Theseus abandone
the labyrinth, leaving the Minotaur
to rot, and Ariadne to murmer words of love
in Bacchus’ embrace.
This is my victory!
An apotheosis of moral virtue.
But God has arranged our meeting
at just that moment when in the middle of it all,
with our endeavors accomplished,
we now stroll through the vacant lot,
with booty in our hands leaving forever
these places, with no intention of ever coming back.
At the end of the day, a murder
is a murder. The duty of mortals
is to take up arms against all monsters.
But who has said that monsters are immortal?
For secretly God—lest we arrogantly assume
ourselves to be different from the vanquishes—
takes away any reward when the exultant mob is not looking
and bids us to be silent. And we walk away.
This time, for sure, we do leave for good. Men can
return to where they committed crime,
but men do not return to the place of their humiliation.
On this point God’s design and our feeling of humiliation
coincide so completely that we leave behind our back
the night, the rotting beast, the exultant mob, our homes,
our hearthfires, and Bacchus in a vacant lot
kissing Ariadne in the dark.
But one day the return is inevitable. Back home.
Back to the native hearth. And my own journey
will pass through this very city. So God grand that I
shall not carry with me then the double-edged sword—
since cities start, for those who inhabit them,
with central squares and towers—
but for the traveler—with their outskirts.
trans. Zara M. Torlone