That I had come from Venice where I had come from Greece
So that my eyes seemed dim and the world flat. Secondly,
That after Tintoretto’s illusory depth and light
The mosaics knocked me flat. There they stood. The geese
Had hissed as they pecked the corn from Theodora’s groin,
Yet here she stands on the wall of San Vitale, as bright
As life and a long shot taller, self-made empress,
Who patronized the monophysites and the Greens
Lost naval port of Caesar, surviving now in the name
In Classe : the sea today is behind the scenes
Like his Liburnian galleys. What went wrong
With Byzanthium as with Rome went slowly, their fame
Sunk in malarial marsh. The flat lands now
Are ruled by a sugar refinery and a church
Sant’ Apollinare in Classe. What do I remember of Ravenna ?
A bad smell mixed with glory, and the cold
Eyes that belie the tessellated gold.
Louis MacNiece (Belfast, 1907 – Londre, 1963),
in The Burning Perch (1963).