The Universal Empire
The universal empire of all men,
Bound by one law and governed by one hand,
Was what (claims Plutarch) Alexander planned
When he yoked Persia, Greece, and Egypt. When
The Indus stymies him, when, to surprise
Carthage, no fleet round Africa has sailed,
The king has failed—but does not know he’s failed.
As emperor in Babylon he dies.
And after: diadochi, epigone,
In envy weeping Caesar, Carolus
(Called Magnus), Fairhair, Vladimir of Rus,
Old Fritz (called Magnus), and Napoleon
Failed more or less in all their dreams, and all
In matching Alexander’s dream of one
Law, and one hand, his hand, one sky, one sun
Above all men to rise, one sun to fall.
The map is finite. Alexander’s map
He shades with crayons. Thrace. Transoxiana.
Armenia. He lays him down upon a
Dead monarch’s bed, and takes a little nap.
Can he still see the steps within his dreams,
The baby steps with which he strode the globe,
The purple diaper and the purple robe,
The screams of Thebes, the nighttime teething screams,
The steppes where after fifteen hundred years
A Khan arose whose conquests overthrew
The deeds of Alexander (Cyrus, too!)?
Master in power, in progeny, in tears,
Genghis in stirrups gazes out across
The vast waste that he barely understands.
Are Persia, Rus, Vienna, phantom lands,
One furlong more, a gain? One less, a loss?
Beyond the low horizon, spans which pass
Rumor or praxis will not be believed.
As Alexander burbles, I achieved,
The Khan spits in an ocean, infinite and made of grass.