Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 9/Dionysius the schoolmaster


One little year ago and Syracuse,
Great Syracuse with all its royal towers,
Lay at my feet, as I leant back to hear
The Lydian flutes chasing the flying hours:
The Cystus-bloom, that scarce a day doth shine,
Was not more short-lived than that power of mine.

I looked and saw the triremes in the port,
And every trireme bore my purple flag;
And everywhere the vineyards caught the eye,
Wreathing each clayey cliff and stony crag,
And o’er the bay I saw proud Temples rise,
Built for my slaves to offer sacrifice.

My garment trailed upon the marble stone
Out in the sunshine; but a soft green shade
Played round my brows, and from the inner court
(On this day year) I mind me that there strayed
Ionian music, fluttering from the throat
Of a Greek boy, who mocked the thrush’s note.

My cedar chests were brimmed with Persian gold,
My vats with wine and oil were running o’er,
My Babylonian stuff, my citron woods,
Seemed in my treasuries to grow still more:
Gold was to me as dust, jewels as stones
That strew the weedy coast where ocean moans.

And now I sit upon a fig-tree stool,
My sceptre for a ferule well exchanged,
Plodding o’er Homer’s verse and Pindar’s hymns,
From all my brittle greatness long estranged;
And round me press the peasant boys, dismayed
At my stern face, the badge of my dull trade.

Under this Ilex we sit hour by hour,
The cicale droning on to mock the task
That drones below, and in the sunshine fierce
The sleeping tortoise crawls to rest and bask,
While in the myrtle brake beyond the shade
I see the green snake steal towards the glade.

Around me gather all the rosy lads,
The stalwart ploughman’s sturdy, restless child,
The fisherman’s rough boys, fresh from the gulf,
And still from their hard trade loud-voiced and wild.
My courtiers nor my parasites are these;
Discrowned, disrobed, I still can boast of ease.

This is my tiny world, and this my train
Of little subjects, trembling at my frown,
Smiling when I smile, as, with weary brain,
I hear the stammered lines of Homer’s rhyme,
And happier than of old, defying fate,
Beneath the Ilex rule my petty state.

And when I die, I shall leave gold enough
To buy them wine to hold a village feast
Each year upon my grave; and there the boys
Shall bask and play, and slay the votive beast;
And I beneath shall rest with peaceful face,
While rustic music cheers the dim, still place.

  1. Dionysius, tyrant, of Syracuse, being deposed, became a schoolmaster in Corinth.