The Centurion

What is it now? More trouble?
Another Jew? I might have known it.
These Jews, they buzz around the tail of trouble
Like lascivious flies. Do they think we're here
Because we love them? Is it their climate
That holds us here? Why, think, Marcellus -
By God, just dream of it. Today in Rome,
Less than two thousand thirsty miles away,
Fountains and squares and shadowed colonnades,
Men with smooth chins and girls that sometimes wash.
Well, who is it? ... I see.
Another to be taken to the bonehill.
They're coming now. Just listen to them! -
You'd think they had a dozen there at least.
My sword, Marcellus. I'll be back to dinner,
Unless this fellow`s a reluctant dier
Who loves the world too well.

Halt! Stop that shouting. Why is he dressed like that?
(His robes are purple. On his head
A hedge-crown. Where the thorns are driven
Berries of blood leap up ... ) 'My orders differ.
Remove that crown - at once - return his clothes.
Kingship can wait until his throne is ready.
Till then, safe conduct. Hold your lines -
Especially that to the windward: I've no fondness
For foreign spittle. Hold them. March... '

'Halt! Here's the place. Set down the cross.
You three attend to it. And remember, Marcus,
The blows are struck, the nails are driven
For Roman law and Roman order,
Not for your private satisfaction.
Set to work.'

(The grass is bare, sand-coloured : the hill
Quivers with heat.) 'What? As you please.
Seamless? Then dice for it.' (The sun
Is brutal in this land, metallic.
It works for death, not life.) 'Well, is it done?
Now nail the board above: 'King of the Jews.'
That turns the mockery on them. Watch them wince
At the superscription. Look, their faces!
Hate. Which man is hated most,
Myself or him? He'll serve for both:
They know their limitations. They know,
Greek, Jew or Roman, there is one command,
One only. What's his name? -
He takes it quietly. From Nazareth? I know it well. Who would exchange it
For this sad city, and become
The food of flies? Marcus, there!
Give him some wine: he won't last long.'
That strain of wrist, the arm's tension
And scarecrow hang of chest. Ah, well,
Poor devil, he's got decent eyes.

Clive Sansom

Softly and Tenderly
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