Meditation on a Bone

            A piece of bone, found at Trondhjem in 1901, with the
            
Following runic inscription (about A.D. 1050) cut on it:
            
I loved her as a maiden; I will not trouble Erlend's detestable
            wife; better she should be a widow.


Words scored upon a bone,
Scratched in despair or rage–
Nine hundred years have gone;
Now, in another age,
They burn with passion on
A scholar's tranquil page.

The scholar takes his pen
And turns the bone about,
And writes those words again.
Once more they seethe and shout,
And through a human brain
Undying hate rings out.

"I loved her when a maid;
I loathe and love the wife
That warms another's bed:
Let him beware his life!"
The scholar's hand is stayed;
His pen becomes a knife

To grave in living bone
The fierce archaic cry.
He sits and reads his own
Dull sum of misery.
A thousand years have flown
Before that ink is dry.

And, in a foreign tongue,
A man, who is not he,
Reads and his heart is wrung
This ancient grief to see,
And thinks: When I am dung,
What bone shall speak for me?


A.D. Hope, Selected Poems, Carcanet Press, 1986.