Last Days of Prospero


The aging magician retired to his island.
It was not so green as he remembered,
Nor did the sea caress its headlands
With the customary nuptial music.

He did not mind. He would not mind,
So long as the causeway to the mainland
Were not repaired, so long as the gay
Little tourist steamer never again

Lurched late into harbor, and no one
Applied for a license to reopen
The shuttered, gilt casino. Better,
He thought, an isle unvisited

Except for the sea birds come to roost
On the roofs of the thousand ruined cabanas,
Survivors; or the strayed whale offshore,
Suspicious, surfacing to spout,

Noble as any fountain of Milan . . .
The cave? That was as he had left it,
Amply provisioned against the days
To come. His cloak? Neat on its hanger.

The painted constellations, though faded
With damp a little, still glittered
And seemed in the dark to move on course.
His books? He knew where they were drowned.

(What tempests he had caused, what lightnings
Loosed in the rigging of the world!)
If now it was all to do again,
Nothing was lacking to his purpose.

Some change in the wording of the charm,
Some slight reshuffling of negative
And verb, perhaps: that should suffice.
So, so. Meanwhile he paced the strand

Debating, as old men will, with himself
Or with the waves, and still the waves
Came back at him always with the same
Low chucklings or grand, indifferent sighs.


Donald Justice, New and Selected Poems, Alfred A. Knopf, 1996.