The Riders Held Back
One morning, as we travelled in the fields
Of air and dew
With trumpets, and above the painted shields
The banners flew,
We came upon three ladies, wreathed in roses,
Where, hand in hand,
They dancedthree slender, gentle, naked ladies,
All in a woodland.
They'd been to the best schools in Italy;
Their legs were Greek,
Their collarbones, as fine as jewellery,
Their eyes, antique.
‘Why do lambs skip and shepherds shout "Ut hoy!"?
Why do you dance?'
Said one, ‘It is an intellectual joy,
‘As do the stars in heaven, ruled by Three,
We twine and move.
It is the music of Astronomy,
Not men, we love.
‘And as we dance, the beasts and flowers do;
The fields of wheat
Sway like our arms; the curving hills continue
The curves of our feet.
‘Here Raphael comes to paint; the thrushes flute
To Petrarch's pen.
But Michael is not here, who carved the brute
They danced again, and on the mountain heights
There seemed to rise
Towers and ramparts glittering with lights,
How the bright morning passed, I cannot say.
We woke and found
The dancers gone; and heard, far, far away,
The trumpet sound.
We galloped to it. In the forest then
Banners and shields
Were strewn like leaves; and there were many slain
In the dark fields.
Louis Simpson, The Owner of the House: New Collected
Poems 1940-2001, BOA Editions, 2003.