Ave Faustina Imperatrix, morituri te salutant.

Lean back, and get some minutes’ peace;

Let your head lean

Back to the shoulder with its fleece

Of locks, Faustine.

The shapely silver shoulder stoops,

Weighed over clean

With state of splendid hair that droops

Each side, Faustine.

Let me go over your good gifts


That crown you queen;

A queen whose kingdom ebbs and shifts

Each week, Faustine.

Bright heavy brows well gathered up:

White gloss and sheen;

Carved lips that make my lips a cup

To drink, Faustine,

Wine and rank poison, milk and blood,

Being mixed therein

Since first the devil threw dice with God


For you, Faustine.

Your naked new-born soul, their stake,

Stood blind between;

God said ‘let him that wins her take

And keep Faustine.’

But this time Satan throve, no doubt;

Long since, I ween,

God’s part in you was battered out;

Long since, Faustine.

The die rang sideways as it fell,


Rang cracked and thin,

Like a man’s laughter heard in hell

Far down, Faustine,

A shadow of laughter like a sigh,

Dead sorrow’s kin;

So rang, thrown down, the devil’s die

That won Faustine.

A suckling of his breed you were,

One hard to wean;

But God, who lost you, left you fair,


We see, Faustine.

You have the face that suits a woman

For her soul’s screen –

The sort of beauty that’s called human

In hell, Faustine.

You could do all things but be good

Or chaste of mien;

And that you would not if you could,

We know, Faustine.

Even he who cast seven devils out


Of Magdalene

Could hardly do as much, I doubt,

For you, Faustine.

Did Satan make you to spite God?

Or did God mean

To scourge with scorpions for a rod

Our sins, Faustine?

I know what queen at first you were,

As though I had seen

Red gold and black imperious hair


Twice crown Faustine.

As if your fed sarcophagus

Spared flesh and skin,

You come back face to face with us,

The same Faustine.

She loved the games men played with death,

Where death must win;

As though the slain man’s blood and breath

Revived Faustine.

Nets caught the pike, pikes tore the net;


Lithe limbs and lean

From drained-out pores dripped thick red sweat

To soothe Faustine.

She drank the steaming drift and dust

Blown off the scene;

Blood could not ease the bitter lust

That galled Faustine.

All round the foul fat furrows reeked,

Where blood sank in;

The circus splashed and seethed and shrieked


All round Faustine.

But these are gone now: years entomb

The dust and din;

Yea, even the bath’s fierce reek and fume

That slew Faustine.

Was life worth living then? and now

Is life worth sin?

Where are the imperial years? and how

Are you Faustine?

Your soul forgot her joys, forgot


Her times of teen;

Yea, this life likewise will you not

Forget, Faustine?

For in the time we know not of

Did fate begin

Weaving the web of days that wove

Your doom, Faustine.

The threads were wet with wine, and all

Were smooth to spin;

They wove you like a Bacchanal,


The first Faustine.

And Bacchus cast your mates and you

Wild grapes to glean;

Your flower-like lips were dashed with dew

From his, Faustine.

Your drenched loose hands were stretched to hold

The vine’s wet green,

Long ere they coined in Roman gold

Your face, Faustine.

Then after change of soaring feather


And winnowing fin,

You woke in weeks of feverish weather,

A new Faustine.

A star upon your birthday burned,

Whose fierce serene

Red pulseless planet never yearned

In heaven, Faustine.

Stray breaths of Sapphic song that blew

Through Mitylene

Shook the fierce quivering blood in you


By night, Faustine.

The shameless nameless love that makes

Hell’s iron gin

Shut on you like a trap that breaks

The soul, Faustine.

And when your veins were void and dead,

What ghosts unclean

Swarmed round the straitened barren bed

That hid Faustine?

What sterile growths of sexless root


Or epicene?

What flower of kisses without fruit

Of love, Faustine?

What adders came to shed their coats?

What coiled obscene

Small serpents with soft stretching throats

Caressed Faustine?

But the time came of famished hours,

Maimed loves and mean,

This ghastly thin-faced time of ours,


To spoil Faustine.

You seem a thing that hinges hold,

A love-machine

With clockwork joints of supple gold –

No more, Faustine.

Not godless, for you serve one God,

The Lampsacene,

Who metes the gardens with his rod;

Your lord, Faustine.

If one should love you with real love


(Such things have been,

Things your fair face knows nothing of,

It seems, Faustine);

That clear hair heavily bound back,

The lights wherein

Shift from dead blue to burnt-up black;

Your throat, Faustine,

Strong, heavy, throwing out the face

And hard bright chin

And shameful scornful lips that grace


Their shame, Faustine,

Curled lips, long since half kissed away,

Still sweet and keen;

You’d give him – poison shall we say?

Or what, Faustine?