Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Death of Antinoüs

By Mark Doty

When the beautiful young man drowned –
accidentally, swimming at dawn
in a current too swift for him,
or obedient to some cult
of total immersion that promised
the bather would come up divine,

mortality rinsed from him –
Hadrian placed his image everywhere,
a marble Antinoüs staring across
the public squares where a few dogs
always scuffled, planted
in every squalid little crossroad

at the farthest corners of the Empire.
What do we want in any body
but the world? And if the lover’s
inimitable form was nowhere,
then he would find it everywhere,
though the boy became simply more dead

as the sculptors embodied him.
Wherever Hadrian might travel,
the beloved figure would be there
first: the turn of his shoulders,
the exact marble nipples,
the drowned face not really lost

to the Nile – which has no appetite,
merely takes in anything
without judgment or expectation –
but lost into its own multiplication,
an artifice rubbed with oils and acid
so that the skin might shine.

Which of these did I love?
Here is his hair, here his hair
again. Here the chiseled liquid waist
I hold because I cannot hold it.
If only one of you
, he might have said
to any one of the thousand marble boys anywhere,

would speak. Or the statues might have been enough,
the drowned boy blurred as much by memory
as by water, molded toward an essential,
remote ideal. Longing, of course,
becomes its own object, the way
that desire can make anything into a god.

Taken from Love Speaks It's Name: Gay and Lesbian Love Poems, selected and edited by J. D. McClatchy (Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2001).

For a video of Mark Doty talking about Hadrian and Antinoüs and reading his poem "The Death of Antinoüs," click here.

See also the previous posts:
Ganymede and Zeus

Recommended Reading: Beloved and God: The Story of Hadrian and Antinous by Royston Lambert.

Opening image: "Antinous" by

1 comment:

rab marlow said...

"Here is his hair, here his hair

Doty's reader might substitute "hare" for "hair."

In her novel Hadrian's Memoirs, Marguerite Yourcenar has Hadrian recount the season he took Antinous to the young man's ancestral Arcadia. Hadrian says the only thing to mar the time was the incident in which "a hare which my young hunter had tamed with great effort was caught and torn by the hounds."

I've cast about for other accounts of this incident. Perhaps Yourcenar includes it as a literary foreshadowing.

'Love the Doty poem, by the way. Love everything by Doty.

Thanks for your thoughtful posts.