Waiting for the Barbarians
By Constantine Cavafy (1864-1933), translated by Edmund KeeleyWhat are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?
The barbarians are due here today.Why isn't anything happening in the senate?
Why do the senators sit there without legislating?
Because the barbarians are coming today.Why did our emperor get up so early,
What laws can the senators make now?
Once the barbarians are here, they'll do the legislating.
and why is he sitting at the city's main gate
on his throne, in state, wearing the crown?
Because the barbarians are coming todayWhy have our two consuls and praetors come out today
and the emperor is waiting to receive their leader.
He has even prepared a scroll to give him,
replete with titles, with imposing names.
wearing their embroidered, their scarlet togas?
Why have they put on bracelets with so many amethysts,
and rings sparkling with magnificent emeralds?
Why are they carrying elegant canes
beautifully worked in silver and gold?
Because the barbarians are coming todayWhy don't our distinguished orators come forward as usual
and things like that dazzle the barbarians.
to make their speeches, say what they have to say?
Because the barbarians are coming todayWhy this sudden restlessness, this confusion?
and they're bored by rhetoric and public speaking.
(How serious people's faces have become.)
Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly,
everyone going home so lost in thought?
Because night has fallen and the barbarians have not come.And now, what's going to happen to us without barbarians?
And some who have just returned from the border say
there are no barbarians any longer.
They were, those people, a kind of solution.
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