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To Die at the Springs of El-Hamma

Down into the fichus boulevards at the springs of El-Hamma
come the starlings, trembling then landing.
The water is hot at the springs of El-Hamma,
Yet night is more hostile than day.
Layers of sand on those who landed before:
Layers of sand cover their faces,
The water is dead at the springs of El-Hamma.
From great distances come the starlings
Beating to these death-ponds: always they come.
Who sends these birds to end
In the booby-trapped springs of El-Hamma?
They fly so urgently, with no chance or time,
No time for life and no chance to learn
If someone expects their return.
The starlings are flying in to die in the seducer
Springs of El-Hamma, poisoned by the salt.
Fowl can’t stop the soldiers, for their faces
Are pointed into the earth. Oh, how easy it is
To finish as a starling, and not as a soldier.

by Elisha Porat
Translated from the Hebrew by the author and Ward Kelley
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[VI - XIV]

Gwyr a aeth ododin chwerthin ognaw.
chwerw en trin a llain en emdullyaw.
byrr vlyned en hed yd ynt endaw.
mab botgat gwnaeth gwynnyeith gwreith
e law.
ket elwynt e lanneu e benydyaw.
a hen a yeueing a hydyr a llaw.
dadyl diheu angheu y eu treidaw.Read more... )


Men went to Gododdin, laughter-inciting,
Bitter in battle, with blades set for war.
Brief the year they were at peace.
The son of Bodgad, by the deeds of his hand
did slaughter.
Though they went to churches to do penance,
The young, the old, the lowly, the strong,
True is the tale, death oer’took them.

Men went to Gododdin, with eager laughter,
Attacking in an army, cruel in battle,
They slew with swords without much sound
Rheithfyw, pillar of battle, took pleasure in giving.

Men went to Catraeth, swift was their host.
Fresh mead was their feast, their poison too.
Three hundred waging war, under command,
And after joy, there was silence.
Though they went to churches to do penance,
True is the tale, death oer’took them.

Men went to Catraeth, mead-nourished,
Sturdy and strong, it would be wrong should I not praise them.
Amid blood-red blades in dark-blue sockets,
The war-hounds fought fiercely, tight formation.
Of the war-band of Brennych, I would have thought it a burden,
to leave any in the shape of a man alive.
A friend I have lost; faithful I was.
Swift in the struggle, it grieves me to leave him.
The brave one desired no father-in-law’s dowry,
The son of Cian from Maen Gwyngwn.Read more... )
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Weeping, my little one? There, there.
You cannot know what waits for you.
- How will it be? Falling down - down - all broken -
And none to pity.
Kiss me. Never again. Come closer, closer.
Your mother who bore you - put your arms around my neck.
Now kiss me, lips to lips.

-Euripides, "The Trojan Women"
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As I walked under the African moon,
I heard the piper play;
And the last place ever I heard that tune
Was a thousand miles away.

Far to the west, in a deep-cut bay
By the ceaseless sound of the sea,
We lived and laughed in a happier day,
Archie and Johnnie and me.

For they'd be piping half of the night
At every ceilidh by,
And I'd be dancing with all my might
As long as they played, would I.

Many a time we were at the Games,
And many a prize had we;
And never a one but called our names,
Archie and Johnnie and me.

But Archie's dead on the Libyan sand.
And Johnnie was left in Crete,
And I'm alone in a distant land
With the music gone from my feet.

I heard him under the African moon,
That piper I could not see;
Yet certain I am he played that tune
For Archie and Johnnie and me.

-Lt-Colonel Lord of Poltalloch DL JP
Duntroon Castle, Lochgilphead, Argyll
Died March 1976. "Lament"

(George Ian Malcolm?)
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The Persian Version

Truth-loving Persians do not dwell upon
The trivial skirmish fought near Marathon.
As for the Greek theatrical tradition
Which represents that summer's expedition
Not as a mere reconnaisance in force
By three brigades of foot and one of horse
(Their left flank covered by some obsolete
Light craft detached from the main Persian fleet)
But as a grandiose, ill-starred attempt
To conquer Greece - they treat it with contempt;
And only incidentally refute
Major Greek claims, by stressing what repute
The Persian monarch and the Persian nation
Won by this salutary demonstration:
Despite a strong defence and adverse weather
All arms combined magnificently together.

-- Robert Graves
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Chan fhaca mi Lannes aig Ratasbon
no MacFill-Fhinnein aig Allt Eire
no Gill-Iosa aig Cuil-Lodair,
ach chunnaic mi Sassanach 'san Eiphit.

Fear beag le gruaidhean pluiceach
is gluinean a'bleith a cheile,
aodann guireanach gun tlachd ann-
comhdach an spioraid bu treine.

Cha robh buaidh air''san tigh-osda
'n am nan dorn a bhith 'gan dunadh',
ach leoghann e ri uchd a'chatha,
anns na frasan guineach mugach.

Thainig uair-sin lis na sligean
leis na spealgan-iaruinn bearnach,
anns an toit is anns an lasair,
ann an crith is maoim na h-araich.

Thainig fios dha 'san fhrois pheileir
e bhith gu spreigearra 'na dhiulnach:
is b' e sin fhad 's a mhair e,
ach cha b'fhada fhuair e dh'uine )
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The river brought down
dead horses, dead men
and military debris,
indicative of war
or official acts upstream,
but it went by, it all
goes by, that is the thing
about the river. Then
a soldier on a log
went by. He seemed drunk
and we asked him Why
had he and this junk
come down to us so
from the past upstream.
"Friends," he said, "the great
Battle of Granicus
has just been won
by all of the Greeks except
the Lacedaemonians and
myself: this is a joke
between me and a man
named Alexander, whom
all of you ba-bas
will hear of as a god."
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"Is that the Three-and-Twentieth, Strabo mine,
Marching below, and we still gulping wine?"
From the sad magic of his fragrant cup
The red-faced old centurion started up,
Cursed, battered on the table. "No," he said,
"Not that! The Three-and-Twentieth Legion's dead,
Dead in the first year of this damned campaign--
The Legion's dead, dead, and won't rise again.
Pity? Rome pities her brave lads that die,
But we need pity also, you and I,
Whom Gallic spear and Belgian arrow miss,
Who live to see the Legion come to this,
Unsoldierlike, slovenly, bent on loot,
Grumblers, diseased, unskilled to thrust or shoot.
O, brown cheek, muscled shoulder, sturdy thigh!
Where are they now? God! watch it struggle by,
The sullen pack of ragged ugly swine.
Is that the Legion, Gracchus? Quick, the wine!"
"Strabo," said Gracchus, "you are strange tonight.
The Legion is the Legion; it's all right.
If these new men are slovenly, in your thinking,
God damn it! you'll not better them by drinking.
They all try, Strabo; trust their hearts and hands.
The Legion is the Legion while Rome stands,
And these same men before the autumn's fall
Shall bang old Vercingetorix out of Gaul."
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The diameter of the bomb was thirty centimeters
and the diameter of its effective range about seven meters,
with four dead and eleven wounded.
And around these, in a larger circle,
of pain and time, two hospitals are scattered
and one graveyard. But the young woman
who was buried in the city she came from,
at a distance of more than a hundred kilometers,
enlarges the circle considerably,
and the solitary man mourning her death
at the distant shores of a country far across the sea
includes the entire world in the cirle.
And I won't even mention the howl of orphans
that reaches up to the throne of God and
beyond, making
a circle with no end and no God.
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Skimming lightly, wheeling still,
The swallows fly low
Over the field in clouded days,
The forest-field of Shiloh -
Over the field where April rain
Solaced the parched ones stretched in pain
Through the pause of night
That followed the Sunday fight
Around the church of Shiloh -
The church so lone, the log-built one,
That echoed to many a parting groan
And natural prayer
Of dying foemen mingled there -
Foemen at morn, but friends at eve
Fame or country least their care:
(What like a bullet can undeceive!)
But now they lie low,
While over them the swallows skim,
And all is hushed at Shiloh.
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First fight. Then fiddle. Ply the slipping string
With feathery sorcery; muzzle the note
With hurting love; the music that they wrote
Bewitch, bewilder. Qualify to sing
Threadwise. Devise no salt, no hempen thing
For the dear instrument to bear. Devote
The bows to silks and honey. Be remote
A while from malice and from murdering.
But first to arms, to armor. Carry hate
In front of you and harmony behind.
Be deaf to music and to beauty blind.
Win war. Rise bloody, maybe not too late
For having first to civilize a space
Wherein to play your violin with grace.
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You'd been asleep and missed the tea and coffee cart.
Through the carriage it was all sunlight and quiet

(I'd been rubbing the sleep out of my eyes)
as both of us missed the minutes silence

that Sunday morning. Glasgow to Edinburgh.
And you were wearing what I took for a pashmina:

breathtaking, while wreaths were laid round cenotaphs
at Passchendaele, Marseilles, Nice, Nantes, Ypres.
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What passing bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.

No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;

Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.
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Reality demands
that we also mention this:
Life goes on.
It continues at Cannae and Borodino,
at Kosovo Polje and Guernica.

There's a gas station
on a little square in Jericho,
and wet paint
on park benches in Bila Hora. Read more... )

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