Canto 15: Conquistadors

What trouble is beyond the rage of man?
What heavy burden will he not endure?
Jealousy, faction, quarelling, & battle,
The bloodiness of war, the grief of war.

Sophocles


 

Niccolo Machiavelli

As battle brutal & incessant grates
The gates of Florence, Venice, Sicily,
Genoa, Naples & the Papal States,
All pounc’d upon by foreign ‘Barbari;’
No tribal seat
Shall keep this clan intact,
At Italy’s defeat ‘twas unity they lack’d.

It is the writer’s lot in life
To say what we are thinking,
Of course this comes weigh’d down with strife,
While heavier the drinking :-
Winning himself a frisson wife
With his Princes linking,
He sets himself a mission to implore
His countrymen their glory to restore.

Some call’d him diabolical,
Degenerate, deprav’d,
Thro’ which evil courtly counsel
A road to Hell was pav’d,
But in his words lies common sense, their rescue widely-crav’d.

Florence
1513


Death of Chivalry

Beneath the pyramids the Sultan stands,
Protecting ancestral lands Islamic
From Ottoman conquest, his line expands,
Across the sands strange muskets chambers click;
Fathomless force
That is the flow of time
Electrifies his horseman on a charge sublime.

Those brave Aegyptians went to work,
Yank back drawstrings on their bows,
Their lust for bloodshed bled bezerk
As fann’d one thousand arrows,
But images of future lurk
In the Turkish shadows –
The Mamluk line withers as winter rots
As masters of gunpowder blast their shots.

As Lion Kings must lose their pride
When old worlds meets the young
Lead-ball wall wide of genocide,
Dead men from dead mounts flung
& knowing he would be the last, their last Sultan was hung

Cairo
1517


Motecuhzoma

There was a time when white men thought them best,
Of course we know this naught but braggart’s boast,
But then, there was a time when to the West
Great floating mountains landed off the coast;
“Quetzalcoatl
Has come!” the Emperor,
Faced with an immortal, tribulates in terror.

Hernando Cortez was no god,
Gunpowder was his magic,
Him over honour rode slip-shod,
Intransigencies tragic,
Snapping Motecuhzoma’s rod,
Sends tumbling, double-quick,
A vast empire of gleaming golden plate,
Consumed entire into the Spanish state.

Five hundred years, from pole-to-pole,
European empires
Shall each & all rise up & fall,
Until the thought retires
That men are meant to others rule… Cortez inspects the pyres.

Tenochtitlan
1521


Iberia

Magellan proves the world a moving sphere,
Criss-cross’d & pin-prick’d by the flags of Spain,
Throne of a restless king, whose lands appear
As gardens of a globular domain;
Unto him comes
The Holy Roman crowns,
The roll of Spanish drums belittling Europe’s towns.

He was a very handsome king
& his fate, a special queen,
Who gifts him her engagement ring,
Valladolid hosts the scene,
Where bridal dress more angel wing
& afterwards, serene,
Alhambra Palace holds a honeymoon
Of warm love-making in the afternoon.

Don Carlos kiss’d his Isobel,
Sending souls delighted,
Seductive smell, the sunset fell,
Verses soft recited,
Then enter’d her with passionfire, with Portugal united!

Granada
1525


The Seige of Vienna

For Suliman, the Ceasar’s sultan heir,
This Istanbul a worthy capital,
All creeds & races in her splendour share
Where lonely wives worry after battle,
Whose young boys dream
Of stately tents of war,
Where blazing colours stream & sharp the Zulfiqar!

Part of that Byzantine glory
That was ardent Achea,
Once more denied of liberty
With Belgrade & Wallachia,
North Africa to Hungary
Thro Transyllvania –
Embassies of nervous western nations
Profess cordial congratulations.

As Turks arrive at Vienna
The French fear for their lives,
But come winter’s onset men were
Loin-weary for their wives,
So left the wall which Suliman defiantly survives.

Austria
1529


Monarchia Hispania

Conquistadors view the Pacific blue,
Cortez claims the nopal of Mexico,
& the laurels for conquering Peru
Go to gallant Francisco Pizarro;
Strecthing the range
Of Hispanic mandate,
Thro lands & native strange, decorum to create.

Above the earth the sun was sent,
Shining down on land & sea,
From continent to continent –
Volcanic Cotopaxi,
Mozambique, Kerala & Ghent,
Conjoin’d community,
Whose peoples seem powerless to resist
The vigours of this white supremacist.

The virgin world desilverized,
Building a bridge to Spain,
Christianized & Hispanized
To civilise the reign,
Abuzz with swarms of Afric slaves in fields of sugar cane.

South America
1540


Opening the Orient

Among the islands of the coral sword
Pink-faced traders find friendly harbourage,
Lisboan captain meets a local lord
& welcomes him into the modern age;
Gold muskets fire,
Bouy’d by their example
The samurais admire these gifts from Portugal.

Swordsmen of armour’d cavalry,
With battledress their pillow,
Handle their weapons gracefeully
As poets play the koto,
Epitomising chivalry,
Personify Shinto;
No compliments exist enough on earth
To bless the moments of their noble birth.

Persuasive parley was prepared
Scent spreading sensually,
Opinions air’d, religion shared,
Propounded in treaty,
Portugal penetrates indigenous endogamy.

Japan
1543


Prophecies

Nature has taught us have aspiring minds;
Fuell’d by the scholarly Byzantine drain
The genius of Leonardo finds,
& unveils, parts of our uncharted brain;
Renaissance men –
Tasso, Copernicus –
Muse with alchemic pen… with them Nostradamus

Peers deep inside his brass tripod;
Shiny, time-flickering eye
Sees mushroom clouds, brash act of god,
Pig-faced pilots heaven high,
Men harnessing a lightning rod
Tall houses scraping sky,
Saw metal monsters spitting yellow flame
Then saw a face, then heard a demon’s name.

Knocking his tripod to the floor
He shrank away in fear,
Demonic roar consumes his core,
Phantasms dissapear,
Fearing for Europe’s future ‘Hister’ writ thro’ misty tear.

Provence
1553


Ivan the Terrible

As Mother Russia crown’d imperatrix
Her ceasar has proclaim’d himself the Tsar,
Power-drunk upon the streak sadistic,
Men sent to die for his ascending star;
Entainted souls
Into Hell’s pits are hurl’d –
On men fate crudely falls when madness shapes the world.

Cross oceans flowers besprinkling
Twards the Sea of Caspian,
Boiling, roasting & impaling,
Conquering all Kazakhstan,
Constant drilling, constant killing,
Conquering Astrakhan,
These puppet kings afraid in fealty –
The Mongol Khans but foggy memory.

Fur traders from the Tudor court
Meet the ‘Barbarian,’
Good contract sought, his highness bought
With wonderments western,
Fusing cultural amity twixt Moscow & London.

Russia
1556

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