Canto 17: Halyconica

War is little more than a catalogue of mistakes & misfortunes

Winston Churchill


Victorious Valetta

As back to Turkey gloom-cloak’d galleys glide
Let it forever cross the world be known
How one small island majesty defied
Plucking charr’d feathers from the Peacock Throne,
How Christendom
Triumph’d over Crescent –
Europe’s every kingdom gold-gratitudes have sent.

Auberges of Auvergne & France,
Aragon & Germany,
Castille, Portugal & Provence,
Pour wealth into the kitty,
Fortune enough to help finance
A fortified city,
Forever joining with its founding father,
‘Humillima Civitas Valettae.’

This was the Ottoman High Tide,
World conquest incomplete
Now Maltese pride with Rome allied,
The grand, Christian fleet
Slaughters the Turkish navy – irreversible defeat.

Lepanto
1571


Armada

English impressa dares the best of Spain,
Tho’ feeble-bodied Alfred carv’d her heart,
As Buccaneers ravage her golden Main,
Castille, to punish, plans this bold upstart –
Vainglorious,
Armies pois’d for battle,
Her fleet as numerous as th’Augean cattle.

Sea-fortresses threaten the shore,
’Twas national squeakybumtime,
Drake sent his navy out to war,
Soak’d in chivalry & rhyme,
Fierce as Erymanthean Boar,
Proud men in scurvy prime,
Shall pour hot blood out of a British sky
On men who went expecting not to die.

As day-by-day King Phillip’s fleet
Grew weary for the fight,
On came defeat, with backbone beat
& battle-plan contrite,
Spectres of splendid, gilded ships like crops which locusts blight.

Irish Sea
1588


Thistle & Rose

London laments the passing of an age,
The virgin Gloriana breathes her last,
As monarchs poet-moulded on the stage
Proud Stuart blood is pour’d into the cast;
Britain reborn,
One king, one law, one land!
The border gaurds withdrawn, the lords & ladies stand,

“Deirest bretherin & friendis
My two realmis I unite
To endis all oor quarellis,
Together wee must fyght
All oor rascally enemis,
Put them to common flyght,
Letting oor contree prosper with the peese,
& all oor revenues thereby increese.”

The world we live in day-by-day
Was born this very year,
This moulded clay, this keen swordplay,
This burgeoning idea,
That Britain is an entity, her destiny unclear.
London
1603


Pilgrim Fathers

Far from the divine right of divers kings,
Mayflower unburthens the purer faiths,
Shores paradesean Polaris brings –
No longer men but ragged, pale-faced wraiths;
Indian chief
Welcomes his white guests in,
Advent of native grief, the sentence did begin.

In the land of the Sequana
& the endless prairie plain,
Where the buffalo & cougar
Suckle Susquehanna’s vein,
Horseback tribes have lived forever
Praising both sun & rain,
Content to roam upon ancestral soil –
Now aiding pilgrims in their meagre toil.

Seedling imperial takes root,
The plant begins to spread,
As shoot-by-shoot fresh towns recruit
Life to replace the dead,
Tough slaves are made to gather grain, rough soldiers guard the bread.

North Virginia
1628


Closing the Orient

As families of monkeys hug the trees
Away from the rambunctious jungle floor,
As dragonflies hover on mountain breeze
Like albatrosses gathering offshore;
Tokugawa
Shuns the approaching West,
European power views more encroaching pest.

The Shogun’s temple throbb’d intense,
“Send them back across the seas,
About our harbours build a fence,
All their goods & assets seize,
& offer them no recompense,
Even the Portuguese,
No more their decadence must we endure,
Let us free Shinto from this stint impure.”

Imagine if the pedalo
Was thrown off Lake Nakki!
From Tokyo to Kyoto
Via Nagasaki,
Old ports are cleans’d of foreign trade, trinkets deem’d quite tacky.

Japan
1640


The Thirty Years War

As shepherds find pockets of anxious sheep
Pull from the flock, as Rajput palaces
Crumble with time, as when the pathway steep
Descends from pinnacles & promises;
Colossal Spain,
Catholic continent,
Lay challenged in her reign by northern protestant.

& so the great death-time begun
Spoken across gypsy palms,
These phrenzied wars of religion
Only spilling blood becalms,
Bouy’d up by Aztec bullion,
Germany up in arms –
As three hundred petty princes squabble
Handsome burghers turn’d to brick & rubble.

The treaty of Westphalia
Ends three decades of wars,
When Europa has together
Made conflict cause-by-cause,
When Prussian gentry muses, “This not peace, but more a pause.”

Berlin
1648


Nervous World

Masticating mellifluous parley,
Men praise war & its pale, auspicious strain,
Proving keystones of mortal history,
Even the New World forced to know its bane.
Setting the scene
For godless, global rage,
Deep things to be & been must pass upon this page.

The world has sewn its seeds of woe
In the fertile bed of time,
Every one a weeping willow
Every one commits a crime,
Ye free men of the future show
Thro prose or rosy rhyme,
How great world war was always meant to be
For we have always worshipt destiny!

Berlin, Moscow, Paris, Warsaw,
Valetta, Washington,
Brussels, Cairo, Rome, Tokyo,
Vienna & London,
Pace round PEACE, a pack of wolves approaching Armageddon.

Earth
1656


Sun-King

To be a Frenchman is to feel a king
& if a king of France then feel a god,
The fourteenth Louis, near life’s fountain spring,
Unnerving ancyent nations with his nod;
Thro cocksure steel
& arrogantine steel
His legions conquer Lille, Alsace & Flander’s field.

As godheads in their realmis reign,
Build palaces in the sky,
Upon the Parisian plain
Would heaven on earth arise,
Where cortiers sip dry champagne
& chandaliers surprise;
The sycophantic fervour of Versaille,
Were men on earth ever esteem’d so high?

He builds a string of starry forts
From Verdun to Gravelines,
Then fills the ports with thrilling sorts –
Many a tough marine –
Combine these with her mountains & europa’s queen serene.

France
1684


Siege of Vienna

Islamic spectres on Austria fell,
Vienna must, for Europa, stand firm,
Else Pasha & the Turkish infidel
Into the west & thro their wies would worm;
Aiming the guns
At Allah’s grand empire,
More bonfires than are suns, the Kahlenburg on fire.

As constant as a perfect waves
That rolls into Biaritz,
The Sipahi slip to their graves
In the death-deep city pits,
Tho conquest human honour craves
From these far-flung limits,
Facing superior technology,
Fled the apex of Turkish history.

The royal horses are preserv’d,
Churches Hosannah sing,
Islam unnerv’d, Europe preserv’d,
Her internicine spring,
When bleeding for ones empire breeds purpose in existing.

Vienna
1688

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