Canto 9: King Arthur

Let the man ascribe it to his skill
That through grace hath attain’d the victory

Edmund Spenser


The Battle of Guinnion

As druid’s epics never write themselves,
For to avenge the exile of King Caw,
Against King Drustan’s pack of Pictish Elves
& Scots of Domnagairt, shall Arthur war;
His Gorsgodd rides,
Three hundred nobles strong,
Upon those restless tides which elevate this song.

Men meet in an idyllic glen
Undeneath Garanwynyon,
Faith vitalising souls of men
For the Mother of the Son
Likeness’d on Arthur’s shield – the ten
Witches of Albion
Hill-fled for safety, with a banshee shout,
Shedding their pagan forces as they rout.

Let’s build a church to Mary here
& praise her for this day –
In strife & fear ghouls dissapear
Before the righteous way,
Come soldiers, my brave soldiers, kneel beside & let us pray!”

Stow-on-Wedale
509


Lothian

The golden belt once worn by Cunedda
Wash’d clean of Pictish blood before the ford
Where slaughter had turn’d the waters redder;
Along the Gala Water Arthur rode
Thro’ Peht-land hills
His gallant armament,
Beneath the rushing rills, in hush’d procession went.

Seeing a craggy citadel
Claim landscape surrounding,
He gave an all almighty yell,
Its echoes wide resounding,
This was a promise born in hell
But borne on angel wings;
“We are number’d, here, but three hundred horse –
Let us return one day with greater force.”

That night they slept in the old wrack
Where Serverus made camp,
Plans of attack, with martial knack,
He made by oily lamp
Stuffing the scrolls in saddle-sacks, safe from the mist & damp.

Caramago
509


The Battle of Caledon Wood

Slowly thro’ the Silva Caledonis
The plodding Gorsgodd goes, the capital
Of Southern Pictland nears & the promise
That there, they would prove themselves in battle;
Shrieks stiffen spine,
Bursting woodland races,
Sword-studded battle-line, blue woad-cover’d faces.

From his fortress at Kirkbuddo
Drustan sallies forth to die,
His soldiers all selvaggio,
But however hard they try
They cannot halt the fury-flow
Of Arthur sent from high,
Whose bold decapitations toss a crown
To dryad earth, its subjects looking down.

Drustan dug out from bleeding mound
Of lower brethren dead,
A better ground for him was found
Buried beside his head,
Beneath an ornate tombstone carved to mark a royal bed.

Liddesdale
509


Pict-Slayer

Come raise a toast for kings of Northern wars,
Whose bloody corpses rain-ice washes clean,
Where Hueil, that perdifous son of Caw’s,
Holds old Alt Clud, the key to his demense;
“A gorsgodd comes!”
“Then here its ride shall end –
Come sound the battledrums, come let the lines extend.”

Our destines are as the sun
Which rises at the dawning,
Unstoppable, once we’ve begun
Our progress through life’s morning:
When only half the day is done,
Sudden, without warning,
We find our brightest face begin to fade
The death-mask of a midnight’s masquerade.

Not yet, tho’ Arthur, noble knight,
Another victory,
Picts press in fright from this great might,
For safer places flee,
With Hueil’s head thrust on a spike for every king to see.

Dumbarton
510


Return to Camelot

With old fashion’d lyrical loveliness,
Arthur embrac’d his queen on his return,
Tearing apart her flimsy floral dress,
He took her with the vernal heart of Herne;
That night she crept
To warm Sir Lancelot,
& as her husband slept undid their bridal knot.

A message with the morning sun,
“The ranks of the Irish close
On the City of the Legion,”
Arthur notic’d as he rose
He was alone, but wars are won,
When focus’d, “We oppose
This threat encroaching slowly from the West –
Fetch me my sword, my steed, my steely vest!”

The Gorsgodd was assembl’d sharp
As sheepish Guinevere
Grabs nearest harp, her man did carp,
O where were you, my dear?”
“My love I’ve writ a song for thee, beneath the bracken bier.”

Virucolum
511


The City of the Legion

Brychan of Brecon bares his Irish chest,
Joining his brothers moving to the south,
Those showy swordsmen of the outer west
Heading for Severn waters & its mouth;
The wall is reach’d
Of sinew, steel & shield,
A wall that must be breach’d, Brythonic battlefield.

Tho’ Arthur’s forces were a tenth
Of all that the Gaels would raise,
He burst on them with skilful strength
Like bezerker’s in a craze,
The Irish line a log of length
Placed on a campfire blaze
Whose centre snaps when faced with so much heat –
With that shouts rise of desperate defeat.

Those wild, half-naked Gaelsmen fled,
King Arthur stops pursuit,
Buries his dead, broke bread & said
“We wait,” being astute,
“For help from far Byzantium, the balance too acute.”

Caerleon
511


The Battle of Tribuit

Thro’ common enemy & common aim,
A soldier sent by Anastasius,
Admiral Theodoric was his name,
To bolster this holy war of Arthur’s;
Flinging dogs home,
Sons of pagan bitches,
Then triumph back to Rome, clutching hard-won riches.

Lord Arthur wash’d his hands & feet
At the altar of Llandaff,
Then march’d his men beside the sweet
Rushwaters of plumelike Taff,
To where three rushing rivers meet
There plung’d in soil his staff,
Defiant as onrush’d the enemy,
The still-point of a turning world stood he.

Thro’ hack & slice, thro’ steam & spurt,
He thrust a bloody track,
Mind full alert, immune to hurt,
He push’d the Irish back,
Back to their boats, dismember’d goats, divided, brooding, black.

Cardiff Bay
512


Love & Lust

More regions yield to Arthur’s sceptre-sway,
Saint Dyfig crowns him king ‘neath Llandaff spire,
The Cymry all united in a day,
Happy partners in a happy empire;
Thro’ giftery,
Perstoic shows of force,
& gentle foe-amis, his reign shall run long course.

Young Medrawt gambols round the court,
Arthur his foster father,
Scribes sacred scriptures daily taught
But this young scamp would rather
Practice at sword-play, well he fought
Other boys much older
& slaying one he pleaded innocent,
“Twas accident!” Medrawt knew different.

He wander’d into mountain hush,
Out collecting spiders,
The gasp… groan… gush…. of lovers rush
Spying naked riders,
The loins of Lancelot enqueen’d, squeezing apple ciders.

Powys
514


 

The Death of Lancelot

Things said on the road are heard in the grass,
King Arthur broods upon his rough disgrace,
Such scandal here shall never come to pass
& of this deep betrayal leave no trace…
But first I must…
Must I? Yes, I must see
Her breasts of devil lust, her nest of treachery.”

The next time Guinevere steps took
On love’s illicit meeting,
Follow’d was she out to that nook
By yew trees & ewe bleating,
There gave she Lancelot that look
Ah! twas all too fleeting,
As Arthur watch’d on, face as grey as ash,
The lovers were arrested in a flash.

In agonies his best knight died,
Whose blood did gloop & gush,
Come back to bed, naught shall be said,
Died, he, in an ambush,
& shall be buried hon’rably…” Her hopes! Her heart! Her crush!

Powys
514

Canto 10: Camlann

Raise from these rocky cliffs your heads
Brave sons, & see where glory spreads
Her glittering wings, where Majesty
Crown’d with sweet smiles, shoots from her eye
Diffusive joy, where Good & Fair
United sit in Honour’s chair.

Thomas Carew


The Call of Caledon

Pray seasons pass in peace, when bravest knights
Take peradventures seeking Holy Grails,
’Til all cut short, like Magpies in the nest,
The Picts are coming back like ghouls on gales;
‘Dumbarton’s fall
Must change with no delay,’
Says Arthur, ‘Once, for all, this wingless dragon slay.’

So donning his old shirt of mail
He led the loyal Cymri,
Back northwards, at Stow-on-Wedale
To the Mother’s reliqury
All pray’d, through Peht-land vales made trail,
When over Albany;
They saw the Maiden Castle on the crag
Perch’d like an all-pervading mountain stag.

A mile away he pitch’d up camp,
On auld volcano falls,
Into the damp, beneath a lamp
A faded scroll unrolls,
‘We strike the castle at those points where lowest fall the walls.’

Dunsapie Hill
516


The Battle of Mount Agned

The game is on, the roaring army storms,
Trident-wielding-Neptune thrice divided,
As such a restless force of violence forms
Victory was in one charge decided;
Out spurts the blood
Which Fate ordains to pour,
Such gamble understood by all who gain from war.

Far from the warm heat of the hall
& family to dote on,
Still thick in battle, strong & tall,
King Arthur’s belly caught one…
But, indomitable in soul,
Baderean fought on,
Sensing his zenith, moments such as these
As when a poet first Parnassus sees.

“We have no time for prisoners
& less for weans & wives,
Cruel business, inglorious,
Tho’ Lord God gave us lives
These scum Satanic pagans, make sure not a child survives.”

Edina
516


The Round Table

Up to that wide & scenic tidal mouth
Which Clyde feeds fairly from the Alban hills,
The Celtic men are marching east & south.
In them their king a mighty strength instils;
That vital dish
Of posipraxis pure
Dismisses all anguish & trepidations cure.

As when the warbling bott fly bug
Penetrates the healthy flock,
They, silent, reach’d that double plug
Of volcanic, pointing rock,
“Thosy silmy slugs, asleep, asnug,
Are in for quite a shock
Prepare the men to go at Dawn’s first light,
But first I needs must speak with every knight.”

That close-knit crew did form a crowd
Round Arthur, in a ring,
Puff’d up & proud, uncouth, uncow’d
Strengths to the Table bring,
Men like sirs Kai & Bedevere, who serv’d no better king.

Strathclyde
517


The Battle of Mount Badon

As when one eats one’s breakfast in the park
& pities with bread a little pigeon,
Whose keen-eyed cousins, set off at the spark,
Instantly surround us as a legion;
Kai’s kindred pour
About sir Bedevere,
Who’d broken down the door with battle-axe & spear.

The sun had not yet took his throne,
With golden paint applying,
Before hot blood & blocks of bone
Sent through the battle flying,
A battle done in early morn,
Hundreds dead & dying,
A thousand prisoners, all in a line
Of Picts, depress’d, the dragon’s limping spine.

King Arthur drew his Hittite blade
& cut a thousand throats,
While Clerics prayed, as Delphi made
Blood sacrifice of goats,
To please the gods, to please HIS god, to hell each shade demotes.

Lammer Law
517


The Rot of Guinevere

As when one sits in the dip of great hills
Then sees an early setting of the sun,
As when descends the shadows & the chills,
Eyes ride along the peaks, whose highest one;
Still struck with gold,
A titan in the sky,
This peak, then, Arthur, bold, his foes to terrify!

His name is feted everywhere,
At each utterance a cheer,
His famous feasts were more a fair,
Frivolous & full of beer,
But… one turns sour, from her own chair
Mordred drags Guinevere,
For she had sleighted him, she’d diss’d his youth,
Forgetting that he knew her sordid truth.

’How dare you wench, think ill of me,
When ye hath stoop’d so low,’
“Now I shall be thine enemy,”
Pipes Arthur, “So, son, go,
Before love’s angers steal my mind to deal thy mortal blow.”

Celliwig
535


The Rot of Medrawt

As when one’s cap blocks out the cloudless sun,
But ‘neath the peak its reflection shimmers
On mirror’s waves, & eyes, now unopen,
Fill with orange light in rapid glimmers;
When dangers hoard,
Signs seen on every side,
Alas by minds ignored ballooning with ill pride.

King Arthur reign’d nigh twenty years
Within his mighty bubble,
Dishearing Guinevere’s sad tears
For true love under rubble,
So when the grave crisis appears
Arthur sens’d no trouble,
But as to dust all creatures must return,
Old enmities & rivalries shall burn.

Now is the chance, Medrawt, the worm,
Meets land-hungry Angles,
”Force strong & firm must end the term
Of his constant wrangles –
Then with his death see how swift ties of loyalties untangles!”

Bernicia
536


The Battle of Camlann

The best part of two hundred thousand men
Have come to share this dreich & dreary space,
A floating moor above Dunnichen glen,
The hunter & the hunted at the chase;
Weakening eyes
Dividing men three-fold,
“Sire, is that very wise?” “Sir Kai, do as ye’re told.”

Young Merlin sat above the scene
From Rheged he had wandered,
At bardic school, barely nineteen,
On poetry had ponder’d,
Oer murder ghastly & obscene
Somebody had blunder’d,
For Arthur was failing his final test,
This mad, dim, weird, grim battle of the West.

Mordred espies his ‘family,’
His heart-beat scenting blood,
Cross combat he, bearbeitely,
Ghosted beneath his hood,
Then shook a knife thro’ Arthur’s ribs & dropp’d him where he stood.

Dunnichen
537


The Death of Arthur

What good a kingdom when a life force fades?
What use are riches when your end is near?
What help is power when we join the shades?
What use remorse when one can shed no tear?
Death, dark & dread,
Lay cold bones upon him,
So very nearly dead, light winch’d in ever dim.

As gravity dictates our end,
When precipices crumble,
”Sir Bedevere,” he gasp’d, “Old friend,”
Throat horsey, hoar & humble,
”My blade with thee I do intend,
Do not fudge or fumble,
But in that lake o’er there it ye must throw,
Never let it be clutch’d by Saxon foe.

For while it stays unhidden there
Our souls they shall not rule…”
A gulp of air, an angel stare,
Beard spittl’d in red-drool,
King Arthur dies, his famous blade lobb’d in that flaming pool

Inchyra
537


Arthur the Legend

The blood-red western dulls the day of charms,
Across this charr’d & melancholy waste
Of sever’d heads cradl’d by lopp’d-off arms,
The dead are heap’d up in a scowling haste;
These cairns of stones
Shall hide the rotting scent
Of flesh dripping from bones… legs broken, sprawl’d & bent.

King Arthur’s corpse a better grave
On the isle of apples found,
Morgan le Fay her brother gave
A fair sleep, tho’ in the mound
Him still the bravest of the brave,
Whose legends long shall sound –
Sarcophagus forgotten by the Celt
As safe, to western mountains, they woulld melt,

Where wide across the mighty vale
Of vast eternity,
Oer neaps & ale they’ll tell a tayle
Of ancyent chivalry
Of how a bastard’s fist bested Henghists’ hegemony!

Britain
540

Canto 11: Birth of Nations

The battles may last for a long time, perhaps even years. There are powerful forces on both sides, & the war is important to both armies. Its not a battle of good against evil. Its a war between forces that are fighting for the balance of pwower, &, when that type of battle begins, it lasts longer than others – because Allah is on both sides.

Paulo Coelho


Byzantium

As love grants star-struck maids immortal youth
When poets pluck a pen, & from two hearts
Syphon the breadth of beauty, bears its truth,
Pouring an airy music thro the parts;
The Roman East
Constantinoples keep,
Its legions far releas’d once more the West to reap!

This was a golden age for Greece
& the ghosts of Pericles,
When freedom from Latin release
Fuels philosophic degrees,
When old Aegean swims in peace,
& empire overseas
A flying rival of that classic past –
Alas! Justinian must breathe his last.

The tough offspring of each bear-skin
Which laid the world once low,
Round Aetna spin, them Rome rewin,
Back-wresting Cathargo,
From lion’s lairs force legionairres & push them from the Po.

Europe
580


Christianitas

Along road-ruin the Vicar of Christ
Treads patiently until God leads him home
To this derelict bastion, enticed
Thro’ silted squares, by jilted walls of Rome;
In this sweet place,
A cult of saints begun,
Spreads penitence thro’ grace for murdering His son.

Agents leave that angel centre,
Wielding the growing gospel,
Some reaching Franks of Lutetia
(They’d won that town thro’ battle),
Others harry Hibernia
& serpentrie dispel,
Some preach alone along the Pictish shore –
Light-beacons of Iona & Lismore.

Christ may claim the wild, wild Britons,
But Britain torn in twain –
Fearless Saxons, peerless pagans,
O’er-run the Celtic plain,
Until Augustine mounts the cross in Aethelbert’s domain.

Kent
597


Islamica

In pagan Mecca was man-mountain born,
Thro’ meditations in the Hiran cave,
From Heaven’s will Qu’ranic verses shorn,
But shunn’d from town with condescending wave;
Old Medina,
His righteousness perceiv’d,
”Those who pray to Allah by Paradise reciev’d.”

While Meccanese rode to rid
The deserts of its prophet,
Defensive actions made valid
By visions of Mahomet,
Them for a decade far outdid
All rivals threat-by-threat,
& with an empire flowing far & wide
Islam’s first Imam, cleans’d, at Khaibar died.

Those men who tasted the divine
Holler up a sandstorm,
Drive Byzantine from Palestine,
Damascus made their home,
As from the holy city all the papists whipp’d to Rome.

Jerusalem
638


Nippon

As Allah & Jehova have enchased
The Western World with civilising light,
The presence of the Buddha, bubble-faced,
Enthus’d with life this Chinese satellite;
Ascends Nippon!
Thine emperor, Jimnu
Descended from the sun-god Amaterasu.

Spirit shelter’d by Shinto shields,
Poise proud as sitting vulture,
Peasantry working paddy-fields
Plant rice crops for the future,
Clan-unity & kingship brings
Long seed-times of culture,
When scatter’d settlements conflate & flow
Into an oriental Jericho.

The apple-blossom Japanese
Map out their first city,
Progressive breeze, royal decrees
Admitting monast’ry
& university to study keen-carv’d Koyiki.

Nara
710


March of Islam

An endless swirl of eternal Jihad
Sworn duty in the prophet’s sacred name,
Demeaning every other worship bad,
“Serve Allah or consumed be by hellflame!”
As warring ants
Invade the termites’ nest
Islamic olliphants, blown north, south, east & west,

Trade routes galloping thro’ Persia,
Reach Kabul & Samarkand,
Filling the Nile’s fertile delta,
Spilling blood on Tunis sand,
Fleets launching from North Africa
Towards the Promised Land –
An earthly paradise of golden grain –
The Saracens are spreading into Spain.

A city buildt of pretty bricks
All culture thro’ it flows;
Grecian classics, Med’cine, physics,
Chess pieces, sweeter prose
& Methavita’s mosque of pillars mass’d in classy rows.

Cordoba
751


Monjoie!

Great Charlemagne has claim’d the Frankish throne,,
The Seat of Christ is his to long sustain,
His blows prodigious yonder Rhine & Rhone,
Brings empire bustling to his sapphire train;
Firm by his side
Valiant Count Roland,
First lion of the pride, Durendal in his hand.

Great Charlemagne a palm’s breadth drew
His sword, Joyeux, for glory,
Nobles from Normandy, Poitou,
Maine, Gascony, Picardie,
Tourain, Flanders, Guyeme, Anjou,
& pretty Brittany,
Traverse the ancyent vales of Ronceveaux,
Spain’s delitescent leagues searing below.

Such a battle is upon us,
Twyx Christian & Moor,
When beauteous Spanish passes
Turn wretched scenes of war,
When fell’d knights, decomposing, food for slugs & nuzzling boar.

Pyrynnees
778


Le Chansons du Roland

For France must father Carolinga fly,
Roland commands his rear-gaurd curtle axe,
This is a day on which brave men must die
As stuttering to the stunning climax
Swarm’d pagans flow,
“Count Roland blow thy horn!”
“Such act would shame me so, we face the foe alone!”

They fought among the dull-hued stones,
Dragon facing Orriflame,
When many splint’ring emir bones
Knew, briefly, Durendal’s name,
The field a symphony of moans,
Winning eternal fame
Only the master of the Franks still stands,
Seizing his olliphant with slimy hands…

Riffs of haunting thunders resound
For fifty leagues or more,
Charles turns around… the battleground
A charnel-house of gore,
That forms the ghostly frontier of a long, religious war.

Ronceveaux
778


Carolingia

On Christmas Day was crown’d great Charlemagne;
King-conqueror, far from his cradle-birth,
He rais’d a triumph in a Ceasar’s train,
His armies birds in sky & trees on earth;
Holy empire
On pagan planet won,
From whom his seed shall sire a perfect, spotless son.

This pious Louis took a wife,
All the Angels deem’d her good,
These conjuring more regal life
Protected the sacred blood,
Each wise as Rome, each fair as Fife,
Each strong as Flemish wood,
Each gather’d by their father’s dying bed –
He drew them close & choking phlegma said,

“None of ye shall be Emporer,
But each a realm shall reign;
Italia, Germania,
The Franks & Aquitaine…”
Friction on such division stood, fought out on blood-fraught plain.

Aachen
843


Vikings

Those crow-dark, horse-swift, norse-driven dragons,
Bow-keen, wave-cleaving, crossing western sea,
Quaffing culdee blood from frothing flagons,
Fill Albyn coast with hosts of empery;
Highlands, islands,
New-found Norwegian fjord;
Neutralized thro’ violence – mace, battleaxe & sword.

Those realms bezerker thrust its span,
Entrusted to gods of war,
Yon Lindisfarne, the Isle of Man,
& along the Pictish shore,
Raising a gaze on Aethalstan,
Blood-eagles to the fore,
As days of village pillaging are pass’d,
These traders now intend a raid to last,

Blades rampage thro’ Northumbria,
Roar down the Watling Street,
East Anglia & Mercia
Low-wittl’d with defeat –
How long afore these Saxon Kings are conquer’d, too, complete?

Sanctae Eadmundestow
880

Canto 12: Crescent & Cross

Riding swiftly, Minaya Alvar Fanez kill’d thirty-four Moors with his sharp sword; his arm was stain’d with the blood dripping down to his elbow.

The Poem of ‘The Cid’


Alfred

Only the lords of Wessex dare defy
The victual flamboyance of the Vikings,
“Are we not Saxons?” rings a captain’s cry,
The morning chorus of the English kings;
As great a man
As ever was Pompey,
Driving his battle-plan along the old Ridgeway.

They met the Norsemen on the hill
Life’s liberties to defend,
A moment making time stand still,
Immortalies suspend –
Britain some Nordic overspill
Or war-heroic blend?
The Saxons tough the better of the fight
The Ravens breaking cloth are put to flight.

Upsrings a worthy capital
Laws writ in native tongue,
The chronicle of his struggle
Preserv’d in prose & song,
Then marries into Mercia to make his nation strong.

Winchester
892


Holy Roman Empire

Distant princes court Alfred’s grand-daughters,
Enchaunted by their dancing beauty’s youth;
Perfect as pearl, skin soft as spring-waters,
Souls hankering for virtue-verdur’d truth;
King Otho’s bride,
Edgitha, shares his reign,
Her Saxon blood allied with sacred Charlemagne.

“How yearnst I,” sighs the emperor,
“For to unite Germany,
Bind beautiful Bavaria
To blueberry Lombardy
Blend heather-scented Swabia
With sunny Saxony –
Administ’ring, with best Papal consent,
The central portions of this continent.”

Arose a sense of nationhood
Tied by Teutonic tongue,
In hall & wood, those tayles of blood,
The Niebelungen song,
Stirr’d up a spirit which the soul of Seigried soar’d among.

Germania
962


The Rise of Paris

Long since the notion struck the Parisii
To settle by the Seine, & since sublime
Lutetia prais’d each Ceasar’s victory,
This eagle’s nest amidst the mists of time
Claims Frankish throne,
As jangling jongleurs sing,
“One of our very own has been elected king!”

How many noble knights advance
Gorgeous daughters for the bride
Of Hugh Capet, the first in France,
His Parisians felt pride,
But only one lass stood a chance
As once again allied,
The blood of Charlemagne & Alfred merge,
One wedding night, abed, with mighty spurge.

“So this is life!” the pilgrim said
Upon the paths to Spain,
Those slowly tread, with fruit & bread,
Those roads thro’ Aquitaine
Upon the route… the valorous, the vocal & the vain.

France
990


Taking the Cross

From the Praetendarius of Llanfair
To the old Thesaurarius of Lille,
It seems Pope Urban’s essence moves thro’ air,
It prospers thro’ the priesthoods, keen with zeal;
Christ’s foremost knight
Tours Europe’s fidget thrones,
“Those Muslims must we fight!” rouses convictive tones.

“My brave, young hawks, open thy mind
To Heaven & His glories,
Thy quadrivium leave behind
Renege thine earthly follies,
With my bold guard of falcons bind,
Mutatis Mutandis!
Jerusalem is grieving for our grace
To free her from the Saracen embrace.”

Redemption calls, tempted afar,
Men bend on steely knee,
’Neath sacred star them bless’d, them are
The Crucesignati!
Those continental cavaliers of Christianity!

Claremont
1095


Crusaders

Impulse grown gory thro’ all Christendom,
“God wills it!” uproars the monks of Cluny,
Most voiceferous van against Islam,
Cause focus’d by Henry of Burgandy;
His brimming ships
Batter the Biscay bay…
Men land, what fervour grips these battles fought today.

As raiding parties ebb & flow
Twyx Braga & Toledo,
Reclaims, Henry, the Duoro
&, unnoposed, Oporto,
For mile-on-mile, from grand Minho
To moor-like Mondego,
Portugal is awaking, native lands
Return like saint-stigmata to the hands.

News permeates the Prophet’s world
Of this Hispanic loss,
Banners unfurl’d, blasphemies hurl’d,
As Cresent curses Cross,
Soon bloody pools must soak’d up be by spongey mountain moss.

Palestine
1097


The First Crusade

One hundred thousand claim a crucifix,
& gallop to the Gallilean hills,
All them but pawns of Papal politics,
With swords & lances, sleek dipteran quills;
A spirit shield,
Of sweet death deified,
From holy battlefields souls rise on sacred tide.

At last they capture Antioch,
Long siege of land & water,
Infidels fighting rock-by-rock,
Apocalyptic slaughter!
Depleting, daily, human stock –
War’s terminal quota;
Infernal, body-mangl’d battlefield,
Where flat hymns mingl’d as the singing peel’d.

From miracle to miracle
The city stood no chance,
A gritty yell, the citadel
To libbards, fell, of France,
Lungs bellowing, “Avanti!” “Adelante!” & “Advance!”

Jerusalem
1099


The Second Crusade

The road to Jerusalem hatch’d open,
The Templars guard it nightly, like a star,
All Europe flocking here to feel Heaven:
The desperate, the pilgrim, the bizarre;
As western ways
Encroach upon the east –
Into the desert haze the Seljuk Turks releas’d.

What good tidings prick’d Paereaus!
Pious kingdom in the sun!
“The English are victorious!”
”London delivers Lisbon!”
”The times & tides turn serious
For Allah’s talisman!”
From single stroke such optimism falls,
A shout rings out, “The Turks are at the walls.”

These rampant Mohammedians
Cut off the Holy Land
From Christians’ relief legions,
Men bleeding in the sand,
& begging Islam’s mercy, are all slaughter’d out of hand.

Dorylaeum
1147


Birth of Berlin

As rivers seek a causeway to the sea
& change their course when rocky terran strong,
Crusader States turn north for Germany
Admonishing each easy, heathen throng;
“Ye pagans proud,
Baptise or be deceas’d!”
Slavs form a rabble crowd & grovel to the east.

As curdling milk congeals to cream
Steps tentative turn to stride,
Into abandon’d forests teem
The Aryans, sky-blue eyed,
Whereby this signal, signet stream
Tween Elbe’s & Oder’s glide,
Builds up a town amidst the finny lakes,
Fair beauties flow as early morning breaks.

Knights bound for Lithuania
(They’ll convert pagans there),
Out-spill from the silviculture,
Filling a cobbl’d square,
Where, breaking fast, near morning mass, men share a battle-prayer.

Germania
1147


Jacob’s Ford

Damascus seiz’d by Sa-Lah-Din, & so
Encircling siege surrounds Crusader States:
Leprous Baldwin reacts, & acts not slow,
Building a bristling buttress at the gates;
‘An iron key,’
Wise Sa-Lah-Din believes,’
‘Unlocking it shall free Jerusalem from thieves!’

Before impregnable ramparts,
Islamic slogans crying,
A mine explodes, the battle starts,
Fine arrow storms are flying
At Templars whittl’d down in parts,
Til,’ surrender-sighing,
The fortress falls, altho’ six hours away
Baldwin sees smoke… him sinking in dismay

Calls off the march, a klutz alone,
Strategy in tatters,
His chance has blown, as stone-by-stone
Down his castle clatters,
Delightment-dappl’d Sa-Lah-Din blesses current matters.

Galilee
1179

Canto 13: Mongols

Indica tigris agit rabida cum tigride pacem perpetuam; Saevis inter se convenit ursis… Ast homini ferrum letale incude nefanda produxisse parum est

Juvenal


Ghengiz Khan

The babe born with a blood-clot in his fist
Knew fratricide before his father died –
Posion’d by rival tribesmen – the promised
Inheritance was his, & now a bride;
Naught did they lack,
& led, they, simple life,
’Til bad Chief Krull attack’d & stole away his wife.

As from defeat the notion springs
Of victory’s existence,
Brave Temujin tightens bowstrings,
Makes men respect insistance,
& launch’d them on vendetta’s wings
To a violent vengeance,
& saving his dear wife from devil’s den
He boil’d alive Chief Krull & all his men.

This was no ordinary soul,
Spirit excelsior,
Who hears the rolling thunder call
Of conquest & of war,
When all the surface of the world shall tremble at his awe.

Mongolia
1181


Sa-Lah-Din

The Crescent League cries faith & sacred war;
Turban’d Berbers, pitch-black Afric captains,
Pristine Emirs, the shark-paced Almacor,
Sunburn’d Saracens & Syrians;
Lord at the helm,
One man unites them all,
To raze Outremer’s realm & seize the Wailing Wall.

Damascus & Aleppo fall
To the dark Mujahaddin,
Crushing Christian armies small
At that slaughter at Hattin,
“Allah!” the cause, “Allah!” the call,
“Allah! & we shall win!”
At last, on Heaven’s city look’d he down,
There man-on-man press’d forwards for renown.

The situation sancrosanct
Beneath a saffron sky,
The Templars thank’d their lord, outflank’d,
They knew them set to die,
But to preserve this Paradise they could but only try.

Jerusalem
1187


Frederick Barbarossa

Being the European Suzerain,
Capp’d by the Iron Crown of Lombardy,
Red-bearded leader, redux Charlemagne,
First Chapiter of Milites Christi;
Congregations,
Heard stirring aria,
“Seek your souls’ salvations, march with thine Emperor!”

Waltzing off to war’s grave meeting
With firm, steady demeanour,
Pounding hearts in strong chests beating,
Ventricles lusting vigour,
As on their arms, golden gleaming,
Daylight tinting brighter,
Pregnant with promise of a perfect day,
The mighty breath of life in human clay.

Alas! it was a little stream
That kill’d a god-like king,
A drowning dream…Heaven dost gleam
Thro’ Selaph’s glimmering,
There Seraphs beckon utterwards towards the reckoning!

Cilicia
1190


Richard I

The Lionheart of England goes to war;
His helm: respect-expostulating deeds,
His sword: the sacred fury of god’s law,
His shield: the lamb & all his righteous needs;
His pond’rous mace,
Shall shatter waggling foes,
His head: his noble grace, his heart: an English Rose.

Seeking Allah’s extirpation,
Preaching peace, but wielding war,
Making trails of acerbation,
“Come & fight!” corbrechtan roar,
Confrontations, hesitation,
Runs thro Mohammed’s corps,
As all along the front His Highness rode
No man dare meet the challenge of his sword.

Sa-Lah-Din & his great army
Repell’d from Arsuf plain,
But victory, elusively,
From both men would abstain,
Instead… peace nervous spreads for prayers, burials & pain.

Jaffa
1192


Teutonic Knights

A thirsty seige, sunrise follows sunrise,
An endless killing, moats filling with dead,
Breeding legions of disease-spreading flies,
Maggots burrow’d in mouldy, meagre bread;
Behind which walls
A German hospital
Of dedicated souls, primes for zealous battle.

In the long wars of religion
At the gates of Christendom,
Suffering their faith in fusion
With lord god & His bellum,
Happy Hanseatic legion,
Ordu Pugnatorum,
Raising the lofty flag of Heaven’s fight,
Teutonic in their blood, in blade a knight!

As tired beseigers melt away
Inspired Crusaders cheer,
Then kneel & pray, them to this day
Knew God’s justice would steer,
Sensing their lot was spared by fate, but for what course unclear.

Acre
1197


Spanish Rebirth

The troubador descended from the ben,
In him was human artistry allied,
Singing of arms & empires & the men
Whom battles fought & kingdoms gentrified;
Bold verses move
Castille’s resplendent court,
Men’s valours set to prove when Reconquista fought!

El Cid’s endeavours have enflamed
The trains of Spain’s militia,
For far too long they’ve been ashamed
Of a native patria;
Navarra, Aragon, reclaim’d
With gold Galicia;
No more uprose the five-times daily din
Of Muslims by the bull-finch Muezzin.

The Almohads of Africa
Are sent to stem the tide,
Grand armada thro’ Grenada,
But murder meets the stride,
As six progressive centuries of Islam’s light hath died.

Las Navas de Toloda
1212


Mongol Threat

The dark tribes, unified beneath one king,
Traverse the Gobi, pierce Qin Shi Huang’s Wall,
Bring all their might to bare upon Beijing,
As conquerors absorb its cultured soul;
Karakorum!
Heartlands of history,
Mongol imperium marching off to glory.

By mountain, forest, steppe & sea,
Go the Khan’s ambassadors,
Insulting Persian perfidy
Sends two of them back headless,
Decapitates diplomacy,
Ghengiz felt bitterness,
& pointing westwards with a frozen sword
A storm of arrows oer the Silk Road soar’d.

That blood-debt settl’d & repaid
Five hundred thousand times,
A cavalcade of violence flay’d
A path thro Persian climes,
T’where Christendom & Islam trembles at the Mongol’s crimes.

Asia
1222


 

Mongol Advance

Tho’ Ghengiz Khan is dead what spirit soars
Boundless, as the impenetrable skies,
Now his young horselets view the coursing wars
Thro’ slanting & steel-hued rapacious eyes;
Warrior race,
Blood-forg’d formidable,
Whole villages erase – scenes indescribable!

Thro’ hillswept Urals hoof-prints pound,
Then splash thro’ Volga’s water,
At Novogrod the godless found
Resistance earns ‘No quarter!’
Trails of deda bodies choke the ground
Kiev on to Georgia,
There noble men grovel for liberty –
The bloody swamp of Mongol slavery!

Young Morad rode into the west
For all the gold men made,
Yon Budapest onto the crest
Of Christendom’s crusade,
Til forests high & haunted halt the heathen cavalcade!

Europe
1241


Mamluk Dawn

When the dissaffected rise from slumber,
Ye gentlemen, afraid be of your slaves,
Else Spartacus admit to that number
& garden weeds cover thy royal graves;
In auld Egypt,
Boldly the slave-race grew,
Wheeling on an edict, a military coup!

This new paras enters the game
Of Palestein’s knotted plots,
Wishing to win outrageous fame
& those precious pepper pots,
Being the first to inflict shame
Of loss that glory rots,
As coming on the roving Mongol horde
Men, one-by-one, along the ridge, draw sword.

Morad stood in the bodygaurd
Of his great lord Ordu,
The fighting hard, the day ill-starr’d,
The royal horse withdrew,
An unexpected moment, ‘Full retreat,’ blew Hulegu.

Ayn Jelut
1260

Canto 14: The New World

The barbarians are to arrive today

C.P Cavafy


Death of Morad

The Mamluk may have driven Mongol back,
But Islam still quivers for grammercy,
Hashassin forts crush’d neath a fresh attack,
Then Araby, up to the Grecian sea;
Such victories
Have crippl’d Kings with fear,
Miscarried pregnancies as Morad’s armies near.

In Xanadu’s lush pleasure dome
He met the great Khan, Kubla,
“Good captain, welcome to my home,
What’s mine must be your pleasure,
When ye have done traverse the foam,
Launching from Korea
An invincible fleet of invasion
& put to sleep these sheeplings of Nippon.”

See supra-strobile typhoon blow,
Lucky kamikaze:
Minamoto Tamatono
Shoots arrows cross the sea,
& slices open Morad’s throat… he chokes in agony.

Japan
1274


Crusader Sunset

The Mamluk Sultan shares the spoils of war;
From Cairo, beehive of the Muslim sphere,
His horsemen rode, & the Levantine shore
Was port-by-port broken upon the spear;
Christ’s foremost hymns
Silenced by Mahomet,
Leaves scaphelated limbs & driven deep regret.

From Nazareth to Tripoli,
Thro’ Haifa & Ceasara,
Acres of Christianity
Ever shrinking area,
As Giaour gains his victory –
Antioch & Acre –
The western world back to the west is sent,
The course of Holy Wars a war-horse spent.

Throughout mankind once more hath sprung
The love of lands for gain,
When kings were young, when songs were sung
To add to his domain
As would Edward Plantagent in Prince Llewellyn’s reign.

Gwynned
1291


Medievals

Grown sick of Crusades, & their crimson gods
The English crown content to claim the Scots,’
First Wallace then The Bruce defy the odds,
A Scotiad defying Longshanks’ plots;
A turn of tide,
Funded by parliament
The Saxon sailors glide down to the Continent

Where feed they King Edward the Third,
Chevaucheing Picardy,
Whose revolutions fate deffer’d
To the hamlet of Crecy,
His yeomen launch a brutal bird,
Murderous arrowrie
Forms over fields, & falling on the French,
Warfare hath moderniz’d with murd’rous wrench.

As longbow & ribauldequin
Their poor foes decimate,
The kings begin to sense the spin
Of roulette wheels of fate,
Prowess is not important whence from distance death dost wait.

Europe
1346


Ottoman Empire

The Seljuk Sultans have long warfare won –
From Marmora to Anatolia
All fawn before the ultimate sultan,
This Turkestani chief now emperor!
Europe aghast,
Greece forms a falcon host,
Byzantium bypass’d, Turk storms the Balkan coast.

Thro Thessalonika & Thrace
Thrive the Bey & Pasha brown,
Anguish’d tarnish’d, the Serb disgrace
Mighty Macedon knock’d down,
All Bulgars put in sunless place
While Islam wins renown,
Inflicting fear within each Latin court,
An invisible serpent at the throat.

The Plain of Blackbirds hosts the duel
To end the Balkan war,
The day runs cruel, the Sultan’s rule
Thro Europe’s corner tore –
Beyond, kings live in luxury, but wolves growl at the door.

Albania
1389


Rise of Moscow

From squabbling fractions of the Mongol zone
Noblity clings to the Golden Horde,
Keeping the Russian prince firm on his throne
Beneath the cushion’d presses of a sword;
Cunning masters
Of realpolitik,
Centralising taxes thro royal rhetoric.

As slavic leaders unified
To secure their native soil,
One drifted to the other side,
Determin’d to stay loyal,
Asian might aiding Ivan’s ride,
This folly fierce to foil –
For in the ruins of Novogorod
He dedicates his victory to god.

Respectful of this loyalty
The Duke of Vladamir
Made royalty, thro Muscovy
His palaces appear,
Ordain’d to rule a wilderness stretching to Korea.

Russia
1392


Teutonica

As when a lover lusts with wanton arms,
Or when the pilgrim years for sainted bone,
& thinkers first hear of the desert’s charms,
Or when in Arthur’s chest the Grailquest grown;
Bright knights advance,
Their destiny releas’d
Into the vast expanse that is the slavic East.

The swordbrothers did first remove
Baltic tribesmen from Prussia,
Then caught in an annual groove
Fortify the Vistula,
Better in mettle did they prove
Oer Lithuania –
But by battle’s bouncebackability
Pagans ally with Poland’s proud army,

Whom on a day amid the lakes,
Administer defeat –
The white wave breaks, what anguish aches,
Too proud to call retreat,
Charges the doom’d Grandmaster, ‘Drang nach Osten’ incomplete.

Tannenburg
1403


The Fall of Constantinople

As panting deer outpace the panther’s claws,
Then sleep where wolves oft meet in company,
The Ottoman clamps down his drooling jaws
Upon outposted Christianity;
Eighty thousand
Gore-grizzl’d warriors,
Encamp upon the sand kissing soft Bosphorous.

As cannon swallow gunpowder,
Spitting out destructive balls,
Such a clamour ripples louder
From the beaches neath the walls,
Scenes of sorry death enshroud her,
Byzantium she falls –
As Janissaries slew the last Ceasar,
Crescent flags command the Kerkoporta.

Leaving the Sultan to his prize
The Genoese flee,
The local wisemen realize
Passage to Italy,
Leaving a city changing name, shaming its history!

Istanbul
1453


New Spain

Not knowing world empire was theirs’ to sire
Fair Isobel promised to Fernando,
With passion elevating cannonfire,
Grenada soon falls neath their combined blow;
United land
Centred upon Castille,
Chief of the bible brand with homicidal zeal.

From Genoa Columbus came
From Cadiz his fleet set sail,
The lure of spice, the lust for fame
Thro that mission did prevail,
Each sunset ‘rison flash’d aflame
Or brooded on a gale,
‘Til verging on murderous mutiny
Thin verdant sliver parted sky & sea.

“I claim this place for regal Spain,”
A flag thrust in the rocks,
“This pleasant rain must grow our grain
& feed our teeming flocks,”
On board a sickly sailor breaths out death-streams of smallpox.

America
1492


India

With Ottoman monopolising trade
Tween Occident & spicy Orient,
A fresh attempt to reach the east is made,
Vasco de Gama sailing on the scent;
On him god smiles,
The sea of storms was calm,
Pass’d many ocean miles with hardly an alarm.

Landing at ruby Kerala
Saraswhati on her plinth,
Gold traded for thymimia,
Pepper, amethyst, jacinth,
From gorgeous gardens of Goa
Extracted hyacinth,
There leaving soldiers to secure the vine
The fleet twice cross’d the equinoctal line.

& reciev’d a royal welcome
Lining the Lisbon shore,
Sum-after-sum a vast income
Pass’d thro de Gama’s door
For now defenders of the faith are loving Mammon more.

Portugal
1500

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

Canto 16: Siege of Malta

Malta of gold, malta of silver, malta of precious metal,
We shall never take you!
& from her ramparts a voice replied,
I am she who has decimated the galleys of the Turks
& all the warriors of Constantinople & Galata

Badajoz


Digression

I pledge a motion for the grand digress,
Which poems of this nature may include,
Some may question its appropriateness,
Yet others think the moment rather shrewd;
To all accounts
I offer further gloss,
Bless’d by those faithful founts, the Crescent & the Cross.

As we walk among these pages,
With a mind to phantsize,
Ghosts have willow’d down the ages
Forming phantoms in the skies,
As the cataclysm rages
Twix Axis & Allies,
We find the legacies of former times
Have influenced the finish of these rhymes.

The Knights of Saint John, & their swords,
Seek out new naval base
Departing Rhodes, crossing Whale-roads,
Like pirates at a pace,
To settle on a treeless rock & fortify its face.

Malta
1530


War’s Promise

The Peacock of the world rose from his throne,
Wishing our land-lock’d sea a Turkish pond,
“The fish of Malta is the stepping stone
To Sicily & to the world beyond,
That obscure rock
Insults us & our queen,
Thus from their viper-dock we drive the Nazarene.

My finest force I shall employ,”
Added Allah’s deputy,
“These sons of dogs ever destroy,
Tho they earn’d my clemency
When I was young & full of joy
Thro my first victory,
& I allow’d them honour after Rhodes –
No more shall we suffer their vile marauds.

Our scimitars their throats shall slit,
My men prepare my fleet!”
Yearning credit, gurnning merit,
Gen’rals kiss jewell’d feet,
Then divan leave, planning the heathen’s ultimate defeat.

Istanbul
1564


Call to Arms

Grave news flies to Grandmaster De Valette,
Tho’ days of armageddon clamour near,
From coming frays his faith shall never fret,
To him the infidel inspires no fear;
“Prepare the walls,
Cancel every corso!”
The clang of cannoballs rang thro Saint Angelo.

Across the world the summons sent
By ship & sweat-stain’d horsemen,
“Brave knights fly back to the Convent
Go fight beside your brethren!”
Soon many-a-foreign accent
With one voice sang, “Amen,”
Renewing vows at the Sacred Altar.
Each man determined to die on Malta.

Outside, in strangest summer rain,
Four thousand strong Maltese
Shall march & train with men from Spain,
As on the ocean breeze
Soft scented Turkish incense wafted slowly overseas.

Birgu
May
1565


The Muslim Landing

From watchtowers the warning cannon ring,
The Sultan’s fleet arrives as a vast fan,
With livestock & the still-green crops of spring
Many to Birgu & Mdina ran;
Dead beast & dung
Poison’d the Marsa wells,
Songs of devotion sung, too secret witches spells.

An amarda sail’d round Gozo,
To show that the sea was closed,
Then at the Marsascirroco
Made anchorage unnopposed,
As skiffs ferried his war-cargo
Their old commander dozed,
Untroubl’d by the course of coming days,
On him, soon, sure, the Sultan should heap praise.

Dreamings woken by Mustapha,
First blade of the army,
“My young Pasha, what’s the matter?”
Yawn’d adm’ral Piali,
“This is no time for sleeping, we must force the victory.”

Marsaxlokk
19th May
1565


The Fall of Fort Saint Elmo

Dawn lifted rosy wave-breaks to the shore
Where swept a moment of sickly slaughter
For stubborn struggles, say the laws of war,
May never be allow’d normal quarter;
The Knights prepare
To make their final stand,
One crippl’d in his chair, sword tightly in his hand.

Breachward the Janissaries pour’d,
Pride of the Sultan’s power,
All inside gutted on the sword
Yet not one Knight would cower,
For, still, the Maltese Lion roar’d
For one murderous hour –
Until its throat was cut, then stone-dead fell…
Mustapha stepp’d into that groaning hell,

“So small a son has cost us dear,
Then, what price the father?”
More shots men hear, them very near
Five knights fled thro water,
Guided by Toni Bajada safely, cross the Harbour.

Birgu
June 22nd
1565


Pivotal Point

By boat & tower came the great assault,
The Port of Castille reeling neath the blow
All seeming lost, but for that thunderbolt
The gods upon our mortal minds bestow;
A lanteen bridge
Links them to Senglea
As tall on smoking ridge more Sapahi appear…

Then charge like an electric shock,
Sanguinary the slaughter,
On knife-point pois’d to run amok
All thro’ the Knight’s headquaters,
Tward Armageddon tick’d the clock,
Mothers, sons & daughters
Rush’d forth to join the menfolk in the fight,
Yoked to the swords of Rhodes, each soul a knight.

They heard the sounds in Sicily
& pray’d for De Valette,
Tho seventy his energy
Many-a-Muslim met,
A sea-rock in a raging storm, the scourge of Mahomet.

Birgu
August
1565


 

The Last Assault

As mines explode in animosity
Toni Bajoda shot up in his bed,
Tho’ wounded he’d discover’d energy,
Men, from the sacred infirmary, led;
All gallant friends,
Tho’ most could barely stand,
Upon this strength depends the freedom of a land.

As knight shields fill’d walls warp’d by mine,
Courageous Callachio
Join’d by the Maltese at the line,
Equal with corragio,
Toni took toll of twenty-nine,
His knife well-loved the foe,
So much an arquebusier took aim,
& sent shot flying in a flash of flame.

Tho’ wounded, in a world of pain,
Toni did not falter,
Brave Muslim bane heaping his slain,
Sacrificial altar,
Fed by force indivisible, “I shall fight for Malta!”

Senglea
August 18th
1565


Gran Sossorso

One hundred days of daily hearing, “When?”
Sicily’s Viceroy sends vital relief,
Below Mellieha disembarks his men,
Mustapha strokes his beard in disbelief;
“How many ride?”
“Nigh twenty thousand sire,
Combing the countryside!” “The army may retire.”

All thro’ the night the camp was struck –
As the Maltese heard them yell
Them for more attackers were mistook,
Standing arms, set to repel,
Then saw to sea the foe had snook,
& rang triumphant bell,
Amplified across the purple clover,
“The infidel has fled, the siege over!”

Come dawntint were bells still ringing,
Folk stepp’d outside the wall,
Some dance, some sing, some tear-shedding
On bleeding knees did fall,
As all about black bodies burst, curs’d by the murd’rous maul.

Birgu
September
1565


The Relief of Malta

Mustapha heard the news he had been fool’d,
Just six thousand the Sicilian host,
Piali’s caution soon was over-ruled,
“Ten thousand land & meet us up the coast!”
How felt the Turk
When forced back to the fray
For more of war’s black work, with peace so close that day?

Dispirited men once brave are,
Heads cloudy with dying fear,
As galloping down from Naxxar
Swerve the fresh-faced Chevalier,
Men from Mdina & Mgarr
Now on the flank appear,
Enough to finalise the rising doubt,
Cohesion turns to rabble, turns to rout.

Some fled with friends, some limp alone,
Some crawl the coastal crack,
This shelv’d sandstone bares blood & bone,
Christ’s sword plunged in their back,
Turks plunge out to their safety to a shrill, “…& dont come back!”

Saint Paul’s Bay
September 8th
1565

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

Canto 18: Europe At War

If you live among wolves you have to act like a wolf

Nikita Kruschev


 

Glorious Revolution

E’er since Prince Henry with Rome schism made
English papists grate the gist from friction,
King James, taunted today by Judas’ shade,
Bows to the jurisdiction Vatican;
Rise angry shouts,
Entreason’d parliament,
“Send out a world of scouts, scour out a Protestant!”

So, who shall be London’s saviour,
Wear the crown & thrust the pike,
Swing the Tudor wunderkammer,
Triumph all with timely strike?
Fate has brought the Dutch Stadholder
(After France drown’d in his dyke),
To land an army on the Saxon shore,
When, wanting not another civil war

Strange zeitgeist sets King James aflight,
Parisian, a pawn,
First Jacobite… without a fight
Upon a vacant throne,
King Billy dons the triple-crown on Scotias’s ancyent stone.

London
1688


 

Alexander MacDonald

Tho’ lurkest one great novel in us all,
Most author’s thoughts are raided by despair,
Whose masterpieces never start at all,
While others grow too dull to sit, & bare;
Only the keen
Struggle with conviction,
Feeling each earthly scene perfect for non-fiction.

In Glen Etive was born a boy
To walk my poem’s pages,
Heroism akin to Troy
Shall echo down the ages,
Man’s foremost skills his to employ
Cross life’s varied stages –
Calamity strikes this wee MacDonald,
Witness to screaming clansmen being cull’d.

His mother hid him in a tree
& finger-hushes lips,
She turns to flee, sharp musketry
Thro’ back & bosom zips,
Tho’ orphanized ‘fore teary eyes him to safe silence slips.

Glencoe
1692


 

Blenheim

King William conjures an alliance,
Boring the flesh of Louis to the bone,
His sea-lions scuttle the fleet of France
& cut the fuming Stuarts from the throne;
Now Scotland’s kings
With England entangl’d,
Whose majority brings matters Saxon-angl’d,

For politics do prosper well
Courting the royal ego,
When loyal kinship casts a spell,
Rarely letting fetters go –
But on digress my verse has fell,
So on, on with the show!
Marching along the sandy Danube shore
The Sun-King sent fresh conscripts to the war.

Behold the Duke of Marlborough,
John Churchill him became,
Faithful leader of firm vigour,
Putting the French to flame,
Forever his descendants leaves a very famous name.

Germany
1704


 

Treaty of Utrecht

As Peneus & Alpheus combin’d,
England & Holland wash the wound of France,
Pour thwarting salts within; bloodthirsty, blind,
Into his dotage Louis did advance;
Dictating still
The quarrel of nations,
Arse far from battle’s thrill & war’s degregations.

Then… what has France gain’d from his war?
Her towns depopulated,
Enemy pirates at the shore,
Her fields uncultivated,
Her country houses wick with Poor,
Death unsatiated –
At first, with Warfare men, say tis a sport,
But by the end just horrors they’ll report.

At last the Sun-King sues for peace,
His paradise preserve,
By this increase Europa’s police,
Great Britain & her verve,
Possess Pillars of Hercules thro’ which all sealanes swerve.

Gibralta
1713


 

A Woman’s War

She met him, in the hot flush of her youth,
Working the lobster-pots of Port Appin,
’Tween creamy kisses lips scream passion’s truth,
So wed for love, her kinsmen took him in;
She bore three sons,
Each wore her husband’s name –
The sounds of pipes & guns towards their idyll came.

Alexander away did ride,
Joining with the Jacobite,
Tho’ calm she seemeth, the outside,
Tears drench her pillow by night,
& trembling all her time did bide
For news of distant fight,
When certain words within her soul would burn,
“O mother, when will father, dear, return?”

Her prayers answer’d happily,
He strolls in with the mail,
Balances three sons on each knee,
Told them a stirring tayle
Of Highlanders proud marching for a cause that must prevail.

Scotland
1715


 

Peter the Great

As nature shapes races, races nations,
Nations shape kings & these kings shape our lives,
The Tsar commences co-operations
Cutting thro’ coccoonings with psychic knives;
As catwalk craves
Corrective surgery,
This brave reformer waves wands of futurity.

His armies guarantee his fame
& russify the Baltics,
Now ready for the global game,
Tri-fleeted imperatrix,
Rival Sweden retreats in shame,
Licking her cicatrix,
Stockholm’s ambit deflated by his lance,
In coming wars she’ll keep a neutral stance.

City meant to last forever
Uprose with his ego,
Marshy Neva’s magic river
Provides her vital flow,
So she can match his majesty, watching from the window.

St Petersburg
1720


 

The Great Awakening

Halfling, hedonistic America
Suckles herself on Europe’s throbbing vein,
Vast heaven-sent land to tempt the settler
Of Italy, Germania & Spain;
Wee green towhee
Love luminary dawn;
Both fetterless & free, by breezy morning bourne.

But… when rocks by loose pebbles paved,
In a time to try the soul,
The groaning of the damn’d & saved,
Encompass our very all,
When voices raise for the enslaved
& wages rise & fall,
Where Indians push’d into wilderness,
Land of plantations, politics & press.

As from slime crawl lizard-fishes,
Whitfield makes his voice heard,
Modern Jesus coryphaeus
Stability has stirr’d,
Entrench’d in th’indestructable good-ground of Heaven’s word.

North America
1740


 

Frederick the Great

As poet-kings by growing nations crown’d
& expeditions gravid to expand,
A modern grandmaster Teuton has found,
Sweeps thro’ Silesia & Sudetenland;
“Save Austria!”
Empress Maria screams,
All thro’ Bohemia her well-train’d army teems.

Vienna treats with Downing Street
As young Potsdam Paris charms –
With European war complete
Man’s brutality alarms,
As children orphan’d in the street
& snipers strafe the farms –
Since Mollwitz & the Chotusitz affrays
Europa plunged deep in death-hungry days,

In which this Brandenburger shines,
In open glory tore,
Lover of wines, libretto lines
& genius for war
Bringing Prussian policies to the European fore.

Berlin
1744


 

Culloden

From frilly sleeves France slips the Stuart sword
& plays it like a Pittsburgh poker ace,
Imperial wars being fought abroad
To Inverness embattl’d armies race;
Alexander
Ran with his manly sons,
Yelling altogether toward the English guns.

Clan Appin on the right flank fell,
Questing for King & country,
Eye-slicing claymores faced Burell,
Gruesome ends of ancestry
Where Haelan’ hopes turn into hell,
Cumberland butcherie
MacDonald fled, thro’ all the fire & noise,
Heart haunted by the death-screams of his boys.

He comforted his grieving wife,
“O my darlin’ Clara,
We’ve too much strife, a better life
Awaits America,”
So sail’d, with their sons’ families, from Scotland… forever!

Oban
1746