Saturday, 15 May 2010

Ballad of St George- an excerpt

It has been a while (a couple of years, in fact!) since I posted anything from my slowly growing work 'The Ballad of St George' so I thought I might do so today. One of these days I'll actually finish this but mostly I work on it intermittently and just add a stanza or two every week or so when I get a moment. This is a moderately (but not completely) polished Chapter VII (or Canto VII or Book VII, or even possibly Part II Chapter I, depending on how I eventually decide to organise the poem). Feedback and criticism is very welcome, particularly regarding scansion. Copyright, needless to say, is mine.

A weary world lies round the sea
At the centre of the earth,
And in those parts, the people laughed
And joked with joyless mirth.

High in the air the eagle fixed
It'seye on all the land;
It's outstretched wing
O'er everything
Had left no thing unplanned.

Th'imperial bird looked down on all
And loved the things it saw,
Bestowing in it's matchless grace
On every soul from Gaul to Thrace
The peace that comes with war.

It's shadow reached across the world
O'er lands and folk far-flung,
From where the druid chanting sounds
To Pharaoh's pyramidal mounds
To where Hellenic bards are found
And Homer's songs are sung.

But in the Senate cracks were seen
'Neath politician's feet;
Grim-toga'd men pursued their way
Till empire lay in disarray;
Men's vision faded into grey
Till all they saw looked bleak.

And men distrusted politics
And grisly governance;
Distraught at the debauchery
Of emp'rors and their progeny,
Men lost hope in nobility
Nor gave it any chance.

But men there were who once knew fame
In centuries now gone,
And such were found now ranged around
The ruins of Ctesiphon.

These relics of republic past,
Of Cincinnatus' day,
Remained the good and simple men
That once their fathers had been when
Great Carthage passed away.

While all the eagle-shadow'd world
Lay weary, ill-at-ease,
One of these declared, "Enough!",
Took an assassin by the scruff-
His name was Diocles.

With spirited beneficence
And boundless charity,
This man who fought the savage Goth
WIth stern and calculated wrath
Took up the purple flowing cloth
And made a Tetrarchy.

A scion of a noble stock,
A soldier of the land,
He did not flinch now from his cause
For, though he'd fought in many wars,
No guilt had stained his hand.

And power was a means to him
And no desired end;
There was no madness in his mind,
No motive ill of any kind;
He sought the help of gods enshrined
To put Rome to the mend.

For "Rome's remembered unity
Must once again obtain.
And all the ills of civil wars
(Where mockery is made of laws
And all Rome's grave, deep-seated flaws
Are made so very plain)
Must be forever at an end.
An end to war and vice!
And natur'lly this will sometimes
Require sacrifice.

"No building that is made of brick
Can have a base of clay,
And every weakness in the walls,
Each crack and chink, all faults and flaws-
These must be smoothed away.

"Just so, an empire on the earth
Whose fate is on the scale,
Must find her former acumen
And purge herself of trait'rous men
If hoping to prevail.

"The ancient ways must be restored
And each must do his part.
Corruption must now see a halt,
The gods enjoy again their cult,
And those who balk must know their fault
Against Rome's noble heart."

And so in Diocletian's days,
Quite unexpectedly,
The firstfruit of th'unwholesome branch,
The stone that starts an avalanche
Fell on the milit'ry.

In eastern parts where folk speak Greek,
In Nicomedia,
Upon the barracks wall was placed
The edict whose effects disgraced
That lordly emperor-

An edict posted for all men
And placed where all might see,
So that no single man might claim
He had not seen the emp'ror's name
Clear on that decree.

It's message: "All the gods of Rome
Stand angry and displeased,
For though the heirs of Troy we be,
We've entertained catastrophe
And left them unappeased.

"Your contribution to our peace
Comes at a minor price-
A pinch of incense is enough
For each man's sacrifice."

A day or two had passed perhaps
Since that grim bull was placed
When, not long after day had gone,
A figure passed the megaron,
Moving with great haste.

A figure clad in soldier's garb
Of lorica and greaves,
Disturbing the still, moonlit air
Where muteness passed for peace and where
Sad sycamores did throng the square,
Caressing mudbrick eaves.

He strode across the dusty street
Until he came, ere long,
To where the wall was no more bare
For someone had placed something there
Upon which he began to stare
And stared for very long.

Then in one motion smooth and swift
As dry air turns to rain,
He wrenched the paper from the wall
And tore the thing in twain.

1 comment:

Matt said...

Bravo! I like this poem. I look forward to reading the entire thing one day. It seems a long time since you were in Hong Kong and handed me a handwritten copy of the first chapter to peruse. It showed promise then, and it continues to impress. Top job.