Monthly Archives: November 2021

Hekabe

In the hands of an ironist like Euripides, the last days of queen Hekabe are a miserable sight. Above, you see the death of her daughter, Polyxena, to honor the grave of Achilles at Troy. Having lost all her children at once, she feeds her revenge on a target of convenience, and upon seeing that even then she cannot escape her fate, she casts herself into the sea. This poem, inspired by the 74th Psalm, comes before the news of her last child’s death, before she has abandoned all hope of redemption.

As Simone Weil points out in the Poem of Force, even a slave’s tears are not her own to shed for those she loves – she may weep only for her master’s sorrows, and no longer dare weep for her own. So even Hekabe’s prayer to Apollo is an act of outrageous defiance, for already she is a slave, and this she will not accept.

To what end, Apollo, are we cast off?
You rage against those under your protection.
Recognize our ancient heritage,
as people of your fiefdom, in your debt,
whose kingdom raised royal temples in your name.
Set foot upon the smoldering sanctum,
all looted and blood-smeared, altars defaced.
The Greeks have overrun your Ilium,
made mock-ups of portents, and scorned the gods.
Aegeans felled our princes and our priests,
summarily as woodsmen clear young pines.
Our graven images are ground to dust
in blows from spear hafts, maces, shields and slings.
These arsonists reduced your throne to ash,
and shat upon the altar at your feet.
They would erase Troy from the very Earth.
They scorched your groves and feasted on your kine.
Your oracles we did not heed in time.
The prophetess Cassandra is a slave,
and no one understands her either way.
How long, Sun God, will Greeks with their snide jokes
dismiss a queen and mother’s right to mourn?
What holds back your darts, seeing us butchered,
your silver bow at rest and not deployed?
The Furies are an older lot, but you
once prized our safety and our shining walls.
You smote the serpent Python in his cave,
as ancient and as fearsome as the Flood.
You pulverized the monster’s gaping jaws,
filleted his flesh for dolphins, mice and crows.
You severed stones between the laurel’s roots,
where springs gushed forth, and stilled them into pools.
Your chariot announces break of day,
and Night herself waits on your horses’ neighs.
You, the inventor of maps, drawings, laws,
medicine, learning – you gave men reason.
Justice demands you take heed of our plight,
their barbaric gesture, blood sacrifice.
Do no dare feed these dogs daughters of Troy,
the wrath of a mother will reckon this.
See to your city, take heed of our prayers,
for the Furies are moved, they scent clotted blood.
Turn not aside from an old woman’s needs,
for even a slave may pray on her knees.
Apollo, aid me if you will not be shamed,
for the Greeks mock our loss with funeral games.

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Filed under Corruption, Economics, Poetry

Kingdom of Heaven

Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven has been warmly received by critics as an epic that trades in positive masculinity and features a powerhouse performance from Eva Green as the princess Sibylla and an all-star cast of knights in shining armor. As with Gladiator, the soundtrack steals many a scene, this time scored by Harry Gregson-Williams.

The story asks the question whether personal integrity is an adequate stand against corrupt leadership in the realm of statecraft – whether upholding the rights of criminals is fair to those under their power. Although the film suggests that Balian is content to live with his choices to the end, the price paid by others whom the film allows us to care about is awfully high.

This poem, based on the 73rd Psalm, is in Balian’s voice addressed to Sybilla, after he has announced his decision not to usurp power from her cynical and foolhardy husband, Guy de Lusignan (played by Marton Csokas). Later, he will retrace his steps and confront Guy ineffectually about a tactical blunder – but his cinematically convenient decision to confront the king bluntly in front of his knights naturally dooms his advice to failure, as Guy must defend his own authority by dismissing Balian’s unsolicited advice wholesale. Balian (Orlando Bloom) comes off as a bit of a blunderer himself, in that regard. But at least his self-respect is intact…

Only the good is cherished by a true knight,
for what more is Christendom to the pilgrim?
Truly, for my part, I might have strayed,
for in this labyrinth, love gave me pause.
Do you doubt that I envy your husband,
when I see you secure in his palm?
Glibly the man fears nothing of the grave,
feeling only his fullness in power.
The cross has no place in his religion,
for the man abhors all self-denial.
Arrogance defines his every gesture,
disdainful of his duties under law.
Grease from his table smears his bloodshot eyes,
as he plies the mob by idolizing war.
Of binding oaths he speaks with arch derision,
and no one doubts that he will be a tyrant.
When he swears by the name of our Lord,
his rabble-rousing sweeps through crowds like wildfire.
Not because they credit him with faith, no –
and yet they drink his poison eagerly.
They suppose Christ does not see them sin,
and question how one God could know all hearts.
Do you think I am blind to their success?
Men who stint no evil gain in power.
For what reward do you think I keep my vows,
and by my labors do such penitence?
The Templars spit on me, and will do worse,
and all my doings here may be for nought.
Do you doubt I contemplated killing him?
The thought of my wife, and your son, held me back.
The act of apprehending how things stand
has been a wrenching sorrow in my heart.
Until, in contemplation on the mount,
I came to sense what heaven can withhold.
Truly, these warriors rule over an anthill,
a simple act can cast all to the winds.
Do you not marvel at how sudden death
can be, on the heels of great good fortune?
Ephemeral as incense, their illusions
dissipate like mist above the sea at daybreak.
When I resented keenly all I’d lost,
and fear of hypocrites transfixed my soul,
I stumbled like a brute led on God’s way,
comprehending none of what I saw.
Yet even then, love’s light burned from within,
the spirit of Jerusalem sustained me.
Your brother took me in his confidence,
and in defending you, I won acclaim.
Why else do you believe I take up arms,
who else do you imagine I desire?
Exact from me all that the world demands,
and still a knight and Christian, I endure.
I see what ends corrupted men are for,
how low they grovel, obdurate and damned.
For me, nearness to scripture is enough,
I pitch my tent where God wills and move on,
consoled by the fair sweat upon my brow.

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Filed under Acting, Corruption, Dream Ensemble, Gladiator, Music, Poetry

Dia De Muertos

So I was reading the Penguin selections of the Talmud, and stumbled upon a ghost story just in time for Halloween – here’s some paranormal poetry in anticipation of the Dia De Muertos.

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Filed under Poetry