Alcyone

by Archibald Lampman


 

 

WAR


 

By the Nile, the sacred river,
   I can see the captive hordes
Strain beneath the lash and quiver
   At the long papyrus cords,
While in granite rapt and solemn,                                                5
Rising over roof and column,
   Amen-hotep dreams, or Ramses,
          Lord of Lords.

I can hear the trumpets waken
   For a victory old and far—                                                      10
Carchemish or Kadesh taken—
   I can see the conqueror’s car
Bearing down some Hittite valley,
Where the bowmen break and sally,
   Sargina or Esarhaddon,                                                         15
          Grim with war!

From the mountain streams that sweeten
   Indus, to the Spanish foam,
I can feel the broad earth beaten
   By the serried tramp of Rome;                                              20
Through whatever foes environ
Onward with the might of iron—
   Veni, vidi; veni. vici—
          Crashing home!

I can see the kings grow pallid                                                 25
   With astonished fear and hate,
As the hosts of Amr or Khaled
   On their cities fall like fate;
Like the heat-wind from its prison
In the desert burst and risen—                                                 30
   La ilàha illah ‘llàhu—
          God is great!

I can hear the iron rattle,
   I can see the arrows sting
In some far-off northern battle,                                                 35
   Where the long swords sweep and swing;
I can hear the scalds declaiming,
I can see their eyeballs flaming,
   Gathered in a frenzied circle
          Round the king.                                                               40

I can hear the horn of Uri
   Roaring in the hills enorm;
Kindled at its brazen fury,
   I can see the clansmen form;
In the dawn in misty masses,                                                   45
Pouring from the silent passes
   Over Granson or Morgarten
          Like the storm.

On the lurid anvil ringing
   To some slow fantastic plan,                                                50
I can hear the sword-smith singing
   In the heart of old Japan—
Till the cunning blade grows tragic
With his malice and his magic—
   Tenka tairan! Tenka tairan!                                                  55
          War to man!

Where a northern river charges
   By a wild and moonlit glade,
From the murky forest marges,
   Round a broken palisade,                                                    60
I can see the red men leaping,
See the sword of Dauluc sweeping,
   And the ghostly forms of heroes
          Fall and fade.

I can feel the modern thunder                                                  65
   Of the cannon beat and blaze,
When the lines of men go under
   On your proudest battle-days;
Through the roar I hear the lifting
Of the bloody chorus drifting                                                   70
   Round the burning mill at Valmy—
          Marseillaise!

I can see the ocean rippled
   With the driving shot like rain,
While the hulls are crushed and crippled,                             75
   And the guns are piled with slain;
O’er the blackened broad sea-meadow
Drifts a tall and titan shadow,
   And the cannon of Trafalgar
          Startle Spain.                                                                 80

Still the tides of fight are booming,
   And the barren blood is spilt;
Still the banners are up-looming,
   And the hands are on the hilt;
But the old world waxes wiser,                                              85
From behind the bolted visor
   It descries at last the horror
          And the guilt.

Yet the eyes are dim, nor wholly
   Open to the golden gleam,                                                 90
And the brute surrenders slowly
   To the godhead and the dream.
From his cage of bar and girder,
Still at moments mad with murder,
   Leaps the tiger, and his demon                                         95
          Rules supreme.

One more war with fire and famine
   Gathers—I can hear its cries—
And the years of might and Mammon
   Perish in a world’s demise;                                             100
When the strength of man is shattered,
And the powers of earth are scattered,
   From beneath the ghastly ruin
          Peace shall rise!