In Defense of War Poetry

 – “why (i’the Muses’ name) Am I called poet?”

                  – Horace, The Art of Poetry

“…nimico ai lupi che li danno Guerra;       …an enemy to the wolves that make war on it,
con altra voce omai, con altro vello           with another voice now and other fleece
ritornerò poeta …”                                       I shall return a poet …

                   – Dante, Pardiso

What should a poet do in the face of atrocity?
How defend this ancient art against the dark?
How martial wisdom from the blood of innocents?

Does the poet have the right to speak with the voices of the recent dead?
Is the poet nothing more than Harlequin’s ventriloquist?
When is the opportune time for the poet to enter the House of the Dead?

If a Ghost calls out in the night how should the poet respond?
But who are those in the gloam, the shadows peering through the veil?
Can it be? Is this our true master come back from exile at last?

Did you leave everything behind you loved most?
Did the arrows of the sky bring betrayal and loss?
Do you even now taste the salty bread of exile?

What stairs are these so many ascend beyond the ruins?
Where is the laurel crown that made you king?
How did these black days descend into your heart?

A shadow comes that was a man:
“I have seen the fires below the hills,
the fabled wisdom of the old ones turn to dust;
now we wander through these streets afraid,
and seek the truth that was once our lives.”

Another voice is clear behind her veil:
“So many voices in this feted air,
a glimpse of soldiers in despair;
a trace of blood upon the sand
where we once danced beside the sun.”

My guide entreats me to come away
before the cold grasps me to its breast…
I feel the chill that was his breath,
the terror in his eyes that I, not he, am still alive.

Why do we dream of fabled conversations with the dead?
Is our grief so hard to bare? Do we hide ourselves in colors not our own?
Trick the mind against its natural course?

How can poetry help us in this troubled time?
How expound gray tales from moral climes?
How speak of truth when hate prevails?

Old Horace in his Comic trysts would have us weep but first be drowned.
Ben Johnson says: “All light failed.” Apollo’s music broke under Reason’s Wit.
Michael Drayton smiled and said poor poesy stalled when history prevailed.

That scoffer of the vulgar tongue Thomas Campion broke bread with Princes.
Sydney would offer the “great passport of poetry” as a gateway to the stars.
While for Shelley the Imperial Mind grants freedom to both great and small.

But as they say in our time: “Why should we listen to this dead white tribe?”
What do these moneyed men offer us who are the very epitome of vulgarity?
Why should we speak Latin, when we have our common tongues?

What is experience that we must die to sing?
Do we not live in artificial worlds, hold thought in orbs that singe?
Are the images that travel by mind of less worth?

Is the poet some law-giver that he should speak of death and war?
Do poets have more wisdom than philosophers?
Have poets proven moral to the counters of the courts?

There is no defense against an unjust world,
the fated battles of the wicked fail to answer our own darkest thoughts;
we wander in this world of dust like ghosts,
where poverty and war and death follow us into the abyss.

Yet, something in the dust still sings,
some bright semblance of the light displays:
a momentary glimpse not of paradise,
but of the desire that lures us toward such things

– Steven Craig Hickman ©2014 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

2 thoughts on “In Defense of War Poetry

  1. Really digging this recent torrent of poetry! I like that it ranges between the incomprehensibly vast, the personal, the political, the “universals” of human experience (our troubled thoughts and the spaces between ’em, for example)…you got some seeds for a broad-rangin’ poetry collection here!


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