War: Father of Nations

With a thunderous clatter of hooves & blare

of battered brassy horn

light cavalry swept down upon

doomed men in a crimson morn.


A ragged band was backed to a wall

of towering metamorphic rock  

in a foreign land long leagues from home, 

taut faces white with shock. 


How terribly fast the tide had turned! 

How cunning the savage foe! 

A turncoat scout led them roundabout

into ambush. Treacherous woe!


For weeks the marauders pillaged, burned

raped & drunken-reveled

till their captain, sated by gold & blood

cried, “Wheel, ye desert devils!”


Laden with spoils the warband turned

back toward hearth & home

basking in martial glory built

’pon ashes & bleaching bones.


A fortnight later they braced for the charge

of juggernaut-horsed cruel men 

slung low in the saddle, scything swords 

reaping again & again 


leather-clad warriors who smote & roared 

in a frenzy of berserker fear; 

the desperate band made a fierce last stand— 

spears splintered, horses reared. 


Wet work was done ’neath the pitiless sun 

to a man the invaders died; 

their corpses left to ripen & rot: 

sweetmeats for the vulture sky 


that dispatched carrion birds to feast 

on the bloating, rictused dead. 

Black buzzing hordes of feted flies 

swarmed ’round severed heads 


& limbs that littered the killing field 

soon buried by drifting sand.

What matter the names of the men who fell 

in that vanished, sun-seared land?


The victors that day soon found their homes 

destroyed by a stronger foe  

who invaded the land, bronze legions agleam 

in scarlet, azure & gold. 


Thus ever it was; thus ever shall be: 

man butchers man for wealth 

lost in turn to cyclic hordes 

worshipping power, brute force, pelf. 


If today you stroll under cloudless skies 

face turned to the warming sun, 

spare a moment to think of countless dead 

who died that you may hum 


some insipid tune of patriarchy—

family, church & state 

sing the tribal song of triumph: 

Noble! Manifest! Great!  


–Carl E. Reed

This poem employs galloping rhythm, a judicious use of near-rhyme, abandon-rhyme (note the long “O” of “foe” and “gold” in stanza 9: an example of what I mean when I argue for the primacy of semantics–at certain critical points of an otherwise sonorously harmonized formalist narrative poem–over the mere aural, or sound, consistency of end-line rhyme), internal rhyme (rhymes on the same line), alliteration, assonance, consonance, the lack of end-line punctuation except where necessary to aid comprehension and regulate rhythm (a minimalist choice which also enhances reading speed and a sense of exhilarating forward momentum) and other poetic tricks to enhance euphony and over-all impact upon the reader. I hope the work imparts the same shock of lexical energy I felt in composing it; moreover, I hope these particular words arrayed in this particular fashion speak to the reader in a meaningful and authoritative way re: our collective guilt and responsibility for continuing to engage in the transfixing, tragic and (uneasily acknowledged) ecstatic social practice of war.

The formatting of this poem (if ever published) will follow the traditional formalist practice of indenting the 2nd and 4th lines of every quatrain. (Try accomplishing that in WordPress. ARRRGH!)

PS. Mellow: start sharpening that critical knife, heh!

PPS. I am pleased to announce that three new poems of mine will appear in issue #15 (July, 2021) of Spectral Realms Journal: “The Call of Lizzie”, “Shuffling Horror”, and “Bat-winged Battle Cry”. https://www.hippocampuspress.com/journals/spectral-realms/spectral-realms-no.-15?zenid=qqgjdp8a4gt5fgkuuinkcr7vm0


22 thoughts on “War: Father of Nations

  1. “spare a moment to think of legions dead
    who died that you may hum
    some insipid tune of patriarchy.”
    Great line, timeless. And painful because grisly as war is, we always have it.

    “The battle was all for naught.
    The victors that day soon found their homes
    destroyed by a stronger foe”
    Makes me think of us because we are (the last I checked) the fourth wave of peoples to conquer America.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. @GD: re: “And painful because grisly as war is, we always have it.”

    Alas! Seems so. Have they not read Siegfried Sassoon?

    I knew a simple soldier boy
    Who grinned at life in empty joy,
    Slept soundly through the lonesome dark,
    And whistled early with the lark.

    In winter trenches, cowed and glum
    With crumps and lice and lack of rum,
    He put a bullet through his brain.
    No one spoke of him again.

    * * * * *

    You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
    Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
    Sneak home and pray you’ll never know
    The hell where youth and laughter go.”

    Liked by 5 people

  3. mimispeike says:

    Powerful imagery. Extraordinary!

    Pelf! Pelf, pelf, pelf! I’m adding it to my vocabulary here and now.

    You have done me a considerable service here.

    I just checked my best-rhyming-dictionary-in-the-world. It’s there! How did I miss it all these years?

    Liked by 5 people

  4. «… follow the traditional formalist practice of indenting the 2nd and 4th lines of every quatrain. (Try accomplishing that in WordPress. ARRRGH!)»

    Here’s what I do to make the lines of a poem indented from the title.  I use the Code Editor option and start each line with a pad of whitespace that has a width I like.  The HTML is a tad obscure because WP would too aggressive about tidying up if it saw what I am doing. The HTML code for a pad that is 2 em wide is

    <span style=”padding-right:2em;visibility:hidden;”>|</span>

    Liked by 4 people

  5. This poem’s twist on an antiwar message reminds me of Faulkner’s sad remark about the past.  Maybe it will get thru to some of those who have still not heeded Owen or Sassoon.  I hope so.

    The galloping rhythm and fast pace of the actions make it appropriate to have syntax straddle stanza breaks in many places, even for readers as distracted by straddling as I am.  But do U really want the straddle in the last stanza break?

    I was seriously distracted at only one place, and it is not a stanza break.  Phrases like
            a land that time forgot
    are often applied to contemporary places far from modern civilization that seem idyllic until somebody breaks a leg or coughs up blood.  Here, the phrase is applied to a nasty place that is far away in time but all too near in behavior.  Our tools for butchering each other are different now, but we still do it and it is still wrong.  The phrase undercuts that point.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you for your comments, Mellow! And as usual your criticism prods me to further reflection and revision. I will look hard at both the penultimate and last stanzas to see if I might find a way to eliminate the straddling. As for the cliched phrase “land that time forgot” (cliché is only ever acceptable when there is no better way of stating something; I am decidedly uneasy about employing it here but could find no better, more succinct way of making the point: no one remembers the battle or the tribes involved in this butchery.)

      LATER: Eureka! Mellow, I believe I have found a solution to the problem of one of those questionable stanzas that may please us both. Here ’tis:
      & limbs that littered the killing field

      now buried beneath drifting sands.

      What matter the names of the men who fell

      in that blighted, benighted land?

      Thanks again for drawing my attention to that stanza–even if I fixed a problem (cliché) you didn’t call out.

      PS. I hope both the regulars and the drive-bys learn from this: Don’t fear criticism! Put your work out there, carefully weigh and consider all cogent criticisms, and never make the ego-maniacal mistake of believing that every word you commit to paper or screen is spun gold and fell weavings.

      So proud of all who gather and converse here! We are writers; watch us work. . . .

      LATER: The line changed again, heh! Now reads more simply, sonorously: “in that forgotten desert land”.

      Liked by 4 people

    • I concur! Corrected. Now, the agonies of that opening stanza. I have driven myself mad trying various permutations of that opening quatrain and it still doesn’t gell for me. Originally it read:
      With a clatter of galloping hooves & blare
      of sun-bright brassy horn
      light cavalry swept down upon
      doomed men one crimson morn.
      That 4th line! Doesn’t quite work, does it? “in a crimson morn” works better rhythmically but not grammatically.

      Hence the current opening stanza. An imagist bit marred, I feel, by an excess of punctuation (necessary for clarity’s sake), but I do like the rising menace of those hard, snarling/growling “R”s throughout the quatrain.

      Which version do you prefer?

      LATER: Ah, the exquisite, tantalizing tortures of revision! Who was it who observed “remove the comma; replace the comma; remove the comma . . .”?

      I decided this latest version (see below) was just . . . awful:

      Rumble-clatter of hooves: hard thunder

      rising in a crimson morn —

      charging across the plain: light horse

      war cries & the blare of horns.

      How, pray tell, does a war cry or a horn blast “charge”? Fail. We’re back to the original fast-moving (opening word: “With . . “) sweep-you-off-your-feet breathless first stanza, albeit now with a couple of minor tweaks.

      Liked by 3 people

      • The tweaked original 1st stanza is OK by me.  The “awful” latest revision looks fixable too, maybe to the best yet.

        Cavalry does charge and “light horse” is often used as a word for cavalry, so the latest revision could be changed to something along the lines of

                Rumble-clatter of hooves: hard thunder
                shattering a crimson morn.
                Light horse charging across the plain:
                war cries & the blare of horns.

        It’s a little odd to punctuate poetry like prose, but I’m happy to be an oddball in this respect.  Traditional Western and imported-from-Japan poetry styles have different affectations about punctuation (including when to hit the Shift key).  Prose style punctuation is more readable than either of them.

        Liked by 3 people

  6. victoracquista says:

    Carl, Your brilliance provides me with a growing appreciation of poetry. I nominate you for the honorary title of Poet Laureate of the Writer’s Co-op.

    Liked by 6 people

    • Thank you but too kind by far, Victor! No brilliance here: just occasional flashes of inspiration that inspire me to put the first horribly flawed version of a gestating poem down on paper or screen and then . . . the real work begins: revising. What’s that Writer’s Bible verse?–“Work out your revision(s) in fear and trembling . . .”

      Liked by 5 people

  7. A dozen or so final tweaks to verbiage and punctuation and now, at last, I can finally pronounce this poem FINISHED! (For now.) How do I know it is done? Upon rereading I hitched over a line or two that immediately told me: nope, ain’t smooth– that bit there. Too stilted, forced, unrhythmic. I reworked these problematic lines and phrases (always with an ear cocked toward euphony) until I could declaim the entirety of the poem aloud in cadenced confidence (which is the effect I was working toward here). The terrifying, maddening problem of poetry is: If you fuck up a single line or phrase . . . hell, word . . . single mark of punctuation or enjambment–the entire poem collapses into a pile of quivering, inert jelly. Form is everything. Every single word must shrike-like strike straight for the reader’s heart. Poetic failure here equates to . . . well, imagine the Mona Lisa scowling . . . an extra pillar on the Parthenon . . . Poe opening the Raven with: “T’was a dreary midnight; I returned the stare / of belligerent raven whose fearsome glare . . .” :::shudder:::

    Liked by 1 person

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