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Sestina: Altaforte

king-richard-the-lionheart-5-x-3-flag-1520-p382 words

LOQUITUR: En Bertrans de Born.
Dante Alighieri put this man in hell for that he was a stirrer up of strife.
Eccovi!
Judge ye!
Have I dug him up again?
The scene is at his castle, Altaforte. “Papiols” is his jongleur. “The Leopard,” the device of Richard Coeur de Lion.

I

Damn it all! all this our South stinks peace.
You whoreson dog, Papiols, come! Let’s to music!
I have no life save when the swords clash.
But ah! when I see the standards gold, vair, purple, opposing
And the broad fields beneath them turn crimson,
Then howls my heart nigh mad with rejoicing.

II

In hot summer have I great rejoicing
When the tempests kill the earth’s foul peace,
And the lightnings from black heav’n flash crimson,
And the fierce thunders roar me their music
And the winds shriek through the clouds mad, opposing,
And through all the riven skies God’s swords clash.

III

Hell grant soon we hear again the swords clash!
And the shrill neighs of destriers in battle rejoicing,
Spiked breast to spiked breast opposing!
Better one hour’s stour than a year’s peace
With fat boards, bawds, wine and frail music!
Bah! there’s no wine like the blood’s crimson!

IV

And I love to see the sun rise blood-crimson.
And I watch his spears through the dark clash
And it fills all my heart with rejoicing
And pries wide my mouth with fast music
When I see him so scorn and defy peace,
His lone might ‘gainst all darkness opposing.

V

The man who fears war and squats opposing
My words for stour, hath no blood of crimson
But is fit only to rot in womanish peace
Far from where worth’s won and the swords clash
For the death of such sluts I go rejoicing;
Yea, I fill all the air with my music.

VI

Papiols, Papiols, to the music!
There’s no sound like to swords swords opposing,
No cry like the battle’s rejoicing
When our elbows and swords drip the crimson
And our charges ‘gainst “The Leopard’s” rush clash.
May God damn for ever all who cry “Peace!”

VII

And let the music of the swords make them crimson!
Hell grant soon we hear again the swords clash!
Hell blot black for always the thought “Peace!”

 

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One Comment

  1. Thomas Orecchia
    Posted November 3, 2014 at 12:35 am | Permalink

    Dear God! Has there ever been a better call to battle for battle’s sake alone, a more rejoicing call that mockingly decries peace and the “man who fears war and squats opposing”?

    I must admit Pounds works, so immersed in prose, often escape meaning for me but here there is no doubt what he means to express here: an old warlord lamenting that as of late things stink of “womanish peace”! And that only the song of battle, with swords and spiked breast apposing, drenched in crimson, can comfort him.

    Sentiments that the founders of Italian Fascism and German National Socialism-battle hardened warriors of the First War, schooled and anointed as they were in what R.H.S. Stolfi has described as a “monastery with walls of fire”- would understand and appreciate.

    And for us, let Pound’s words be a call to become ready in both body and spirit. To embrace our martial instincts and harden our harts for the tasks which will inevitably come.

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