Wednesday, May 11, 2022


To Satisfy a Fool's Desire

C.M. Bowra, excerpts from "Gold Dancing in the Air," quoted in Leslie Mitchell, Maurice Bowra: A Life (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), pp. 40-42:
Bell-beat of wild duck overhead
Vultures wheeling to pick the dead.

A pile of peat to feed the fire
Carcasses pinned on shell-shot wire.

Siesta on a grassy mound
Gas crawling over blood-drenched ground.

Parapets stacked with mouldy dead
To keep the wine in the wine glass red.

Boys bayoneted in the night
To keep official buttons bright.

Death on the ramparts, black with cold
Death in the squelching, watery mould.

Death dizzying in the riddled sky,—
Torn bodies left alone to die.

A people lashed to a wheel of fire
To satisfy a fool's desire.

Fields sliced to shreds and cities sacked
To keep a mothy creed intact.

Lithe bodies full of sap shot down
To gild the glory on a crown.

To slaughter pits the victims go
Gorging a ghastly triumph-show.

Bronze amour on the evening clouds
Shines in the face of muttering crowds.

Cold blasts that freeze the speaker's breath
Blow sharp as vengeance, cold as death.

Snow settling on the pavement stones
Wraps the flesh closer round the bones,

Freezes the vagrant, watery mood
Into an iron certitude,

Chilling the tongue that calls on Christ
For honour to be sacrificed.


A king sits in a golden crown—
Pull the man down, pull the man down.

Obsequious lackeys hang around—
Lock them in cellars underground.

Women with jewels in their hair,
Throw their pearls for swine to wear.

A sleek financier clothed in fur—
Hang him for a murderer.

Bird-like youths upon the wing—
Cage them up and make them sing.

Powdered girls with ruby lips
Learn to come to closer grips.

Parsons bent on knees to pray
Cheer Barabbas home today.

Soldiers shooting with God's will
Make game for other men to kill.

Schoolmasters who trade in lies
Tongueless try to moralize.

Philanderers who dream and dope—
The sharp kiss of the hangman's rope.

Marionettes who dream and sup
Machine-guns quickly fold you up.

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