(Poem #48) Pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth
O, pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth, That I am meek and gentle with these butchers! Thou art the ruins of the noblest man That ever lived in the tide of times. Woe to the hand that shed this costly blood! Over thy wounds now do I prophesy, --- Which, like dumb mouths, do ope their ruby lips, To beg the voice and utterance of my tongue --- A curse shall light upon the limbs of men; Domestic fury and fierce civil strife Shall cumber all the parts of Italy; Blood and destruction shall be so in use And dreadful objects so familiar That mothers shall but smile when they behold Their infants quarter'd with the hands of war; All pity choked with custom of fell deeds: And Caesar's spirit, ranging for revenge, With Ate by his side come hot from hell, Shall in these confines with a monarch's voice Cry 'Havoc,' and let slip the dogs of war; That this foul deed shall smell above the earth With carrion men, groaning for burial.
from 'Julius Caesar'. Context: This words are said by Mark Antony to Caesar's corpse. Antony, Caesar's most devoted friend, has just made his peace with Caesar's murderers (Brutus, Cassius et al.), hence the 'Pardon me'; yet, as these words make clear, he has already resolved to take revenge on the conspirators. As it turned out, his bloodthirsty words were indeed prophetic: for the next 10 years, the Roman empire was wracked by a series of civil wars, culminating (finally) in the ascension of Caesar's nephew Octavius (later known as Augustus) to power. Commentary: As poetry, perhaps, this speech of Antony's may not be remarkable, but as dramatic verse it is stunning. Note the gradual escalation of tone and emotion, from the subdued and sorrowful 'Pardon me' at the beginning to the heraldic fury of the four lines beginning with 'And Caesar's spirit...' at the end - as Antony's feelings run higher, his words become more intense and the imagery he uses becomes simultaneously more complex and more powerful. At the end of the speech, one feels almost sorry for Brutus and his co-conspirators. This short extract also illustrates Shakespeare's remarkable facility for coining phrases which have passed into idiom - in just 20 lines (that too, from a play not as highly regarded as some others), we have 'the tide of times', 'hot from hell', 'the dogs of war'... thomas. Glossary: (from that invaluable reference, Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable - http://www.bibliomania.com/Reference/PhraseAndFable/ ) Ate (2 syl.). Goddess of vengeance and mischief. This goddess was driven out of heaven, and took refuge among the sons of men. Havock A military cry to general massacre without quarter. This cry was forbidden in the ninth year of Richard II on pain of death. Probably it was originally used in hunting wild beasts, such as wolves, lions, etc., that fell on sheep-folds, and Shakespeare favours this suggestion in his Julius Caesar, where he says Até shall "cry havock! and let slip the dogs of war." (Welsh, hafog, devastation; Irish, arvach; compare Anglo-Saxon havoc, a hawk.)