Still in Persia, but looking westward now...
(Poem #515) The Persian Version
Truth-loving Persians do not dwell upon The trivial skirmish fought near Marathon. As for the Greek theatrical tradition Which represents that summer's expedition Not as a mere reconnaisance in force By three brigades of foot and one of horse (Their left flank covered by some obsolete Light craft detached from the main Persian fleet) But as a grandiose, ill-starred attempt To conquer Greece - they treat it with contempt; And only incidentally refute Major Greek claims, by stressing what repute The Persian monarch and the Persian nation Won by this salutary demonstration: Despite a strong defence and adverse weather All arms combined magnificently together.
Although the tone is light-hearted, this is actually a fairly major poem. Graves is a past master at capturing the exact tone of voice of the figure he wishes to lampoon ; here, the Persian speaker's words leave us in no doubt that the art of political 'spin' was alive and well several thousands of years ago; his pompous self-justification, though, betrays its own purpose. thomas.  See, for example, 'Welsh Incident', archived at poem #55 [Note on construction] Like Yeats and Auden, Graves' poetry is written in a remarkably assured 'speaking voice' - it stays strictly within the rules of rhyme and metre, yet never seems artificial or strained. It takes great skill to be able to craft words as naturally as those in today's poems; Graves pulls off the task so adroitly that we hardly even notice the fact. [Minstrels Links] This is the fifth in a series of poems based on the theme of 'The Silk Road'; so far, we've covered China, Mongolia, Samarkand and Persia. You can read the previous poems at http://www.cs.rice.edu/~ssiyer/minstrels/ The final line of the poem - "All arms combined magnificently together" - is more than a little reminiscent of Southey's "It was a famous victory", the refrain of 'The Battle of Blenheim', which you can read in full at poem #203 We've done several Grave poems before; there's the uproariously funny 'Welsh Incident', at poem #55... the spine-tingling enchantment of 'The Cool Web', at poem #298... and the bewitchingly beautiful 'Like Snow', at poem #467 If nothing else, these three should serve to show how varied Graves' poetic output was: I would be hard-pressed to choose a single favourite from among them; yet they're three very different poems, and I like them for very different reasons. [On the Battle of Marathon] The 'Greek Version' is chronicled in Britannica thusly: Marathon, Battle of, (September 490 BC), in the Greco-Persian Wars, decisive battle fought on the Marathon plain of northeastern Attica in which the Athenians, in a single afternoon, repulsed the first Persian invasion of Greece. Command of the hastily assembled Athenian army was vested in 10 generals, each of whom was to hold operational command for one day. The generals were evenly divided on whether to await the Persians or to attack them, and the tie was broken by a civil official, Callimachus, who decided in favour of an attack. Four of the generals then ceded their commands to the Athenian general Miltiades, thus effectively making him commander in chief. The Greeks could not hope to face the Persians' cavalry contingent on the open plain, but before dawn one day the Greeks learned that the cavalry were temporarily absent from the Persian camp, whereupon Miltiades ordered a general attack upon the Persian infantry. In the ensuing battle, Miltiades led his contingent of 10,000 Athenians and 1,000 Plataeans to victory over the Persian force of 15,000 by reinforcing his battle line's flanks and thus decoying the Persians' best troops into pushing back his centre, where they were surrounded by the inward-wheeling Greek wings. On being almost enveloped, the Persian troops broke into flight. By the time the routed Persians reached their ships, they had lost 6,400 men; the Greeks lost 192 men, including Callimachus. The battle proved the superiority of the Greek long spear, sword, and armour over the Persians' weapons. According to legend, an Athenian messenger was sent from Marathon to Athens, a distance of about 25 miles (40 km), and there he announced the Persian defeat before dying of exhaustion. This tale became the basis for the modern marathon race. Herodotus, however, relates that a trained runner, Pheidippides (also spelled Phidippides, or Philippides), was sent from Athens to Sparta before the battle in order to request assistance from the Spartans; he is said to have covered about 150 miles (240 km) in about two days. -- EB