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War Song of the Saracens -- James Elroy Flecker

Guest poem sent in by Frank O'Shea
(Poem #1145) War Song of the Saracens
 We are they who come faster than fate: we are they who ride early or late:
 We storm at your ivory gate: Pale Kings of the Sunset, beware!
 Not on silk nor in samet we lie, not in curtained solemnity die
 Among women who chatter and cry, and children who mumble a prayer.
 But we sleep by the ropes of the camp, and we rise with a shout, and we tramp
 With the sun or the moon for a lamp, and the spray of the wind in our hair.

 From the lands, where the elephants are, to the forts of Merou and Balghar,
 Our steel we have brought and our star to shine on the ruins of Rum.
 We have marched from the Indus to Spain, and by God we will go there again;
 We have stood on the shore of the plain where the Waters of Destiny boom.
 A mart of destruction we made at Jalula where men were afraid,
 For death was a difficult trade, and the sword was a broker of doom;

 And the Spear was a Desert Physician who cured not a few of ambition,
 And drave not a few to perdition with medicine bitter and strong:
 And the shield was a grief to the fool and as bright as a desolate pool,
 And as straight as the rock of Stamboul when their cavalry thundered along:
 For the coward was drowned with the brave when our battle sheered up like a
 wave,
 And the dead to the desert we gave, and the glory to God in our song.
-- James Elroy Flecker
The recent Andrew Motion poem [Poem #1143] is a good reminder of the reasons
people go to war, all the more relevant in view of the gadarene buildup
going on as I write.

As a follow-up, I suggest the following Flecker warning - surprisingly, it
has not been run before. It's from a different age, but the pale kings of
the sunset who lie in silk and samet might do well to remember that as
Michael Collins put it long ago "The victory is not to those who can inflict
the most but to those who can endure the most" (or something like that).

Think of the billions invested in the Star Wars program and then read the
chilling "The shield was a grief to the fool and as bright as a desolate
pool." Scary.

Frank

[Martin adds]

As is often the case with Flecker, I find myself getting swept along by the
sheer magnificent sound and rhythm of the words, and the almost overly-vivid
imagery. This may have elements of warning in it, but in tone and feel it is
very much a war poem. You can almost hear the drums in the background, and
the pounding of horses' hooves. Not a 'pretty' poem, but one with a
visceral, shiver-inducing intensity that grips the reader whether or not he
agrees with the sentiment.

71 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Jamal said...

It amazes me how certain verses in the "War Song of the Saracens," by James Elroy Flecker, are almost a verbatim translation from an Arabic poem by the pre-Islamic era knight of legendary fame, Antara Ibn Shaddad. Did Flecker know Arabic? Although his brief biography did not state it, I'm sure that he did.
Compare those verses from Antara's poem to similar ones from "War Song of the Saracens." (Translation is mine.)

"Choose not a bed of silk, nor weep over abandoned abodes (of your loved one),
While around you women cry in anguish, and tear their veils and scarves.

With cutlasses we set up market, and made souls its merchandise.
My horse was a broker of death. He dashed into its dust; buying and selling.
And my sword was a doctor, that treated the heads suffering headache."

Jamal said...

It amazes me how certain verses in the "War Song of the Saracens," by James Elroy Flecker, are almost a verbatim translation from an Arabic poem by the pre-Islamic era knight of legendary fame, Antara Ibn Shaddad. Did Flecker know Arabic? Although his brief biography did not state it, I'm sure that he did.
Compare those verses from Antara's poem to similar ones from "War Song of the Saracens." (Translation is mine.)

"Choose not a bed of silk, nor weep over abandoned abodes (of your loved one),
While around you women cry in anguish, and tear their veils and scarves.

With cutlasses we set up market, and made souls its merchandise.
My horse was a broker of death. He dashed into its dust; buying and selling.
And my sword was a doctor, that treated the heads suffering headache."

Jamal

Bill Astbury said...

This is the first time I have seen this poem in print since being an 11 year old schoolboy some 58 years ago.
It was probably the only poem that I truly liked at it has been bouncing around in my head all these years.
Thanks for the memory!

Maria Jameau said...

Does anyone have the original text to The War Song, by Antara? I am in dire search of it, and would appreciate help locating it. Thanks, Maria

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