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Ballad of Hector in Hades -- Edwin Muir

Guest poem sent in by Russell Y. Webb
(Poem #1233) Ballad of Hector in Hades
 Yes, this is where I stood that day,
      Beside this sunny mound.
 The walls of Troy are far away,
      And outward comes no sound.

 I wait. On all the empty plain
      A burnished stillness lies,
 Save for the chariot's tinkling hum,
      And a few distant cries.

 His helmet glitters near. The world
      Slowly turns around,
 With some new sleight compels my feet
      From the fighting ground.

 I run. If I turn back again
      The earth must turn with me,
 The mountains planted on the plain,
      The sky clamped to the sea.

 The grasses puff a little dust
      Where my footsteps fall.
 I cast a shadow as I pass
      The little wayside wall.

 The strip of grass on either hand
      Sparkles in the light;
 I only see that little space
      To the left and to the right,

 And in that space our shadows run,
      His shadow there and mine,
 The little flowers, the tiny mounds,
      The grasses frail and fine.

 But narrower still and narrower!
      My course is shrunk and small,
 Yet vast as in a deadly dream,
      And faint the Trojan wall.
 The sun up in the towering sky
      Turns like a spinning ball.

 The sky with all its clustered eyes
      Grows still with watching me,
 The flowers, the mounds, the flaunting weeds
      Wheel slowly round to see.

 Two shadows racing on the grass,
      Silent and so near,
 Until his shadow falls on mine.
      And I am rid of fear.

 The race is ended. Far away
      I hang and do not care,
 While round bright Troy Achilles whirls
      A corpse with streaming hair.
-- Edwin Muir
           from First Poems (1925)

What I admire most about this poem is it's consistent voice and
construction of tension in conflict. The voice is distant and mythical
while still being personal. The poem's conclusion is so indirectly
stated that its meaning is felt only on reflection making it more
powerful and horrifying.

I read somewhere that this poem was in part Muir's reflection of being
bullied in the school yard as a child.

Russ

Links:

  Biography of Muir:
    http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~crumey/edwin_muir.html
    http://www.tiscali.co.uk/reference/encyclopaedia/hutchinson/m0039469.html

  And Russ's reference to Muir's being bullied in the schoolyard recalled
  Benet's "The General Public", Poem #983

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