Rising unbidden, a fury unspent,
I hear the high keening of tribal lament,
Of ancient injustices never forgiven,
Never forgotten, rising unbidden.
Where are the horsemen who raided our village,
Came without warning to plunder and pillage?
Who are they now, in what lives are they hidden?
An old hate emerges, rising unbidden.

Spanning the lifetimes that came and went,
Time has not lessened the tribal lament.
Old as the oaks in the north where we dwelled,
Our culture was severed, our sacred trees felled.
Ordered centurions, spears in precision,
Kill to comply with their ruler’s decision.
Where is the emperor, cause of such pain?
Should he not pay now the price of his gain?

Crosses or crescents, submit or repent!
The armies of God begat tribal lament.
Swords against scimitars, hooves in the blood,
And lives swept away in a violent flood.
Our city was plundered, our children enslaved,
The price, we were told, for our souls to be saved.
Where are the prophets who profit from war?
How can we take back what was ours before?

Hauled from our homelands, our history rent,
The song of our souls is a tribal lament.
Stolen from families, marched off in chains,
Our sorrows meant nothing, our fears or our pains.
Treated like cattle with whips and commands,
For twelve generations we toiled on their lands.
Where are the guilty, who sold us and bought us?
How can we give them the grief that they brought us?

Somewhere a memory of life in a tent,
And sad voices rising in tribal lament.
The soldiers on ponies, their shrill bugles crying,
The old ones, the children, a way of life dying.
Ripped from the land like a child from the breast,
Those who sign treaties face starving to death.
Rising unbidden, the memory is strong,
But something is different here, something is wrong:

I was the soldier who rode on the horse.
I held the rifle that altered life’s course.
Shame of the spirit is without reprieve,
I hide in my victimhood, openly grieve,
Cry of old injuries, nourished and bidden,
And hope no one sees all the crimes I have hidden.
But all have been victims of tribal lament,
And all have been victors, and all must repent.

The story of man is a long lamentation,
Of tribe against tribe, and of nation on nation.
The pains of our ancestors cry in each soul,
But Man, as a family, must become whole,
And learn to let go of the hatred inside us
That keeps us rebuilding the walls that divide us.
All people have lost and all people have won,
And God only knows what each spirit has done.

Horrors of hatred in brick and cement,
The death camps bear witness to tribal lament.
Starving and shaven and stripped of humanity,
Millions fell prey to this hideous insanity.
Surely this horror will finally be heeded.
Surely this nightmare will not be repeated.
Surely, we know now the most vicious beast
Is this monster called Man, with his cruelty unleashed.

What we will do in the name of some cause,
And the depths we can sink to, must make us all pause.
The evil within is the greatest we face,
And it crosses all boundaries of region and race.
We can move toward a world filled with laughter and light,
Or continue condemning ourselves to this plight,
But until we evolve, and our hatred is spent,
We’ll keep living lessons of tribal lament.


Lorna Davis is a poet who is happily retired and living in California.

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18 Responses

  1. John Evans

    Exclusively an imperative poetic work of literature!!! I loved where you went demonstrating the evils that lurk within, and the devastating destruction man creates upon the earth through his own arrogance, greed, and impotent lack of true courage. You are a wonderful poet! And, I sincerely admire this work of yours. Blessings.

    • Lorna Davis

      Thank you, sir, for your very kind words. I’m glad you enjoyed the poem.

      • Florence

        It was a pleasure to read such a well crafted and thought out poem as,; Tribal Lament.’ No where did I find the failings of mechanical rhyme choices that so often blight what we now call, ‘Formal Poetry.’ If your poem was used in a classroom and was open for discussion, it could help scores of students learn how to think in a broad and humanistic manner, ..And perhaps, some readers here have had the invitation to that experience. In fact, if Swift’s Gulliver was to visit the land of the Yahoos again, I would suggest that he take you along as his Minister of Diplomacy and Galactic Education.

        If I was faced with a Yahoo, as I have been at times, I would not have the acumen, forbearance and elucidating patience that I have seen in your responses here. There have been great poets who were involved in the politics and causes of their day, sometimes in allegory to remain safe in the times in which here they lived. Byn, Shelley, Milton and Pope were just a few. And Swift,who was not a poet.

        I felt as though we had a sub-poetica conversation when I read your poem. I felt that you opened specific windows into history to view in detail, events across time and place.

        Thank you for writing what I consider a valuable poem, tragic history is not worth repeating, but teaching, repeating and reminding each new generation, and refresing the memory of those now living, is worth repeating and repeating. If active memory of conscience and human understanding had prevailed, this world would now be a safer and more compassionate place.

      • Lorna Davis

        Florence, thank you for your kind words, although I fear you may be giving me too much credit. If I’ve ended up afoul of anyone here, it’s probably because I stumbled-bumbled my way into accidentally insulting someone. It’s far easier for me to disappear into writing a long poem than to converse on a community forum, but I suppose that’s not an uncommon trait in a group of poets, anyway. Traveling with Gulliver – now there’s a picture! As much as I would love to spend time with the Houyhnhnm, I suspect that Yahoo diplomacy would be a hopeless task. 🙂

        I’m very glad that you felt that this poem opened a window into some of the pain we humans have inflicted on each other over the millenia. That’s what I was hoping to do. I’ve been an avid reader of history books for as long as I can remember; this poem could have gone on and on and on. The pattern of human migrations – whether for need or greed – has left ethnic wounds that are driving the wars of today, although we manage to justify them with everything from political systems to religions to delusions of genetic superiority and “Manifest Destiny”. As GMH Thompson said in his comments, it’s sheer madness that we pass the wars of our ancestors down to our children’s children’s children. I still have hope that we’ll grow out of it.

    • Florence

      It’s true, in every society there will always be some Yahoos; the requisite opposing force in our Yin and Yang of life. Learning how to deal with them is always the challenge each generation will face, Progress is always like the inchworm, three steps forward, two steps back. I think your poem hit the mark and ended at just the right time. I think knowing when and how to end a poem is aided in uusing a formal Poetry form that has its prescribed amount of stanzas that evoke an encapsulated discipline. …And a special challenge. We are now living in extraordinary times where progress and regression are being played out by larger than life stereotypes of many polar opposites … from insulated power to forces of inclusion, and fear versus the laws set up to protect us from our darkest selves. Truly a time for watching and learning ..as we see the inchworm trembling in its place. In reading history where the is also fun, pleasure, great research and literary accomplishment, may I suggest, if you have not yet read then, McCullough’s series about ancient Rome that begins with “The First Man in Rome,” and subsequent novels in the series to be in order. Also, there is the Shardlake series that encompasses the time of the Tudors by C.J. Sansom, also to be read in sequence. These are not just jelly bean reading, but are fun with a wealth of face based history.


  2. G. M. H. Thompson

    A very amusing and well-written poem. The metre is not fanatically held to, and it flows fairly well somewhat as a consequence of this easy enforcement. Much of “social justice” is based on calls of tribal lament, and it’s mostly foolishness as a consequence. The idea that all members of one group are responsible for the historical evils that befell all members of another group, merely based on the color of ones skin in a lot of cases and irregardless of personal histories, is in many ways madness. As the piece rightly points out, almost all people have been at various times victims and victors. It accomplishes very little to keep fixating on the misdeeds of the distant past, and often perpetrates new injustices to pay for the old, yet that is what the regressive left has become obsessed with. Islam and its sycophants love to talk about how terrible and unjust the Crusades were, and they were terrible and unjust, with hundreds of thousands of people being wantonly butchered, but what was at least as bloody was the original wave of expansion of Islam itself, not to mention its subsequent waves of violent conquest. Yet the regressive left is silent on that front, insisting that it’s ancient history, as if 900 years ago was yesterday. Truly an excellent piece that has an important message. Well done.

    • Lorna Davis

      Thank you, Mr. Thompson. Yes the Crusades were just one chapter in a long and ugly war, but if we’re going to mourn the fall of Constantinople, we must also mourn the destruction of the Druid groves. We can’t condemn the genocide in Armenia and ignore the conquest of the Americas. When we try to redress the wrongs of the past, who gets to select the cutoff date? I’m not sure that I’d call that ancestral pain “foolishness”; it’s very deep and very real, which is why it is not easy to let go of. And I don’t know that the left is worse than the right in this regard; they just have different objectives, different loyalties, different areas of short-sightedness. Regressives, repressives – these are only more labels we can divide ourselves with. Personally, I’m all over the map. 🙂 I do believe that, at some point, we have to realize that we have one planet to share, and are one tribe. But we’re not there yet. Thanks again.

      • G. M. H. Thompson

        While I respect your quite understanding and tolerant position, I do call it foolishness, and I could call it a lot more than that if you really got me going. The fact of the matter is that the sins of ones ancestors are not the sins of ones self. Additionally, it’s not fair to assume that all members of a particular superficial group (such as all nations essentially are) has a set of ancestors equally guilty for some attrocity. Such broodings and deep recriminations never solve anything– history cannot be changed, no matter how much one obsesses over it. Your poem makes many of these points and those similar to them more brilliantly than I am here. And the right is if anything worse than anyone on the left regarding these issues, for instead of coming up with misguided “solutions” that won’t actually change any historical reality, they deny or excuse the attrocities of history. I would have made some mention of this in my original post, but the poem itself seemed as a polemic against the regressive, “social justice” left (and do forgive me for continuing to think of it as such– as Eliot noted, the author doesn’t really decide what a poem says– that is what each reader decides).

      • G. M. H. Thompson

        Oh, I don’t call your opinion foolishness, rather the opposite, wisdom, but I stick to my original position, in spite of your level-headed reasoning, of calling the extreme (or “regressive”) left’s maniacal witch hunt through the dead halls of history and fury cries for weregild for crimes committed centuries ago by people whose graves long ago rotted away to nothingness sheer madness. And it’s not fair to shout someone down or to seek their during or to otherwise deny them anything less than equal treatment on the basis of their race, gender, sexual orientation, or what you may suspect their distant ancestor did 1,500 years ago. Because that’s the end game of this kind of reasoning (and I thought (and still think) your poem was saying that in a number of places). And your right, it goes back and back and back until the beginning of history itself and then into prehistory and before that even. If one were to spend one’s time brooding on all the blood unjustly spilled by this group or that group against one’s own perceived group (with a severe absence of any sort of evidence in many cases), one would end up spending much of one’s time in severe unhappiness, because one cannot change the past or errase past misdeeds. Yet one can chafe the present, and harboring tribal lament has often caused people to make the present hell for the people or peoples they perceive to have been their ancestors oppressors. Needless to say, this is unjust and also deprives one from having beneficial and friendly relationships with whole sections of humanity. More importantly, harboring tribal lament is what leads to genocide, holocausts and rapes of Nanjing and the pogroms of Medieval Europe. Your poem brilliantly assesses most of these points and concludes spectacularly in saying that until tribal lament has spent its hatred, it will keep perpetuating it’s own cycles of violence and vengeance. Harboring tribal lament is seductive, and it no doubt is too much to ask many individuals to let go of it, but tribal lament must be stamped out if the human creature is to evolve socially (and biological evolution may be a big part of this) into the superman. It is a festering vestige of a world humanity no longer inhabits, and it must be cauterized and hewn away of we as a spieces are ever to reach the true Age of Aquarius.

  3. John Evans

    GMH Thompson,

    What a phenomenal post you created here, as well as rendering merit to the poem’s author and creator…I sense in fact your correctness of stated facts, that of which I can agree. I am seriously enjoying the SCP. Your posts and the author’s poem have me convinced this is a place to learn. Thank you, both.

  4. David Watt

    Thank you Lorna for your well-composed, thought-provoking piece.
    You bring into focus the persistently destructive tendencies of man throughout history, and importantly, our need to somehow transcend pointless brutalities.

  5. James Sale

    A superb poem, Lorna – congratulations – it builds and builds and does not let up. And personally I like where you place the blame, ‘evil within’. The truth is that the world is not, despite its propaganda, making any progress at all; it is regressing and its refusal to face what is inside by constantly demonising ‘enemies’ outside is proof of that. if we needed proof of course; for the ancients knew the world was deteriorating, as they lamented the loss of the Golden Age and realised they themselves were no longer even in the Bronze Age, but in the Iron Age, with hearts to match. Well done – this is excellent poetry.

  6. David Hollywood

    A tremendous poem, loaded with so much commitment and structure, pace, rhythm and rhyme and never letting go of the subject across the full stretch of its history. Marvelous and thank you.


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