Poet’s note: This poem is built upon an episode from Xenophon’s Anabasis, in which the Ten Thousand, Greek mercenaries in the employ of Cyrus the Younger, the ambitious brother of the king of Persia, are reviewed in Cilicia, along with the barbarian armies Cyrus raised in Asia Minor. Xenophon, like many Greeks of his day, viewed these foreigners as lesser men than they, and naturally saw the matter as a contest between East and West, between the savage and the civilised, for the favour of the Persian lord.

 

Come hark ye strangers, hear me tell
How Persian pride in Asia fell.
I have been tasked to make reply,
For we’ve been asked who last would fly,
Who last would lose his heart, beholding Hell?

As true as death my answer waits,
As sure as are all mortal fates.
All men before his might grow weak,
For none can stand against the Greek!
‘Twas we who overthrew the Trojan gates.

The Greek is feared in every land.
Where others fly, the Greek shall stand,
For war has grown to us as dear
As drink and dance, as song and cheer,
Each hero’s hidden heart a red hot brand.

A dreadful sight, the hoplite’s ire;
Though disciplined, his wrath is dire.
His spear is sharp, his hoplon thick,
His eyes are bright, his hands are quick,
His breast alight, with perpetual fire.

Now Cyrus, brother to the Crown,
Who wished to break Great Persia down,
His plot found out, had westward flown,
And would return to gain the Throne,
And thus a power raised of high renown.

From either side of our great seas
He marshalled many mercenaries.
From East the Asians’ strength he drew;
His call they heard, his armies grew.
From West came we, for war, with the Greek, agrees.

From Athens marched my noble throng.
To Tyraion we came in song,
From Sparta, Thrace and Thessaly,
From Thebes, and Rhodes across the sea,
Arrayed at last as one, ten thousand strong.

Great Cyrus mustered there his host.
Among them marched each nation’s boast,
The finest soldiers of their tribes,
Their purses stiff with Persian bribes.
They followed him, and follow yet his ghost,

The horse-borne Scythian desert lords,
Galatians armed with long, straight swords,
And Phrygians, their helmets high,
And Carians, well paid to die,
For gold the hero’s battle-cry rewards.

These barbars did their fealty swear,
And Darius’s lesser heir
Their compass made, and round did seethe.
Those flatterers did Cyrus wreathe,
For they no glory with the Greeks would share.

About their liege the hirelings coiled,
A writhing sea that frothed and boiled.
Each man was helmed and stoutly mailed.
The warband seemed a serpent scaled.
The sands beneath the serpent smoked and roiled.

A bellowing of war-horns started;
The rings of iron soldiers parted.
On chariot, from inmost ring,
Emerged the awful would-be king,
His splendour fit to cow the greatest-hearted.

Lord Cyrus came with but one thought:
To learn what Persian gold had bought.
We next were summoned to parade;
We faced his might, our will unswayed,
To show the East the Greek is staunchly wrought.

His rigid ranks with ne’er a cleft,
Clearchus held our Spartan left,
While Menon’s men marched on our right
With gallant Thessalian might,
And ‘twixt these flanks we wove a knightly weft.

We bore the Asian heroes’ stares,
Returned their proud derisive glares.
Their worth before the crowds they vaunted,
Their self-assurance duly daunted,
For Greeks, they knew, would seem the greater wares.

Lord Cyrus watched us, as in trance,
Manoeuvring with shield and lance.
At last we were to action spurred;
The Persian herald brought us word
That Cyrus wished to see the Greeks advance.

We wheeled about and stood up large,
The sun ablaze on every targe.
A war-cry scorched from flank to flank
Igniting every dreadful rank.
A stifled fervour stoked a swelling charge.

As one, ten thousand hoplites rose,
Much as a distant tempest grows.
Athwart the plain our gale roared.
Ten thousand thund’ring hoplites soared.
A thrashing storm, we tore toward our foes.

At this the Persians shrank and paled.
Their barbar champions shrieked and wailed.
The lion-hearted shook and quaked,
Their thirst for battle swiftly slaked.
All stern deportment lost as valour failed.

As winged lightning, on we flew;
The lashing tumult onward blew,
Our flanks the jaws of manticore
Our men the fangs of gnashing maw;
At once they knew our songs of war were true.

Their files faltered ‘fore our gaze,
Then cracked as ice beneath the rays.
They turned their backs and howling fled,
Though ne’er one drop of blood was shed.
No protest of pretence such dread allays.

The satrap’s team would not be stayed;
They stamped their hooves, they champed and brayed.
His chariot turned swift about,
And thus did Cyrus share in rout,
His stricken heart assured he was betrayed.

A causeway through his lines he clove,
As we his armies onward drove.
Across the field, a frighted shrew,
He scurried ‘twixt the meadow rue,
As taloned raptors high above him dove.

Our fury waned, we’d drunk our fill.
Their camp we gained, our laughter shrill.
And there we slowed and made our berth,
Our faces flowed with tears of mirth,
And watched the Asian warlords fleeing still.

At length their terror ‘gan to fade.
The shamed commanders men belayed.
The scattered force retraced the mile,
Yet Cyrus rode with silent smile.
At last he knew wherefore his gold had paid.

 

 

Rupert Palmer, born 1988, lives in Benoni, South Africa where he is a consultant in the mining industry by trade.


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16 Responses

  1. Monty

    I generally have no time for mythological history, Rupert; and the names of mythological figures (reputed kings, leaders, heroes, etc) are all a blur to me. Thus, I decided to read your piece solely as a fictional short-story. And . . what a treat! Not only in the tale well told, but the sheer gorgeousness of your writing; the style; the abundant richness of language; the consistent clarity of diction; the amount of individual lines which are poetic in themselves (for example: “And ‘twixt these flanks we wove a knightly weft”) . . and the icing on the cake for me is the fact that you’ve managed to envelope all those attributes within the strict confines of a poem containing strong and consistent rhymes from start to finish. You’ve got a real gift.

    I’ve got a minor quibble with the last line of the 6th stanza: not only does it not scan with all the other last-lines of each stanza; but it seems to read a touch awkwardly. I should also point out that the question-mark at the end of the first stanza is unrequired, because the narrator is not actually asking a question, but merely stating that a question has been asked. I must also state my gratitude to you for teaching me the origin of the word ‘xenophobia’.

    Reply
    • Rupert

      Monty, it is most gratifying to find my work so well received! Your encouragement will help me to press on and find the time to write more often. Since you tell me I have a real gift, I am obliged to do so! Thank-you.

      Your quibbles are quite right. The question mark should never have found its way in. The last line of the 6th stanza originally did not have the definite article preceding the word Greek (…for war, with Greek, agrees), but having had it pointed out to me that the line reads poorly, I accepted the suggestion of sacrificing perfect metre in an attempt to improve readability. It was obviously not enough, however. Perhaps I will re-write the line altogether.

      Reply
      • Monty

        The SCP is the perfect venue for poetry such as yours, Rupert; and it’s to be hoped that you see fit to submit more of your work here in the future.

  2. C.B. Anderson

    I have read worse poems, but I can’t remember when. Almost every line is contrived to support a theoretic heroic narrative — but nothing ever fits or flows, and I would advise you to disengage with your punk-rock mindset.

    Reply
    • Rupert

      As someone who couldn’t possibly have listened to less punk-rock than I have, I suppose you would know. Would you care to elaborate on why I have a punk-rock mind-set, as opposed to, say, Chesterton? Or do consider him plagued by the same flaw?

      Reply
      • C.B. Anderson

        Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

    • Monty

      Consider your above words “but I can’t remember when”, CB. Can you remember when – less than a week ago on these pages – you described Mr Maibach’s offering as “incondite” (with which I fully agreed)? Thus, it must necessarily follow that you’re saying either: a/ You now CAN’T remember Mr Maibach’s piece.. or b/ You CAN remember it, and you consider it to be superior to Rupert’s piece above. If it’s the latter . . is it the case that you consider Rupert’s piece to be even “worse” than “incondite”?

      Reply
      • C.B. Anderson

        Monty,

        You are logical to a fault. I found both poems dull, but Rupert’s was inflated with contrived images. I can’t decide what my answer might be to your final question.

      • Monty

        As I said in my initial comment to Rupert, I know absolutely nothing about the subject of the poem; thus I’m in no position to debate whether the “images are inflated” or not.

        But I know one thing: the word “contrived” – in its modern-day usage – seems to be one of the most ambiguous words in our language (judging by the lengthy debate between two members on these pages, a year or two ago, as to the literal meaning of that word).

        The way I see it . . if the author’s got an image in his mind which he wishes to convey to the reader, how else can he do that other than by “contriving” the image on to the page?

  3. Acwiles Berude

    Mr. Anderson is incorrect suggesting a “punk-rock mindset” in relation to “Parade of the Ten Thousand” by Mr. Palmer; he doesn’t appreciate an “heroic narrative”, which this indeed is. To me, it rests “roughly” between Coleridge and Tennyson. What Mr. Anderson recoils at are metrical irregularities, of which there are many; but what he doesn’t appreciate are the vigour, the rich diction, and the historical depth of the poem. Do not give up because of sloppy critics; in writing poetry, one must possess the might of the hoplites. With greater craft and polish, this could be a remarkable work, possibly even spectacular.

    Reply
    • Rupert

      Thank-you for the valuable feedback. I am very happy to hear you do not share the opinion of Mr Anderson with regard to my mindset. I think I’ll aggregate any commentary I receive on the subject, and then decide whether it is a charge of any merit. I’m still awaiting Mr Anderson’s reply on the matter. If he tells what it is that I am getting wrong that Chesterton (a primary inspiration of mine) got right, that would be very helpful. If, on the other hand, he tells me that Chesterton has the same “punk-rock mindset” that I apparently have, then I will know that the comment was worthless from the outset, and that too would be very helpful.

      If you wouldn’t mind devoting a little more of your time to this page, perhaps you could provide more detail around the metrical irregularities you mentioned above? I would be very grateful. When I read it aloud every word scans correctly, with the sole exception of the last line of the 6th stanza, but that is with the following points borne in mind:

      – The words “perpetual” and “Thessalian” must be read with artistic license, stresses falling on the first and third syllables rather than on the second.
      – “Hoplite(s)” must be spoken with the Anglophonic pronunciation, as the continental adds a syllable.
      – The word “winged” must be pronounced in the old-fashioned way as (wing-ed).
      – Scythian is a bit of a cheat really, as its second and third syllables must be run together to fit the metre.

      Do you think that I am taking too great a liberty with any / all these of points? Do you see something somewhere that I have missed? Vielen Dank!

      Reply
  4. lisa

    I had a quick question in which I’d like to ask if you don’t mind. I was curious to know how you center yourself and clear your thoughts before writing. I’ve had a tough time clearing my thoughts in getting my ideas out. I truly do take pleasure in writing but it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes tend to be lost just trying to figure out how to begin. Any ideas or hints?

    Reply
    • Rupert

      If your problem is how to get going, I fear I’m not the right person to ask. I often have immense difficulty getting going myself! Concerning clearing the mind, however, I can only agree with our suspiciously curiously-named friend, and advise you not to do it at all. I never think about what I need to get out of my mind before I start writing. I focus on cramming it with all the things I want in it.

      Reply
  5. Acwiles Berude

    Ms. Lisa’s question, though quick, will be answered differently by each individual writer. I personally, being headstrong, just take a deep breath and charge forward. I let the Muse take me where she wants to go. It is always an interesting journey, whether to the River Styx, or the plains of windy Troy. Of course, I usually write when the Muse is not around, writing with a workmanlike attitude. Surprisingly, it is then when my best work is accomplished.

    I nearly always write every single day (well over 99% of the days now remaining in my life). Sometimes, after thinking for awhile, I come up with an idea, and then pursue it. Often I read something someone else has written, or see something I want to write about (ancient or contemporary), and I respond to it. Some writers, like my intimate acquaintance Sri Wele Cebuda, even write poem after poem about spiritual centering, as if the act of writing is consciousness.

    Finally, my hint is never clear your thoughts before writing; use their energy and their essence in your writing; and everything you write, be it good, mediocre, or bad, will be of you—yours; and that will keep You centered.

    Reply

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