Tyranny and Martyrdom

Such strange and dissonant motives,
     These fatal causes.
Of all the hymns in the book of humanity,
None are more brazen and terrible than these,
The airs of legend and hysteria.

Why this passion for death?
(I ask myself as well as you?)
Wherein lies the beauty of blood,
The love of the laughter of the smoking gun?
Is it in the mastery?
     The will, the strength to renounce
          A hope...
          A smile...
          All we are told we must cherish
          For something else:
               Some great flag on high;
               Some ancient, cloud-swept idol that prowls in brooding silence through the bright sea blue of                     morning, the black starlit sea of night;
               Some Ideal?
     The rebellion
          Of the Self against the Self,
          Of the Self against the chains of Others' making,
          Of the Self
               Against the implacable will of Nature?
     The challenge of dominating
          A hostile, an indifferent universe?

Wherein lies the beauty of blood,
The love of the laughter of the smoking gun?
Is it in a passion for discord:
     Obsession with the novel, the unknown?
     The unnatural and the turbulent?
     The barbarous and alive?
Is it in the expression of some primeval carnivorous rage:
     The music of brute fang and claw
     Scored in brass and fevered percussion:
          Blast of bugle, rifle, and cannon;
     And the hoarse shouts of men and the barking of hounds?

We dress ourselves in music:
Love is scored for the sighing strings of the throat,
And the woodwind breaths of promise and devotion.
Love whispers. Love croons.
Love leaps into pagan song,
And yet it is a dressing,
The flowing dream-vestment of lust and procreation.
History sings a different song.

Men love history:
That great song-book,
That grand, terrible opera.
History, the mighty procession of chariots and kings:
Kings dancing, fighting, singing,
Reliving again and again the hoary mythic drama of gods,
Flourishing the trumpets of their will,
Inducing men to lay down their lives for scorched and bloody scraps of painted cloth.
And heroes clash amid smoke and confusion,
     Men fighting in the name of tyrants,
     Men fighting against the same.
     Men fighting for their country and kin, their lands, their property,
     Men fighting to take lands, seize property, and lay waste to hated enemies.
Pretenders to Valhalla.
Martyrs, whatever the cause.

Men love history,
Adore to folly the age-old drama of kings and heroes
As they march to fight on fields dim with ash and smoke.
Wherein lies this love of the airs of legend and hysteria?
Why the grim nod of satisfaction
At the raised chalice of burning blood
And the laughter of the smoking gun?

It seems curious that you and I
Would pipe the paeans of tumult and conquest,
For we have seen the fruits of such endeavors,
And lived in their aftermath.
The words of the Christian god tell us:
     "Turn the other cheek," and,
     "He who lives by the sword dies by the sword."
But our Roman heritage runs thick in our veins
And oh, how we cry for the clamor of steel!

The blood of wild Norsemen is in us
Echoing cries of sea and slaughter,
Singing ancient praises to Valhalla,
Though we know too well that if we travelled to that
Fabled kingdom,
Surveyed its vast cloudy plains, its majestic
Barren mountains,
And walked its citadels, girdled in their proud, grim fortifications,
We would find it filled
     Not with the princes of men
But with fools.

George Chadderdon © 2000