Marcus Aurelius at the Cenotaph

I have no use for grandiose procession
Victors in a war are unimpressed
By anything save universal sadness
While what an eager populace expects
May differ by degree   –   intoxicants
Such as the siege and slaughter of a foe
Make only a non-combatant trip out
On patriotic fervour

Our nausea we swallow back until
Safely back in barracks we can spew
Indignation that the landless poor
Courageous young   –   and untried soldier
Suffer on all sides in time of war

Those who seek revenge
Can build two coffins   –
One might house our shared humanity:
You kill now at a distance   –   but despatched
To total up the damage
Find a face familiar as your own
Amid the butcher’s block that was a town

I do not care to go to war at all
But if I must I wear a black armband
As going to the funeral of a friend
Forgive me if I keep my armband on
Two or three years more
Beyond all sacrilegious celebration   –
This is Sicilian custom and tradition



Bernard Saint
Illustration: Claire Palmer





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