Rome Shrugs Off Her Guilt

Why not the song of the triumphant celebrant
and let the defeated write out history
on sand or insect wings?

Then our singing will be a wave and a rough wind.

Why when we strip their fallen corpses
must we strip us of the roundness of our win
whispering as we sate the public treasuries
that dignity is in quiet mourning, not riotous din?

Then our feasting will be a drink that does not dull.

Why must the tribunate make
a dissentious poison out of the simple facts of state?
What do they hope to gain when they defy
senatorial consuls as if Etruscan Tarquinii?
How can they cry “respect for common men!”
then drive them to spit on happiness for the spectre of ‘appeal’
while at the gates the Volscians and the Aequians
press for murder with fire and steel?
Is it any wonder then that we turn to war for peace
like flocks might turn to a shepherd’s shears
to have a little respite from the richness of their fleece?

Then our sleep will be just like a babe’s is, ethereal and light.


~ by Peter on February 17, 2008.

4 Responses to “Rome Shrugs Off Her Guilt”

  1. It sounds wonderful, full and flowing, oratorial in its rhythms. and with a style perfectly suited to its subject matter. All the historical references are beyond my limited education in the classics I’m afraid but I suspect the story has contemporary resonance. It really gathers momentum and energy too, from the quiter opening to the grand speech and landing softly in the last line. Very cool.

  2. I am perplexed by the erudition, but the intelligence in this poem (which is beyond me), is nice to read. It is always a pleasure to become lost in clever words.

  3. Hey guys, thanks for the kind comments. I just read Livy’s The Early History of Rome and wanted to write something on it. A few words to help clarify things. . .

    After Rome got rid of her kings (the Tarquinii being the final despots to push the people over the edge) they established the office of the Consuls, two officials elected annually by the senate. When the divide between the Aristocracy and the Commons began to grow the people demanded that the office of the Tribunate be established to protect their rights (since the Consuls always came from the Patrician, or Noble class).

    Naturally, the Tribunes and the Consuls were always butting heads. The Tribunes would promote legislation distasteful to the Consuls, like the ability to appeal consular judgments. In order to distract the people from pushing such legislation the Consuls would often try to raise troops to fight Rome’s traditional enemies, the Volscians and the Aequians. The Tribunes would do all they could to resist such measures. Sometimes there were genuine threats, and with the Tribunes stubbornly frustrating the raising of troops the enemies would make it to the city gates.

    For a long time in Rome it seemed that the only time the city as a community could find any harmony was when it was warring with its neighbors.

  4. Well that does seem to have contemporary resonances. The poem has such great technique, it’s enjoyable without knowing, but knowing helps to see its context. rage on, I say,

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