Thermopylae

The story, as now we see, was over-written
By Herodotus, bless his warm Hellenic heart!
Emotion swayed him – the drama of his theme,
The cosmic battle-canvas, East and West,
Darkness and light, Barbarian versus Greek,
Free men conjoined to hurl the tyrant back
And rescue civilisation! Who can blame
The artist’s eye for kindling on such matter?
A case, what’s more, if not beyond dispute
At least compelling, when you contemplate
That surge of genius startling and sublime
That, like a spring from some unfathomed sea,
Rose in the wake of Persia’s routed horde.

And so he drew it larger than the life
In black and white, abjuring shades of grey,
Dwelt hard on Xerxes’ barbarous fits of rage,
His impious, dark, un-Greek activities,
Nor scrupled, where it helped his picture out,
To rearrange the date of an eclipse,
Or (patriot wish being father to the thought)
To multiply by ten the Persian forces
Deployed against the Greek so-splendid few
Whose valour needed no extravagance.

Therefore he stands convicted in his tracks,
Father of History, by conclusive tests
Found wanting, biased, partial, and involved,
By zeal misled and quick credulity.
This we concede, and honour justly those
Who sift the fact with fierce integrity.
We have come a journey, can no more return
Where lofty Truth may override what’s true,
Great faith excuse small falsehood. Here we stand
Exiles for ever from that treacherous ground.

But can we come again to that great heart
And that large spirit capable of fire?
We who live habitually in the Hot Gates
Between the precipitous mountains and the sea
Dulled with the din of conflict, shall we find
A Spartan wholeness in our world’s most need?
How shall we grasp how momently we are choosing
Ourselves to be that vast obsequious army
Hurried on the ebb and flow of tyrant tides,
Or those three hundred named and nameless men
Who died in the pass, and will not die again?

Poems of War

  • Alone

    Alone to walk the dripping woods of spring
       While daisies spy you?

  • Epitaph on a New Army

    No drums they wished, whose thoughts were tied
    To girls and jobs and mother,

  • The Tunnel

    This is where the water hurries under the archway,
    This is where we enter the long tunnel,

  • Australia 1914

    Gone away, away,
    Suddenly at a word departed,

  • Come Death Suddenly

    Come death suddenly from the sea or cloud,
    With the blast of thunder and the blinding shroud,

  • If I should die

    If I should die, grieve not for youth
    Blighted, and towers of hope that fell

  • The Prophetic Hour

    In this dread hour for thee and all mankind
    Britain, be Freedom’s fortress or her grave.

  • The Jervis Bay

    ..The fifth day of November, Fifty North and Forty West,
    Was edging to its departure, like an undecided guest,

  • Christmas in Iceland

    We lay in Iceland winterbound,
    And heard the blizzard blow,

  • Stella Polaris: Homebound

    Above the great ship’s lifting bow
    I watch the Pole Star nightly stand,

  • Thermopylae

    The story, as now we see, was over-written
    By Herodotus, bless his warm Hellenic heart!

  • The Last Enemy

    Could we locate the enemy of mankind
    (I mean the GHQ, the Centre itself,

  • The Anzac Graves on Gallipoli

    You may not pass this place. Here you must stop,
    Though all the world’s great tides run heedless by

  • Last Post

    Heard how often, still the notes compel
    Unused to awe, we stand listening.