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Why the Classics--A Poem


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'evening all,

I happened to stumble upon this poem this evening, and as it speaks about the old days--of war, and of not making excuses--I felt that I should post it.

                        Why the Classics

                        by Zbigniew Herbert

                        in the fourth book of the Peloponnesian War
                        Thucydides tells among other things
                        the story of his unsuccessful expedition

                        among long speeches of chiefs
                        battles sieges plague
                        dense net of intrigues of diplomatic endeavours
                        the episode is like a pin
                        in a forest

                        the Greek colony Amphipolis
                        fell into the hands of Brasidos
                        because Thucydides was late with relief

                        for this he paid his native city
                        with lifelong exile

                        exiles of all times
                        know what price that is

                        generals of the most recent wars
                        if a similar affair happens to them
                        whine on their knees before posterity
                        praise their heroism and innocence

                        they accuse their subordinates
                        envious collegues
                        unfavourable winds

                        Thucydides says only
                        that he had seven ships
                        it was winter
                        and he sailed quickly

                        if art for its subject
                        will have a broken jar
                        a small broken soul
                        with a great self-pity

                        what will remain after us
                        will it be lovers' weeping
                        in a small dirty hotel
                        when wall-paper dawns