from Homer: War Music

by Christopher Logue

copyright ©Christopher Logue, 2001

    Under the curve the keel makes
Where it sweeps upright to the painted beak
Achilles’ heroes placed their gilded oars,
Set twelve carved thwarts across them,
Surfaced this stage with wolf- and beaver-fleece
Amid whose stirring nap Patroclus lay,
The damaged statue of a prince awaiting transportation.
    Near it Achilles sat, Odysseus beside,
And women brought them food.
    ‘Patroclus liked to eat,’ Achilles said,
‘And you cooked well, Patroclus, didn’t you?
Particularly well that summer when
My cousin Ajax and king Nestor drove
Up from the Pel’ponnesus crying “wife”
And “theft” and “war” and “please” and –
What is this “eat of yours Odysseus?
If you were telling me: He’s dead, your father; well,
I might eat a bit; troubled, it’s true; but eat
Like any fool who came God knows how many mist
And danger mixed sea miles to repossess fair Helen.
    I know you, Ithaca: you think:
Achilles will fight better if ne feeds.
Don’t be so sure.
    I do not care about his gifts. I do not care, Odysseus,
Do not care.
    Patroclus was my life’s sole love.
The only living thing that called
Love out of me.

    At night I usedto dream of how, when he came home to
      Greece,
He’d tell them of my death – for I must die – and show my son,
This house, for instance, or that stone beside the stream,
My long green meadows stretching through the light,
So clear it seems to magnify …’

    And here Achilles, loved by God,
Was led by Sleep to sleep beside the stage,
And king Odysseus goes off as close to tears
As he will ever be.

Notes on the Poem

Not only is this fragment of Christopher Logue's work Homer: War Music entrancing poetry, it hints strongly of other art forms at which Logue excelled. If you only had this segment of the volumes-long poem that is Homer: War Music on which to base your guess, could you surmise from it what other disciplines Logue pursued besides that of poet? The opening lines set a striking scene: "Under the curve the keel makes Where it sweeps upright to the painted beak Achilles' heroes placed their gilded oars, Set twelve carved thwarts across them, Surfaced this stage with wolf- and beaver-fleece" that quickly situates the main characters, starting with: "Amid whose stirring nap Patroclus lay" and then segues crisply into intriguing dialogue: "'Patroclus liked to eat,' Achilles said, 'And you cooked well, Patroclus, didn't you?" We're swept into this poem in truly theatrical fashion. It's not at all surprising then to learn that Christopher Logue was also a celebrated playwright. As well, Homer: War Music has been produced theatrically by National Theatre Wales, which worked with material that was clearly composed to move easily from page to stage.

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