Actor Stephen Jennings reads from Christopher Logue’s Homer: War Music
From Homer: War Music
Picture the east Aegean sea by night,
And on a beach aslant its shimmering
Upwards of 50,000 men
Asleep like spoons beside their lethal Fleet.
Now look along that beach, and see
Between the keels hatching its western dunes
A ten-foot-high reed wall faced with black clay
Split by a double-doored gate;
Then through the gate a naked man
Run with what seems to break the speed of light
Across the dry, then damp, then sand invisible
Beneath inch-high waves that slide
Over each other’s luminescent panes;
Then kneel among those panes, burst into tears, and say:
You said that you and God were friends.
Over and over when you were at home
You said it. Friends. Good friends. That was your boast.
You had had me, your child, your only child
To save Him from immortal death. In turn,
You friend, the Lord our God, gave you His word,
Mother, His word: If I, your only child
Chose to die young, by violence, far from home,
My standing would be first; be best;
The best of bests; here; and in perpetuity.
And so I chose. Nor have I changed. But now –
By which I mean today, this instant, now –
That Shepherd of the Clouds has seen me trashed
Surely as if He sent a hand to shoo
The army into one, and then, before its eyes,
Painted my body with fresh Trojan excrement.’
Before the gods appear
Something is marked:
A noise. A note, perhaps. Perhaps
A change of temperature. Or else, as now,
The scent of oceanic lavender,
That even as it drew his mind
Drew from the seal-coloured sea onto the beach
A mist that moved like weed, then stood, then turned
Into his mother, Thetis’, mother lovelost face,
Her fingers, next, that lift his chin, that push
His long, redcurrant-coloured hair
Back from his face, her voice, her words:
‘Why tears, Achilles?
Rest in my arms and answer from your heart.’
The sea is quiet as light.
‘Three weeks ago,’ he said, ‘while raiding southern Ilium
I killed the men and burned a town called Tollo,
Whose yield comprised a wing of Hittite chariots
And 30 fertile shes.
As is required
The latter reached the beach-head unassigned,
Were sorted by the herald’s staff, and then
Soon after sunrise on the following day
Led to the common sand for distribution.
At which point, mother mine’ – his tears have gone –
‘Enter the King. No-no. Our King of kings, Majestic Agamemnon,
His nose extruded from his lionshead cowl,
Its silvered claws clasped so’ – arms over chest –
‘And sloping up his shoulder, thus, the mace,
The solar mace, that stands for – so I thought –
What Greeks require of Greeks:
To worship God; to cherish honour;
To fight courageously, keeping your own,
And so the status of your fellow lords
High, mother, high – as he knows well – as he knew well –
As he came lick-lick when the best
Met to view the shes – six with infant boys at heel –
Here sniffing, pinching here, lifting a lip, a lid,
Asking his brother: “One, Menelaos, or – or two?”
Then, having scanned their anxious faces with his own,
The guardian of our people outs the mace
As if it were a mop, and with its gold
Egg-ended butt, selects – before the owed –
A gently broken adolescent she
Who came – it seemed – from plain but prosperous ground.’
‘First King, first fruit,’ his mother said.
‘Will you hear more, or not?’ he said.
‘Dear child -‘
‘Then do not interrupt.’
The stars look down.
Troy is a glow behind the dunes.
The camp is dark.
From Homer: War Music, by Christopher Logue
© Christopher Logue, 2001