Homage to Catullus

It’s been a little while since I posted a poem on here, so I thought I’d share this one today.  It was inspired by a poem by the Roman poet Catullus (one of my favourite poets), from which I took the title – it means, roughly, ‘evil Troy’.  Just across the straits from Troy is Gallipoli, which saw more slaughter millenia later, prompting me to wonder what the dead of those two wars might say to each other.

Troia (nefas!)

Do they wander unseen among the hordes

of tourists in the crumbled ruins of Troy?

Those shades of Trojan and Achaean lords,

of noble Hector, fearsome Achilles

and the unnumbered wraiths of lesser men

culled as the harvest of the heroes’ spears.

And are they glad that still, time and again

their deaths are re-imagined for the screen;

romanticised, as if each stolen life

was taken in a worthwhile cause, and not

a pointless struggle over someone’s wife?

And do they turn their dead eyes to the west,

where in another age, across the strait

another generation spilled their blood

in someone else’s symphony of hate?

Do those men in their turn look to the east

and see their ancient kindred? Do the two

lost armies speak in strange tongues of the dead

of what has changed between the old and new

and what has not; and see for what they are

the hollow mask of glory on the face

of war; the curse of history that binds

resentful souls forever to this place.


Troia (nefas) is published in In the Company of Poets, by the Holme Valley Poets.

The painting is Achilles Displaying the Body of Hector at the Feet of Patroclus, by Jean Joseph Taillason, 1769.


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