Christopher Logue

Excerpts from all day permanent red: the first battle scenes of homer's Iliad, rewritten

(from the opening section)

             Slope. Strip. Slope.
             Right. Centre. Left.
             Road. Track. Cross.
             Ridge. Plain. Sea.


       Go back an hour.
See what the Mousegod saw.

       Two slopes
       Brilliantly lit
       Double the width of Troy
       Divided by a strip

       30 yards wide.

       The gentler, longer slope, that leads
Via its ridge onto the Trojan plain,
Is occupied by 50,000 Greeks
Silent behind their masks, yearning to fight

       But not until:


       Hector emerges and commits the Ilian host
Their coffin-topped rhinoceros and oxhyide shields
Packing the counterslope

       And presently the Skean Gate is closed.


       Out on the Panachean right
Some cross-slope skirmishing.

       The Trojan centre has begun to edge onto the strip.

       The ridge.

       King Agamemnon views Troy's skyline.

       Windmills. Palms.

       "It will be ours by dark."

       Not far from him, concerned
That in this final action those they lead
Should fight and fight and fight again,
The hero lords:

       Nestor, his evening star.
Ajax, his silent fortress. Good—even on soft sand.
Odysseus (you know him), small but big.
Fourth—grizzled and hook-tap nosed—the king of Crete,
           Idomeneo, who:
       "Come on!"
Would sign a five-war-contract on the nod.

       The Gate—still closed.

       Across the strip
Lord Pandar spots a Greek called Quist, and says
       "Watch this," to his admirer Biblock as
He beckons up his Oriental bow.

       Then a shield hit Quist.

       "Biblock, my father manufactures chariots.
I have a dozen. Lovely things.
I cannot bear to lose my horses in this war.
No mind. My motto is: Start the day well. An early kill.
It gets one in the mood.
       You know it was my shot that saved the war?"
       "I know it, Pandar. Yes."
       "However, Biblock, mood, important though it is, is"—
Tapping his temple—"worthless minus brains."

       The armies hum
As power-station outflow cables do.
       The Trojan's edge.
The light goes upright through the sky.
Child Diomed to those who follow him:


       The King: "I know Prince Hector. We will strike
When, as he always does, he stops to incite his host."

       Odysseus and Bombax have gone down
Slope-centre to their Ithacans.

       The Trojans jeer: "No fight!" and edge.

       The Child:


       "Biblock, my eyes are alpha.
But what your brain takes from your sight
Before it tells your biceps what to do, is key.
When the fighting starts you stick by me.
See brainwork work, not what the stars foretell."
Which was, unluckily, what Biblock did.
       "Hold on, there is that Greek."
And there was Quist.

       To the sigh of the string, see Pandar's shot float off;
To the slap of the string on the stave, float on
Over the strip for a beat; and then
Carry a tunnel the width of a lipstick through Quist's neck.

       The Skean Gate swings up.

       Nothing will happen until Hector exits.

       There is a touch of thunder in the west.

       He does.

       Odysseus: "Thank God."

       Idomeneo: "And about time, too."

       And, save for the edgers-on along the strip,
Prince Hector's thousands turn;
Then genuflect; then whisper:






       And now the Lord of Light filled Hector's voice
—Him moving on, on, forwards, down, towards the strip—
With certainty.
       And descant to his thousands:
That full, clear voice rose like an arrow through the air:

       "Are you ready to fight?"
       "We are!"
       "Are you happy to kill?"
       "We are!"
       "Are you willing to die?"
       "Then bind to me! I am your Prince!
In my command you will win fame!
The victory is God's!"



       See an East African lion
       Nose tip to tail tuft ten, eleven feet
       Slouching towards you
       Swaying its head from side to side
       Doubling its pace, its gold-black mane
       That stretches down its belly to its groin
       Catching the sunlight as it hits
       Twice its own length a beat, then leaps
       Great forepaws high great claws disclosed
       The scarlet insides of its mouth
       Parting a roar as loud as sail-sized flames
       And lands, slam-scattering the herd.

       "That is how Hector came on us."




       Bread trucks have begun to stream
across the vast plateau,
fair skies, high cumulus cloud—  
the birds are in full throat
as the sun lights up the east.
       Who is it sees
Set in the north Aegean sea, their coasts
Nosegays of seaweed toasting Ida's snow,
The Isles of Imbros and of Samothrace?
       And over there—grapes ghosts and vocal grottoes—
Greece. Above it, Macedon,
Its wooded folds declining till they meet
Those of Carpathia at the Kagan Gorge,
Through which, fed by a hundred tributaries since
It crossed the northern instep of the Alps,
The Danube reappears.
       Eyes onto Italy
(Where squirrels go from coast to coast and never touch the ground)
Then up, over her cyclorama peaks
Whose snow became before the fire before the wheel, the Rhine,
Below whose estuaries beneath an endless sky,
Sand bars and sabre grass, salt flats and travelling dunes
Lead west, until, green in their shallow sea
That falls away into the Atlantic deeps
He sees the Islands of the West.
       He who? Why God, of course.
Who sighs before He looks
Back to the ridge that is, save for a million footprints,
Empty now.


Reprinted with the permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.



© 2003 Electronic Poetry Review