Absent Horatius

“And how can man die better than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers, and the temples of his Gods”

Thomas Babington Macaulay, “Horatius at the Bridge” (1842)

We’ve heard how bold Horatius, the Captain of the Gate,
Defied foul Tarquin’s army, by death was not distrait;
How he defended on a bridge, his arm most sorely tested,
The house where old fires burned, the house where old bones rested.
The teachers of our fathers said that they should emulate
The Roman lad and not allow brigands to desecrate;
But we were taught a newer lore that worships not old stones,
That worships not old fires, that worships not old bones.
We were taught to fear long odds and join the stronger side,
That there is no “better” way for dead men to have died,
That our Gods never were, and so never could be ours,
That our fathers’ bones and ashes are black and shameful flowers.
When at our bridge new Tarquin meets disciples of our creed,
We’ve no allegiance to declare, no willingness to bleed,
No reason to prevent Tarquin from crossing o’er that span,
No moldy myths to murmur that this unbecomes a man.
So Tarquin crosses o’er our bridge and passes through our gate,
There being no captain and no crew to guard our gate of late;
His torch makes ashes of old shrines, his heel mud of old bone,
He meets no bold Horatius and none of us atone.
Important to a Man, William Meade Prince (c. 1930)


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