All Day Permanent Red – an extract
I began writing what has come to be called War Music in 1959. In the decades that followed, me often not looking at the work for two or three years at a time, I added Pax, GBH, Kings and The Husbands moving about inside translations of The Iliad on which War Music is based. All Day Permanent Red which, narratively speaking follows The Husbands, was written between 2000 and 2002 and is the first part of a section which will lead to Hector's victory over Greece and the attempt by the Greek heroes to persuade Achilles to re-enter the fighting.
All Day Permanent Red – an extract
Impacted battle. Dust above a herd.
Hands wielding broken spearpoles rise through ice-hot twilight
flecked with points.
And where you end and where the dust begins
Or if it is the dust or men that move
And whether they are Greek or Trojan, well
Only this much is certain: when a lull comes – they do –
You hear the whole ridge coughing.
‘There’s Bubblegum!’ ‘He’s out to make his name!’
‘He’s charging us!’ ‘He’s prancing!’ ‘Get that leap!’
‘He’s in the air!’ ‘Bubblegum’s in the air!’ ‘Above the dust!’
‘He’s lying on the sunshine in the air!’ ‘Seeing the Wall!’ ‘The
arrows keep him up!’
‘Ol!’ ‘He’s wiggling in the air!’ ‘They’re having fun with him!’
‘He’s saying something!’ ‘Bubblegum’s last words!’
‘He’s down!’ ‘He’s in the dust!’ ‘Bubblegum’s in the dust!’
‘They’re stripping him!’ ‘They’re stripping Bubblegum!’
‘You can’t see anything!’
‘His mother sold her doves to buy his plate!’
‘You can’t see who to kill!’
Sunlight like lamplight.
Brown clouds of dust touch those brown clouds of dust already
And snuffling through the blood and filth-stained legs
Of those still-standing-thousands goes
Nasty, Thersites’ little dog,
Now licking this, now tasting that.
Nestor, his son, Antilochus, standing beside him:
This stasis is God’s work:
And it is blasphemous to win when He says wait…’
Hector is on his knees:
‘Bringer of Daylight
Lord of Mice and Light
Help me to drive the Greeks
Into the sea.’
On Agamemnon’s right, the Child,
Due to put on 10 years and lose 10lbs this afternoon:
‘We are Greek! We are brave! Add your strength to mine!’
As Lord Apollo answered Hector’s prayer:
You are handsome, you are loved,
Bursting with hope and possibility,
Unyielding, ever-active, dangerous, true.
But no man can do everything alone.’
Speak out, speak up,
And I will help you drive the kings of Greece
Over the plain, across Scanmander, through the palisade
Into the shadow of their ships.’
– You feel the god in Hector’s voice –
‘You are magnificent.
From Thrace, from Bosphorous, from Anatόlium,
From Caran Lycia, from Phrygiland,
Cyprus and Simi, Samothrace and Cos,
My heroes and my host of Ilium.
Now let us finish with the Greeks,
And drive them off this ridge that they pollute,
And chase them down the plain that they have scorched
And into the Scanmander they have soured.
And slaughter them beside their bloated ships.
Founded by Heaven, founded in Heaven,
You of the never taken Gate to Asia, Holy Troy,
Rouse your brave hearts! Do as I do! Do as I say! Kill Greece!
The victory is God’s! The victory -‘
As with a downward sweep of his arm
Boy Lutie lashed their pair –
And drove his Prince, his Lord, his love, Hector of Troy,
‘The victory -‘
With 50 chariots on either side,
And running by their wheels, all answering his:
Followed him through the swathes of hanging dust.
Sparks from the bronze. Lit splinters from the poles.
‘I am hit.’
‘Take my arm.’
‘I am dying.’
‘Shake my hand.’
‘Do not go.’
‘Goodbye little fellow with the gloomy face.’
As Greece, as Troy, fought on and on.
Or are they only alseep?
They are too tired to sleep.
The tears are falling from their eyes.
The noise they make while fighting is so loud
That what you see is like a silent film.
And as the dust converges over them
The ridge is as it is when darkness falls.
Silence and light.
And its attendent moon
(Neither of great importance
But beautiful and dignified)
Making their way around the sun.
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,
from All Day Permanent Red (Faber & Faber, 2003), copyright © Christopher Logue 2003, used by permission of the author’s Estate.