Ultima Ratio Regum
Ultima Ratio Regum - Stephen Spender
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Well, the issue at stake was really fascism versus anti-fascism - I think after 1933 after Hitler came to power it became more and more clear that the whole of Europe was threatened by fascism which meant dictatorship, anti-semitism, censorship and lack of intellectual freedom and so therefore my generation was involved in trying to prevent this happening, not just politically, but also as writers because if fascism had overwhelmed Europe we anyhow would not have been able to write what we wanted to write, so that although really we were an un-political generation of writers our very survival as writers was involved in the anti-fascist cause...
Ultima Ratio Regum
The guns spell money’s ultimate reason
In letters of lead on the spring hillside.
But the boy lying dead under the olive trees
Was too young and too silly
To have been notable to their important eye.
He was a better target for a kiss.
When he lived, tall factory hooters never summoned him.
Nor did restaurant plate-glass doors revolve to wave him in.
His name never appeared in the papers.
The world maintained its traditional wall
Round the dead with their gold sunk deep as a well,
Whilst his life, intangible as a Stock Exchange rumour, drifted outside.
O too lightly he threw down his cap
One day when the breeze threw petals from the trees.
The unflowering wall sprouted with guns,
Machine-gun anger quickly scythed the grasses;
Flags and leaves fell from hands and branches;
The tweed cap rotted in the nettles.
Consider his life which was valueless
In terms of employment, hotel ledgers, news files.
Consider. One bullet in ten thousand kills a man.
Ask. Was so much expenditure justified
On the death of one so young and so silly
Lying under the olive trees, O world, O death?
from New Collected Poems (Faber, 2004), by permission of Ed Victor Ltd for the Estate of Stephen Spender. In the BBC Archives for the 100 Years of Poetry project to celebrate their Centenary October 2022. With thanks to the BBC for their support of the Poetry Archive.