Why The Classics

Poem By Zbigniew Herbert

1
in the fourth book of the Peloponnesian War
Thucydides tells among other things
the story of his unsuccessful expedition
among long speeches of chiefs
battles sieges plague
dense net of intrigues of diplomatic endeavours
the episode is like a pin
in a forest
the Greek colony Amphipolis
fell into the hands of Brasidos
because Thucydides was late with relief
for this he paid his native city
with lifelong exile
exiles of all times
know what price that is
2
generals of the most recent wars
if a similar affair happens to them
whine on their knees before posterity
praise their heroism and innocence
they accuse their subordinates
envious colleagues
unfavourable winds
Thucydides says only
that he had seven ships
it was winter
and he sailed quickly
3
if art for its subject
will have a broken jar
a small broken soul
with a great self-pity
what will remain after us
will it be lovers' weeping
in a small dirty hotel
when wall-paper dawns

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