(written 12/88; Webbed 10/96)
Inside, stately masquerade.
Outside, rumbling cannonade
Shakes the huts and hovels in the hills around the hall.
Inside, princes prance and preen.
Outside, peasants grim and lean
March to different drummers from the music at the ball.
Inside, wine and pale champagne;
Outside, blood and mud and pain
Fill the fallow fields with dead, obscuring living sight.
Inside, placid mannered mannequins are dancing in the light.
Outside, tattered canvas canopies advancing through the night
Batter down resistance with a vengeance-hearted hand.
Inside is parading and the mindless masquerading
of a hundred primping popinjays, the cream of upper-class.
Outside is the clamor of the fighting and the hammer
of a hundred horses' hoofbeats as they surge across the grass.
Inside there is dancing and the ruffles and romancing
of the lords and ladies whirling to the music's stately strains.
Outside, fancy ornaments from long-forgotten tournaments
lie twisted, crushed and broken near the shuttered windowpanes.
Inside, barricaded gentry think they're safe within the walls.
Outside, unrelenting men remove the stallions from the stalls,
Set the buildings burning, ride away across the land.
Inside, panic fuels the fire;
Outside, flames are dancing higher;
Music softly ceases and the ceiling starts to fall...
Inside, all is calm and still.
Outside, from a distant hill,
Sound insistent trumpet calls to summon men to fight.
Down here, war has ravaged all.
Up there, past the shattered hall,
Stars continue dancing in the music-haunted night.
I wrote this in a “Metrical Phonology of Poetry” linguistics seminar at Swarthmore. Some of it is a little overdone (mixed metaphors, overblown diction), but on the whole I think it works.
I’ve always liked Lewis Carroll’s dictum “Take care of the sounds and the sense will take care of itself.”