Father of Lies

Posted on August 30, 2015 in New Poems

The heights of Parnassus can readily
accommodate a large crowd of people

Glorious at 75, on a summer’s evening
on my veranda, to be reading Herodotus.
Why didn’t I do this 60 years back?
To have formed my mind after his fashion,
endlessly enquiring, closed to no novelty,
embracing digression as narrative norm
as fresh facts crowded his pen, meticulously
distinguishing what he saw with his own eyes
from what was credibly witnessed, what
entertainingly rumoured, and what evident
nonsense but too hilarious to leave out.
He was wrong, of course, to claim Ethiopians
eject black sperm, or that Indians copulate
like beasts (Aristotle corrected these both),
but I applaud his Persians who debate laws
twice, once when drunk, and again sober,
adopting whichever’s doubly approved
(better that, than a second chamber).
His belief, that events are pre-determined
by oracles speaking in ambiguous verse,
seems as sound a historical method as any
whether your sages are Gibbon or Althusser.
His approach to poetry is matter-of-fact
(witness those crowds haunting Parnassus),
and his ruling myth, that free men of Athens
will always defeat the slaves of autocracy
is one I buy into, though his tribes at war
seem simultaneously just down the road
and all-too-menacingly-up-to date.

(with gratitude to Tom Holland’s translation)