Upon the ancient plain the army sits in perpetual siege
Waiting for Achilles to unsulk
To leave his tent and re-enter the fray
What goes through their minds?
Those who have forsaken lives and families
To spend years on this foreign beachfront
Waiting for final bloody action
What of those who look down from the city walls?
Watching the byplay
The dramas of those who
Have come to slaughter or enslave them
What of Helen?
So much older now
Than when those thousand ships were launched
Does she look at her face in the mirror
Bronze is more flattering than our glass
Can she still see the beauty that brought her to this pass?
Is that defeat in her eyes?

Copyright © 2016 Kim Whysall-Hammond

This poem is for Alice at Coffee and a blank page

7 thoughts on “Illium

  1. Fascinating question which brings this time to life. I remember hearing our Latin professor talking about how the Greeks sailed their fleet around behind the nearby islands to trick the Trojans into thinking they had vanished. He was always very scornful of the world that had evolved in the twenty years since World War II and I always felt very impatient with him. However he brought the Illiad to life that day describing the geography of the area, and how all this whole scene had come about. So interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love the shift in focus as you narrow in! And how this epic battle becomes the issue of a woman’s changing relationship to beauty as she ages.

    That’s the part I always find most challenging: how to make clear the resonances I see in these ancient stories with our present-day lives. I tend to get caught up in the weeds of the myths themselves and forget about the reader…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh I forgot about the reader! I had written the first 3 lines in July, then came back to them last night and was struck by impasse, by the pause in the story, there on the beach, while they waited for Achilles. Who was watching the beach, and who was alone with her thoughts?

      Do you read Pratchett? His Discworld version has Elenor of Tsort, who (by the time the war is over) is “plump, good-looking in a slightly faded way, with a black dress, a squint, and the beginnings of a moustache”. …and has seven children! I only remembered Elenor after I finished the poem, however.


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