My attempt at covering Alexander’s conquests in verse – finished for now, but a work in progress.
The warrior lay on his sweat-soaked bed.
Amid his battle scars a tiny bite
Had let a foe within – a parasite,
And none, however great, could match its might.
On canvas walls faint flickered flames of light
As burned his army’s campfires in the night.
So slowly did the world fade from his sight.
The Macedonian gave up the fight;
At thirty two the conqueror was dead.
Now the land of Phrygia, many years past,
Had no king, and the people were rather downcast
Till the Telmissus oracle made a decree
That a new king was coming, and that king would be
Seated in the next ox-cart that entered the town;
Yes, that driver, he said, must receive the royal crown.
So it then came to pass that an old peasant cove
Name of Gordias, into Telmissus he drove
In his ox-cart, in front of the priests as they prayed,
And thus Gordias, King of the Phrygians was made.
Now Midas his son was an upcoming lad
And he was exceedingly proud of his dad,
And so to Sabazios he dedicated
The ox-cart, but first a fine knot he created
That bound fast and tight the cart’s yoke to the shaft,
And when he was finished young Midas he laughed:
“I declare that in future who unties this thing –
Of Asia this man he will surely be king!”
The centuries passed and Telmissus decayed;
To Gordium then was the ox-cart conveyed
And there in the palace the cart was displayed,
Though the knot, many tried, tightly tied the knot stayed
Until on that day when the cold winds of fate
Blew in from the west, Alexander the Great.
Alexander rode in dressed in armour of gold
And he said: “I say chaps, if I may be so bold,
Where’s this Gordian knot? And I won’t tell a lie,
I’ve been practicing hard for your knot to untie.”
So they showed him the knot; on the cart it was tied;
Was of cornel wood bark, and for years had defied
Every twiddler and twister and keenest boy scout;
Not a man in the land, could this knot figure out.
So the puzzle, did Great Alexander inspect,
And no ends and no starts did his keen eyes detect.
Then he said: “Damn and blast! I must untie this thing,
Or of Asia, apparently, I can’t be king.”
Then he had an idea and he whipped out his sword;
With his usual flair, Alexander ignored
All the rules, as he struck at the knot with a laugh:
“Ha ha ha!” and he split the knot cleanly in half.
Then he mounted his horse, bid the Phrygians: “Goodbye!
I’ve an empire to conquer, I really must fly!”
And he left Gordium in a great cloud of dust
And the people of Phrygia somewhat nonplussed.
For this truly, for them, was a terrible day,
As they peered at their dismembered knot in dismay,
For their tourism industry needed that cart;
As they looked on, the yoke and the shaft fell apart.
A disaster! They knew they were in for a slump –
With no knot, why would anyone come to this dump?
So they twisted some bark; made a long length of twine,
And with strangle and granny, half-hitch and bow-line,
They constructed a knot, that while not like the old,
It was ten times as big, and for sure it would hold,
And was so convoluted no one could untie it,
And in any case, few would get near to try it,
And thus was their earner, the knot, back on track –
As long as that smart Alec never came back.
My Lord, wise council I wish to impart;
Though this advice you may not wish to hear.
It issues from my head – but too, my heart.
These pearls I seek to whisper in your ear.
Appeasion, your counsel I don’t seek,
For in the past you were true to your name,
But since you’re here, come close, your wisdom speak;
We’ll see if you are changed – or still the same.
Thank you, my Lord, my argument is this:
You plan invasion of the Great King’s land.
Instead, send delegations there to kiss
His feet – make peace – I’m sure he’ll understand.
Appeasion, you never seem to learn:
The Great King and his Persians, I don’t trust.
For with resentment and revenge they burn;
We must strike now – his armies, turn to dust.
The call to battle, surely Lord, can wait.
There is a time for war, a time for peace.
I feel it best that we negotiate
To strike a deal whereby their threats must cease.
A promise signed, and gold and silver paid
To the Great King, removes the threat of war.
Conditions set by us – by him obeyed.
Please tell me Alexander – where’s the flaw?
Appeasion, you’ve softness in your head.
Though true, your good intentions I know well.
Consult the mouldering armies of the dead,
For good intentions pave the road to Hell.
The Great King mourns defeats at Marathon,
Plataea and at Salamis – at sea.
Those Greeks who spurned King Xerxes, long are gone;
Darius dreams of his Thermopylae.
We value freedom – Persia would enslave;
Their oriental ways, we Greeks eschew.
Appeasion, your words of wisdom save,
For later rulers, who’ll be weak – like you.
Was at the Granicus you braved
The Persian cavalry and saved
His life; the one they now call great,
But Cleitus, why do you tempt fate?
For with the drink, your talk betrays
Your distaste for his Asian ways.
You, at this feast in Marakanda,
Taunt your King with jibes and slander;
Scorn him for his vanity;
Call his demands insanity.
Cleitus, too far you push your King;
Your painful words, they wound and sting
Yet still you blaspheme and offend;
There’s but one way this night will end.
When in your cups you spoke your mind
While your companions all were blind,
Now lifeless is the hand that held
The sword that Spithridates felled.
He owed his life to you it’s sure,
His friend in peace, comrade in war;
Who would have thought you’d one day fear
From Alexander’s hand – a spear?
I wrote three poems about Alexander the Great’s battles against the Persian Empire and its King, Darius III and then combined them into Three Battles. Here is the original “Battle of Issus” – the second of the three battles – note: Darius is pronounced Da Ri us
Darius led his shining army west;
At Issus, would he Alexander test.
He took the town, the weak and wounded there,
And not a man among them did he spare.
For to the Persian King’s eternal shame
Did each and every stricken man he maim:
Struck off their hands so they could fight no more;
Thus settled, with his cruelty, a score.
So Alexander sent his spies to find
If the Great King perhaps had lost his mind;
Superior his numbers and his might;
Why would he choose for battle such a site?
But King Darius listened but to those
Who, thoughtfully, their words of wisdom chose,
For only sycophants would get his ear;
They told the King the words he wished to hear.
That he was strong, the Macedonians weak;
Upon them, would his army, havoc wreak.
So while his foe questioned his sanity,
In truth his weakness was his vanity.
So at this place he wrought his strategy,
And with the King did his satraps agree,
That here at Issus would he meet the foe,
And with his army strike a fatal blow.
So now his men on foot and those on horse,
At the Panaris lined the river’s course:
The cavalry in brightly coloured ranks,
The glinting pikes above the Greek phalanx.
And from his chariot the King could see
The Cardacies – his Persian infantry,
Spread like a swarm of locusts flank to flank:
A sea of spears along the river bank.
Then to the south the waiting Persians saw
The Macedonians march on to war,
And at their head did Alexander ride;
His brave Companions riding at his side.
Parmenion, his Thessalians led
To the left flank, as to the right now sped
On charging horse, the Macedonian King,
And there dismounted, faced the foe’s right wing.
And now the Persians struck an early blow
Against the warrior Parmenio.
Across the river came the charging hordes,
And in the sunlight flashed their shields and swords.
As the great general and his horsemen held,
The Hypaspists with Alexander felled
The Persian Cardacies, and beat them back,
Then launched straight at Darius an attack.
Now all around their King the Persians died,
As now the gaping breach had opened wide,
And men, to save themselves, now broke and ran,
As surged the might of Alexander’s van.
And so Darius, seeing all the dead,
Turned back his chariot and eastward fled,
As Alexander watched and let him go,
Then turned to help the brave Parmenio.
A horse he mounted, riding at their head,
His cavalry, to charge the Greeks, he led.
He turned their flank – bright swords and daggers slashed,
Until the mercenaries all were smashed.
Now was the rout complete, the victory sealed;
The Persian army fled the battlefield,
While Alexander and his horsemen chased,
Darius in his chariot now raced,
Until the way impassable, and King
Darius bade his guards a horse to bring,
He mounted, quickly spurred the horse to flight,
And so did King Darius flee the fight –
His mighty army shattered and laid low;
His chariot, his cloak and golden bow;
His treasure and his daughters and his wife,
All lost – now left with nothing but his life.
So to Persepolis Darius rushed,
With just the remnants of an army crushed.
To Alexander then he sent a plea
To set his wife and his two daughters free,
And offered up one half of his empire,
But Alexander’s eyes flashed bright with fire:
‘I am the King of Asia now!’ he said,
‘Your Empire and your glory now are dead.
Your wife and daughters have their liberty,
But as an equal, don’t dare address me.
I’ll not accept a grain of your design,
For all of Asia that you held is mine!’
As Alexander’s note Darius read,
A premonition filled his soul with dread:
He saw his Empire fall and turn to dust,
His men to corpses, and their swords to rust.
But with despair the Great King’s anger grew;
His army still was great, the foe – so few.
Might his Immortals and his cavalry,
Still from the ashes snatch a victory?
So once again would King Darius fight.
Once more to test Great Alexander’s might.
At Gaugamela would the two next meet,
And bitter would Darius taste defeat.