Fable for a War

By Thomas James Merton 1915–1968
The old Roman sow   
Bears a new litter now
To fatten for a while
On the same imperial swill.
The cannibal wolf will dig
And root out Spanish bones beside the pig.

Germany has reared   
A rare ugly bird
To screech a sour song   
In the German tongue:   
Tell me if there be
A sparrowhawk for such birds as he?

The parrots lift their beaks
And fill the air with shrieks.
Ambassador is sent
From the parrots’ parliament:
“Oh see how fine I fly
And nibble crackers got in Germany.”

Europe is a feast
For every bloody beast:   
Jackals will grow fat   
On the bones after that.   
But in the end of all
None but the crows can sing the funeral.

Germany has reared
A rare ugly bird,
But crows ate Roman pig
Before this bird was egg.
And in the end of all
Crows will come back and sing the funeral.

Thomas Merton, “Fable for a War” from The Collected Poems of Thomas Merton. Copyright © 1977 by The Trustees of the Merton Legacy Trust. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation.

Source: The Collected Poems of Thomas Merton (New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1977)

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Poet Thomas James Merton 1915–1968

Subjects History & Politics, Social Commentaries, War & Conflict

Poetic Terms Couplet


A monk who lived in isolation for several years, and one of the most well-known Catholic writers of the twentieth century, Thomas Merton was a prolific poet, religious writer, and essayist whose diversity of work has rendered a precise definition of his life and an estimation of the significance of his career difficult. Merton was a Trappist, a member of a Roman Catholic brotherhood known for its austere lifestyle and vow of . . .

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SUBJECT History & Politics, Social Commentaries, War & Conflict

Poetic Terms Couplet

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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