A Mad Fight Song for William S. Carpenter, 1966

By James Wright 1927–1980 James Wright

Varus, varus, gib mir meine Legionen wieder

Quick on my feet in those Novembers of my loneliness,
I tossed a short pass,
Almost the instant I got the ball, right over the head   
Of Barrel Terry before he knocked me cold.

When I woke, I found myself crying out   
Latin conjugations, and the new snow falling   
At the edge of a green field.

Lemoyne Crone had caught the pass, while I lay   
Unconscious and raging
Alone with the fire ghost of Catullus, the contemptuous graces tossing
Garlands and hendecasyllabics over the head
Of Cornelius Nepos the mastodon,
The huge volume.

At the edges of Southeast Asia this afternoon
The quarterbacks and the lines are beginning to fall,   
A spring snow,

And terrified young men
Quick on their feet
Lob one another’s skulls across
Wings of strange birds that are burning   
Themselves alive.

NOTES: (Note: Carpenter, a West Pointer, called for his own troops to be napalmed rather than have them surrender. General Westmoreland called him “hero” and made him his aide, and President Johnson awarded him a Silver Star for courage.)

James Wright, “A Mad Fight Song for William S. Carpenter, 1966” from Above the River: The Complete Poems and Selected Prose. Copyright © 1990 by James Wright. Reprinted by permission of Wesleyan University Press.

Source: Above the River: The Complete Poems and Selected Prose (1990)

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Poet James Wright 1927–1980

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

Subjects War & Conflict, Sports & Outdoor Activities, Social Commentaries, Activities

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 James  Wright

Biography

James Wright was frequently referred to as one of America's finest contemporary poets. He was admired by critics and fellow poets alike for his willingness and ability to experiment with language and style, as well as for his thematic concerns. In the Minnesota Review, Peter A. Stitt wrote that Wright's work both represents and parallels the development of the best modern American poets: "Reading the Collected Poems of James . . .

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SUBJECT War & Conflict, Sports & Outdoor Activities, Social Commentaries, Activities

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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