The Chant of the Vultures

We are circling, glad of the battle: we   
    joy in the smell of the smoke.
Fight on in the hell of the trenches: we   
    publish your names with a croak!
Ye will lie in dim heaps when the sunset   
    blows cold on the reddening sand;
Yet fight, for the dead will have wages—a
   death-clutch of dust in the hand.
Ye have given us banquet, O kings, and   
   still do we clamor for more:
Vast, vast is our hunger, as vast as the   
   sea-hunger gnawing the shore.

’Tis well ye are swift with your signals—
   the blaze of the banners, the blare
Of the bugles, the boom of battalions, the   
   cannon-breath hot on the air.
It is for our hunger ye hurry, it is for our   
   feast ye are met:
Be sure we will never forget you, O servants   
   that never forget!
For we are the Spirits of Battle, the peerage   
   of greed we defend:
Our lineage rose from the Night, and we   
   go without fellow or friend.

We were ere our servant Sesostris spread   
   over the Asian lands
The smoke of the blood of the peoples,
   and scattered their bones to the sands.   
We circled in revel for ages above the   
   Assyrian stream,
While Babylon builded her beauty, and   
   faded to dust and to dream.
We scattered our laughter on nations—
   and Troy was a word and a waste,
The glory of Carthage was ruined, the   
   grandeur of Rome was effaced!

And we blazoned the name of Timour, as   
   he harried his herd of kings,
And the host of his hordes wound on, a   
   dragon with undulant rings.
And we slid down the wind upon France,   
   when the steps of the earthquake passed,
When the Bastile bloomed into flame, and
   the heavens went by on the blast.   
We hung over Austerlitz, cheering the
   armies with jubilant cries:
We scented three kings at the carnage,   
   and croaked our applause from the skies.

O kings, ye have catered to vultures—
   have chosen to feed us, forsooth,
The joy of the world and her glory, the
   hope of the world and her youth.
O kings, ye are diligent lackeys: we laurel
   your names with our praise,
For ye are the staff of our comfort, for ye   
   are the strength of our days.
Then spur on the host in the trenches to   
   give up the sky at a stroke:
We tell all the winds of their glory: we
   publish their fame with a croak!


More Poems by Edwin Markham