(a drawing by Raphael at Windsor)
A blinded figure with an axe, fleeing,
Lurches away from where he hears more cutting.
What is in his mind was in his eyes before the
Weapon he had not forethought flashed, change body
And battle – enemies no longer of a color
Or phalanx of advancing shapes.
Eyes wide open,
Bandaged, feet now have to choose a smooth terrain
To touch, to flee upon, to experiment with
Balancing what remains of his unscarred sturdy
Frame away from those noises, those rude prayers
His clear ears hear everywhere, find some safety –
No more attacking, no more scraping branches,
No more stumbling over lumps of others lying,
His reversed eyes weeping, no more attacking.
But his left hand still grips the axe, his forearm
Muscles swelling. Why grip the axe, blinded, fleeing?
Many years ago I saw this drawing by Raphael in an exhibit at Windsor Castle, England. It entranced me, and I looked at it for a long time. When I tried to buy a postcard or reproduction of the drawing, I discovered that Her Royal Highness apparently had no intention of sharing it with plebs like me.
But the drawing would not go away from my sight, and I know that I had to write a poem about it, based on memory. The man shown wears only a loincloth, chiefly, perhaps, so that Raphael could show his skill at musculature in drawing, but I also assume that he was imaging a Classical warrior; he certainly isn’t a Renaissance figure.
Because of the Classical nature of the picture I chose to write in long “un-English” lines t might approximate a Latin hexameter. Perhaps “suggest” is a better word, for one certainly can’t make that Latin line in English.
But, of course, my point is in the final sentence: “Why grip the axe, blinded, fleeing?” Obviously he is a completely disabled soldier running away from a conquering army. Whatever use could he make of that axe? For me, the drawing has contemporary meaning. Why do nations insist on retaining useless weapons like nuclear bombs or other massive armaments, or why do they persist in fighting lost wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?