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John F. McCullagh

(09/28/1954 / Flushing)

Total Eclipse


In the presence of the enemy
He split his force in two.
His red coated invaders
displayed contempt for the Zulu.
How else to explain their failure
to fortify the camp?
Twenty Thousand warriors
Put them in a deadly clamp.
It was a fearsome slaughter
redcoats falling by the score.
Thirteen hundred swept away-
No prisoners of war.
assegai thrusting spears struck home
The Sun would shine no more.
The Thin Red Line was broken,
each man fighting his own war.
With ammunition running out
They fought with blade and butt.
Until knobkierrie clubs struck home
And stabbing spears found gut.
The officers with horses,
without honor, fled the fray.
Escaping only with their lives
No storied heroes they.

Submitted: Sunday, June 23, 2013
Edited: Friday, July 26, 2013

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Poet's Notes about The Poem

The Battle of Isandlwana on 22 January 1879.20,000 Zulu warriors surrounded an annihilated a camp containing 1300 Of Victoria's finest. At 2: 29 in the afternoon a total eclipse of the Sun Coincided with the last desperate stand of the embattled British.


The original title ' How can man die better? ' was suggested by the beginning of a famous verse from Macaulay's Lays of Ancient Rome

'Then out spake brave Horatius,
The Captain of the gate:
‘To every man upon this earth
Death cometh soon or late.
And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers,
And the temples of his Gods, '

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