Lynn W. Petty
A-2-Leonidas King Of Sparta - Poem by Lynn W. Petty
For those who have no knowledge of the past,
I cite to you the history of our State.
Before the moon, our people in this vast
Arena we call Greece, by grace and fate,
Existed as a country. Then, they formed,
In solidarity of thought, through which
We now exist, a people who transformed
A loose coalition to a state of rich
Productive laws that bind us all as one.
The City-State of Sparta had been born,
With all its fighting force as its bastion,
Esteem was won despite the foreigner's scorn.
Beneath the aegis of our father Zeus,
A dream arose of Grecian unity.
When all the separate warlords formed a truce,
And all the Grecian monarchies, City-
States, resolved to form a governance based
Upon a tri-form rule that neutralized
Their great excesses. Sparta had embraced
A constitution, which had centralized
The three existing forms of government,
The monarchy, with aristocracy;
Democracy through the empowerment
Of the assembly. All autocracy
Had ceased, except for the barbarian.
We fight, perhaps, we die, but what is death?
Eternal peace, the grand custodian
Of all our toil and pain. The very breath,
The essence, of our Grecian life shall be,
Extinguished, should we flee. The liberty
To think, the liberty to audibly
Express our thoughts without authority,
The liberty to be, to do, to ask,
Shall be surrendered, with our souls, upon
Our cowardly retreat. We have a task,
A charge that we protect what they had won.
Beneath our feet, perhaps there lie the bones
Of he who worked, who loved, who lived his life,
Who fought and died for us, whose ghost bemoans
The thought that he had died in vain. This strife
We fight, is not for soil, we give our lives,
If Fate so deems, for those unborn to come.
That they experience what freedom gives
The stimulus to live, not in thralldom,
To some despotic superstition, but
The stimulus of freedom, the given
Right to live a life of reason. Rebut
This argument if so inclined. Driven
Were our forefathers, driven by the gods,
To frame the language, which extols the worth
Of every individual, which lauds
The citizen, entitled to, by birth,
Through his protection, under law, to vote.
Bequeathed, were we, this land. Cherished founders
Gave to us this sacred realm, those who wrote
The language. They, our ancient forbearers,
Who gave their noblest stock to die in war,
For the descendants of this soil. For they
Fought close against the enemy. Abhor,
Did they, who feared the fight, who ran away,
As our allies have done. They were ashamed,
That their descent, their line of ancestry,
Did not spring from this sacred ground. They claimed
Their birth from noble men whose pedigree
Defies reproach. Need I call out the roll
Of names who fought those ancient wars? Must I
Remind you of the battles fought; the toll
Of Grecian lives, of those who chose to die,
From Troy to Marathon, for freedom won?
Our state shall never be destroyed by hands
Of hostile nations. Sparta shall not shun
Her duty to her nation state. She stands
Where we are posted. Now, I tell you this,
All other battles, struggles, strivings, pain,
Were fitful flashes lighting the abyss
Of time. Not in our history, since the reign
Of Eurysthenes and his twin Procles,
At the return of Heraclids, that time
Of Peloponnesus when Cresphontes
Had won Messina by deceit, the prime
Of lands, and Tememus then drew Argos,
Has Greece been faced with such a pestilence
Of war. I hear the Persian army grows
A million strong. It is with deference,
Uncertain as it is, that I accept
The rumor of their count. But, what have we
To fear from Persian slaves? Had we not swept
Their fathers from this soil before? When free
Men fight they face the challenge with a deep
Obedient, and sudden urge, a fierce
Impulse to save their freedom from the sweep
Of rabble who have scourged their land; to pierce
Their hearts with fear. It is profoundly true
That brute force driven by the lash cannot
Be trusted. Fealty is a virtue
When gained by confident belief and not
By whip. With loyalty of heart and mind,
To the establishment of common law,
And not the rule of one despot, aligned
We stand, as one, as our forbearers saw.
The principals of social equity
Is why we fight, what we protect, the life
Of common people, their equality.
Now, let us speak of the impending strife.
Oh, sons of Sparta, men of Greece,
Decision is at hand. The distant shore
Grows dark with their encampment. I shall cease
To speak, except to ask you this: What more
Have you if you take flight? An exile lost
To wander foreign lands? Expatriate?
A soldier's shield for hire? Is that the cost
Of life? I find it more appropriate
To die a hero's death, or worse, a slave
To Xerxes' wrath. Now, I take leave of you,
You must decide. It matters not how brave
The man, if taken captive, I will view
His skin displayed in front of Xerxes' tent.
I need not tell you how to fight, engage
Yourself in battle, nor will I prevent
Your leave, nor calm your urgent fears, assuage
Your grief, your thoughts of home, but I can say
To you, most honored men, I am your King,
And you my champions. It is today
We face the horde. Stand toe-to-toe, let ring
The swords in noisy clamor let the spear
Points take their toll. With shield to shield and breast
To breast, hold fast your ranks, expunge your fear,
Let loose your hair, hold high the Spartan crest,
They march when sunlight fills the eastern sky.
What better way to die, than die for one's
Own state? What greater honor than to die
In battle forging Greece's fate at dawn's
Illumined light? Remember only this:
Shame is to survive defeat.
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