by Jeffrey Burghauser (July 2023)
The Destruction of Jerusalem by Roman Armies under command of Titus in AD 70, David Roberts, 1850
From a translation of Siege of Jerusalem, the anonymous 14th c. Middle English epic.*
Assembled were thousands of Israelites, each
___Upon an impetuous horse,
Both horsemen & horses prepared for the breech.
This number excluded the mobilized force
___Attending the City’s quartet
Of gates interrupting the battlements’ course.
The twenty-five elephants (fortresses set
___Upon their Precambrian backs)
Asserted that what wasn’t, just wasn’t…yet.
The elephant-fortresses glittered with plaques
___Of metal as solid as Sin
When facing a terrible virtue’s attacks.
Each bastion fastened to elephant skin
___Was soldiered compactly abreast:
A hundred without, and a hundred within.
A hundred Arabian camels were dressed
___In chainmail. Each loftily bore
A bullying tower, the Poets attest.
The towers on Bactrians hosted a score
___Of soldiers; their contours, encased
In steel. How fantastic, these habits of war!
Designed when disinterested geniuses traced
___The nightmare commanding the glen
Established in Slumber’s malevolent waste.
And then there were chariots carrying men
___Not given to feeling afraid,
Who, even before the Omnipotent Pen
Maintained by the Hand of the Heavens had stayed
___The motions of war, would be dead
On sand that fresh blood had turned into a glade.
The heaviest elephant (covered in red
___And amethyst fabrics) emerged
From numberless shadows exquisitely spread
Behind a Gibraltarform reverie purged
___From oceans exploding in dreams.
The elephant’s weight diabolically surged.
Attired in deathly-luxurious gleams,
___The castle it carried upon
Its body aspired to Mammon’s extremes:
A silver pavilion fine as a swan,
___A plan’s most extravagant part,
Pragmatic at midnight; by daybreak, forgone.
The silver pavilion had as its heart
___A chest of white silver, and then
A chair of beguiling, torturous art.
What madman imagines such furniture? When
___The candlelight flickered nearby,
The gold of the chair serenaded: “Amen.”
Upholstered in cloth of imperial dye,
___And studded with tumors of gold,
And heavy with sapphires smooth as an eye.
Upon it, the silent, majestically cold,
___Monarchical Caiaphas sat,
Emotionless, focused, resplendently stole’d,
Invested with tunics, a ritual hat,
___A breastplate encrusted with gems,
And trousers as soft as the ghost of a cat.
He absently whispered: “They’ll fall before Shem’s
___Descendants. Vespasian, the beast,
Is ruined.”—a confidence Prudence condemns.
A choir surrounded the decadent priest
___With psalmody. Caiaphas took
A scroll from the chest, an ethereal feast—
A critical scroll whose profundities shook
___The world with miraculous tales
Of Moses; of armies subdued by a book;
Of Jonah’s descent to a furious whale’s
___Interior dusk; of the HE
Who renders the Chosen emergency trails
Permitting the shivering exiles free,
___Miraculous license to pass
Directly athwart the devouring Sea.
Thus Caiaphas lorded his palace of glass
___Relaxed on Complacency’s beach,
Unshaken, expecting the Roman “ALAS!”
Jeffrey Burghauser is a teacher in Columbus, OH. He was educated at SUNY-Buffalo and the University of Leeds. He currently studies the five-string banjo with a focus on pre-WWII picking styles. A former artist-in-residence at the Arad Arts Project (Israel), his poems have appeared (or are forthcoming) in Appalachian Journal, Fearsome Critters, Iceview, Lehrhaus, and New English Review. Jeffrey’s book-length collections are available on Amazon, and his website is www.jeffreyburghauser.com.
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