We Could Do Nothing, Being Sold

From time to time Saturday is Poetry Day here at Gates of Vienna, and today seems an appropriate occasion — given that it’s the first Saturday since the Investiture of the Puppet — to repost an old favorite by Edwin Muir. I’ve posted it at least twice in the past, but it’s worth revisiting.

I don’t know why people are complaining about the legitimacy of last November’s election. I mean, we got the best election money can buy* — what’s not to like?

As a matter of interest, I memorized this poem for my O-Level examinations when I attended the High School in Harrogate. Except for the odd preposition here and there, the text in my head seems to be intact some fifty-three years later:

The Castle
by Edwin Muir

All through that summer at ease we lay,
And daily from the turret wall
We watched the mowers in the hay
And the enemy half a mile away —
They seemed no threat to us at all.

For what, we thought, had we to fear
With our arms and provender, load on load,
Our towering battlements, tier on tier,
And friendly allies drawing near
On every leafy summer road?

Our gates were strong, our walls were thick,
So smooth and high, no man could win
A foothold there, no clever trick
Could take us, have us dead or quick.
Only a bird could have got in.

What could they offer us for bait?
Our captain was brave and we were true…
There was a little private gate,
A little wicked wicket gate.
The wizened warder let them through.

Oh then our maze of tunneled stone
Grew thin and treacherous as air.
The cause was lost without a groan,
The famous citadel overthrown,
And all its secret galleries bare.

How can this shameful tale be told?
I will maintain until my death
We could do nothing, being sold;
Our only enemy was gold,
And we had no arms to fight it with.

*   Also apropos in this context (especially with its Second Amendment overtones) is the fifth stanza from “The Gods of the Copybook Headings” by Rudyard Kipling:

When the Cambrian measures were forming,
            they promised perpetual peace.
They swore, if we gave them our weapons,
            that the wars of the tribes would cease.
But when we disarmed They sold us
            and delivered us bound to our foe,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said:
            “Stick to the Devil you know.

9 thoughts on “We Could Do Nothing, Being Sold

  1. Terrific stuff Barron,

    Just by chance I happened to read “The Religious Transformation of French Schools” by Giulio Meotti in the site Gatestone Institute (sometimes I read you first, sometime them) dated today too. The poetry applies I think to both pieces.

    The poems I may send to a former friend that doesn’t seem to understand what is happening and how swiftly things can change.

    Thanks and best wishes,

    Mike from Brooklyn

  2. I would not be surprised in Act II, III or whatever one we are in if some of the natural resources do change hands at fire sale prices, as part of a bankruptcy sale or just at a later date to the “right” people or countries by design or opportunity once we change direction a little in energy policy. I don’t think of it as a conspiracy theory but more like a risk assessment.

  3. Barron, I would like you to post an article about that dreadful ‘poetry’ that the black girl read at the fake inauguration. American Renaissance posted it with analysis of each line of verse. It is a hilarious mock of that performance.

  4. I didn’t watch the Investiture, and I didn’t read any transcripts of speeches or poems.

    I heard about the one you mentioned, but I don’t know anything about it, so I shall have to pass on any commentary about it.

  5. It would seem from the poems you presented, and the events of the past three months, that the fight is not in front of us, but is instead inside us. Choosing convenience instead of conscience can only result in consequences that can only become regrets. Of course if you have no conscience you will not have any regrets, until the piper demands payment for the tune you called.

  6. Being one of (not so rare, I hope) french readers of Gates o Vienna, and having much appreciated the poem, I thought that perhaps a French translation of the poem could be useful …
    I tried to keep it poetic in French too, and to follow the (classical) rules of French poetry, in respect of the original text (I hope).
    Here it is :

    The Castle (Edwin Muir) ,
    translation by Pascal T

    Tout l’été nous sommes restés tranquilles
    Et chaque jour, du haut de la tour
    Nous avons regardé les moissons en cours
    Et l’ennemi au loin, à un demi-mille
    — Le danger ne semblait pas bien lourd.

    Car nous pensions : de quoi aurions-nous peur
    Avec nos armes et toutes nos provisions
    Tous nos étages de fortifications
    Et tout près, des alliés chers à nos coeurs
    Sur les chemins ombragés de la région ?

    Nos portes étaient solides, nos murs épais
    Si lisses et hauts que nul pied ne s’y serait tenu
    Qu’aucune ruse habile ne serait parvenue
    A nous prendre, mettre en fuite ou tuer.
    Entrer, seul un oiseau peut-être l’aurait pu.

    Par quel appât pouvaient-ils nous tenter ?
    Notre capitaine était brave, nous étions sûrs…
    Il y avait une petite porte au bas d’un mur
    Un méchant portillon, un guichet dérobé.
    Le gardien miséreux libéra l’ouverture.

    Alors notre dédale de pierres creusées
    Devint aussi léger et traître que l’air.
    Sans un soupir fut perdue toute l’affaire,
    La fameuse citadelle fut bientôt renversée,
    Et ses galeries secrètes ouvertes en un éclair.

    Comment raconter cette honteuse histoire ?
    Je maintiendrai, l’heure de ma mort venue,
    Qu’il n’y a rien à faire lorsque l’on est vendu ;
    L’or était l’ennemi que n’avions sur voir,
    Sans armes contre lui nous étions donc perdus.

    • Thank you for making that effort. It must have been difficult to keep the meaning while making it rhyme and fit the meter.

      • It was worth the effort and the time. Besides beeing perhaps useful to you, I now have a text of great emotional power (often a better way to convince than pure reason) to hand out to my non-english-speaking friends !

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