ANCESTORS - William Ernest Henley Poems


Poems » william ernest henley » ancestors

We had an island.
Oh we were a stomping old tribe on an island.
Red faces, hairy bodies.
Happy to be hairy
Happy to be hairy
When the breezes tickled
The hairs of our bodies
Happy to be hairy
Happy to be hairy
Next best thing to having feathers --
That was our national anthem.
Right. Hairy tribe,
Hairy red story-telling, song-singing, dragon-fighting, fire-drinking tribe

Used to get invaded every other weekend.
Romans, Vikings, Celts -- fire and sword --
Pushed us back but they never broke us down.
In between invasions we grew spuds and barley,
Took our animals wherever there was a river and some grass.

When the snows came, we moved south
When the rivers dried, we moved west
When the invaders came, we burnt our crops, moved.

Until one day we were surrounded by warriors.
The same old fire and sword, but used efficiently.
They slaughtered our warriors, lined up the rest of us
And there were speeches
About law and order, and firm but fair government.

And this is what they did,
This is government.
You take an island and cut it carefully
With the razorblade called law and order
Into a jigsaw of pieces.
The big, rich-coloured pieces
Go to the big, rich men.
The smaller, paler pieces,
(Five beds two recep barn mooring rights five acres)
Go to the small, rich men.
And nothing at all
Goes to those who have nothing at all.

Absurd? The many nothing-at-alls
Wouldn't stand back and see their island
Slashed into ten thousand pieces.
They didn't stand back, our hairy ancestors.
Some of them spoke out. Some fought back.
They were slashed down by the giant razorblade.

And now, and now the rich seldom have to kill
To defend the land they stole from all the tribe --
Wire fences. Guard Dogs Loose on these Premises.
                     No Trespassing.
Bailiffs. Security Guards. Police. Magistrates' Courts.
                     Judges. Prisons --
Grey prisons where the brain and the flesh turn grey
As the green English years stroll by outside the walls.
So who needs fire and the sword?
The tribe has been tamed
And our island
Our daft green stony gentle rough amazing haven
Entirely surrounded by fish
Has been stolen from the tribe.
It was robbery with most bloody violence.
And that was history, history is about the dead.
Then is our tribe dead? Is our tribe dead?
Is the tribe dead?