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April 01st 2009 print

Patrick Walsh

The Course of Human Endeavor

Because a summer squall tossed the toys

Of Xerxes, son of Darius, ruler of Asia,

As he played in his bathtub, the Aegean;

Because the wine-drunk sea slammed into

A bridge of boats the emperor himself

Ordered built to span the Hellespont

So his armies might conquer Greece;

Because the obdurate ocean, as in a rage

Grown purple in the storm clouds’ shade,

Capsized four hundred Persian triremes,

Their cargoes and captains besides,

Four thousand men waded into the waves

To flog the foam with brass rods,

Repeating, as they flailed, a malediction:

O bitter water, your master punishes you

Because you have crossed him,

Though he never crossed you.