War Music (excerpt from Patrocleia) (1962)

Christopher Logue

Cut to the Fleet:
Then to the strip between the rampart and the ditch.

The air near Ajax was so thick with arrows, that,
As they came, their shanks tickered against each other;
And under them the Trojans swarmed so thick
Ajax outspread his arms, turned his spear flat,
And simply pushed. Yet they came clamouring back until
So many Trojans had a go at him
The iron chaps of Ajax’ helmet slapped his cheeks
To soft red pulp, and his head reached back and forth
Like a clapper inside a bell made out of sword blades.
Maybe, even with no breath left,
Big Ajax might have stood it yet; yet
Big and all as he was, Prince Hector meant to burn that ship:
And God was pleased to let him.

Pulling the Trojans back a yard or two
He baited Ajax with his throat; and Ajax took.
As the spear lifted, Hector skipped in range;
As Ajax readied, Hector bared his throat again;
And, as Ajax lunged, Prince Hector jived on his right heel
And snicked the haft clean through its neck
Pruning the bronze nose off – Aie! – it was good to watch
Big Ajax and his spear blundering about for, O,
Two seconds went before he noticed it had gone.
But when he noticed it he knew
God stood by Hector’s elbow, not by his;
That God was pleased with Hector, not with Ajax;
And, sensibly enough, he fled.

The ship was burned.

Learn more about the language of this poem in the
Oxford English Dictionary:

shank, n.  snick, v.2