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Literature Text

We’re told in ancient bits of tattered books
On dusty shelves, in long-forgotten nooks
In faded lines across the yellowed page
We find his legend scattered by the wind
On fifty scrolls, by fifty authors penned
Through half-forgotten stories worn with age
Like weary seekers lost within a bog
Who slow perceive a beacon through the fog
We’re drawn, however gray, however dim;
How bright the beacon, pharos fair and tall
If we today can see its light at all!
Like children do we read, and picture him.

Some say he was a demon, or a god
Whose footfalls rent the surface where he trod
Whose gaze, twin angry suns, could not be borne
Some say he was a sad and faithful knight
Who never won a heart, nor lost a fight
Invincible, insatiable, forlorn
Still others call him broken, or insane,
Whose mad preoccupations of the brain
Like lightning, sent him thundering astray
For me, I will commit to naught but this:
He looked unblinking into the abyss,
And ripples of him still are felt today.

The dragon came by night upon the storm
Behemoth-sized, a thunderbolt in form
A fragment of the sky, conceived in hell
The clouds exploded ‘round him as he came
In propagating shards of molten flame
That blackened into armor as he fell.
A nest of daggers served him for his teeth
Obsidian arrayed him underneath
His talons raked the visage of the world
But then: from the horizon came a cry,
A silver sword, resplendent, brandished high
A cobalt banner brilliantly unfurled!

They faced each other thus across the plain
The hero and the dragon in the rain
For each one, as he watched the other, knew:
The fates had tied them to a single thread
And one, alive, would see the other dead
They fought. There was no other thing to do.
Can we today imagine such a clash?
The battle-scream, the mad uncertain dash
The pinprick raised defiant at the beast –
What reckless passion called, and spurred him on
Where no one else would willingly have gone
Where any hope but his would soon have ceased?

On churning hooves he closed the final yard
Bare metal flared on chitin, black and hard
The sable shriek above, the man below;
The buzzards that collected overhead
In hopes of finding man or monster bled
Fell back in woeful chorus at the blow.
The catastrophic echo of the blade
Sang tribute to the forge where it was made
Its flames of birth familiar once again;
Its master set it free: another spark
Descended in an incandescent arc
As lissom as a willow, and as thin.

The legends are uncertain. Many say
They fought throughout the night, and through the day
It may have been but less. I wasn’t there.
And mortal though he was, and though he feared,
His unremitting spirit persevered
His searing strokes electrified the air –
Yet ponderous and certain as the tide
The avalanche of carapace and hide
Advanced outspread, and slow eclipsed the sun.
Beneath the burning canopy of black
The rider struggled brave with each attack
How perfect it would be if he had won.

Pursued on every side by spike and steam
Surrounded by a nightmare in a dream
Beset by Death and arsenals of War
Unhorsed, he set about a final stand
And stained with blood the unforgiving land
‘Til saturated, it would take no more.
Each moment passed upheld by half a chance
That kept his sword extended in the dance
A shred of hope clung desperately to pride –
His strength was nothing human at the end.
He broke at last, who still refused to bend
And darkness overcame him, and he died.

We hate the end. We know it isn’t right.
O valorous and ill-forsaken knight!
What evil fate rewards your courage thus?
How miniscule the glory and the fame –
A picture in a story, and a name –
Compared to what you did for all of us.
The stones no longer rumble when you pass
Your feet no more can stir the swaying grass
The wind regrets it cannot hear your horn.
How many, looking back amid the strife
Can say, “I earned each moment of my life,
I justified the day that I was born!”

Some winter night, when all the earth is still
Put on a coat, go out into the chill –
Look up. Take careful note of what you see.
The earth itself is but a mortal thing
Suspended over gossamer with string;
Someday, the dark is all that there will be.
I bask in nature’s temporary kiss
But doing so, am still resolved to this:
That if one day I too must surely die,
I’ll leave such marks of passage in my wake
That ocean, land, and firmament will shake,
And look into the dragon’s burning eye!
A hero and a dragon - the classic battle. This is a little on the allegorical side, but interpret however you wish - or not at all.
© 2005 - 2023 bbd127
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