Desert Storms and the Battle of Anghiari

No winding caravans, trailing behind
the despoiling route of a conqueror,
have had to slow in their lumbering tracks
to scatter their spoor against detection,

hiding the broken lances and spent shells
that might make their way through the sifted sand
to the silt bed of Mother Euphrates
before their blood-smeared edges have been dulled

and baked away by the blistering wind.
Never have heavy-foot heroes trod here
and found their imprint even the next day.

In this place, time is a meaningless farce;
no lasting triumph can be long achieved.
The faceless dunes know no empire builders.

Beyond this edge of the world there exist
no monsters; no great devouring evil
ruminates out in this barren wasteland.
Only its scored skeletal shards remain,

crumpled into obscurity and dust
now lost to the infinite sagacity
of endless sand, the edge of an hourglass
whose shattered fragments mark the worn ends

of some desolate, clutching foothold
desperately proclaimed civilization
by the collectors of temporal might.

In this place, strength is a fleeting shadow;
no permanent kingdom can be maintained.
The shifting desert has no memory.

25 MAR 2003

“Tell me if anything has ever been achieved; tell me.” — Leonardo da Vinci, Notebooks

NOTES:
“…You will give a reddish tinge to the faces, the figures, the air, the musketeers, and those around them, and this red glow will fade the farther it is from its source…Arrows will be flying in all directions, falling down, flying straight ahead, filling the air, and bullets from firearms will leave a trail of smoke behind them…If you show a man who has fallen to the ground, reproduce his skid marks in the dust, which has been transformed into bloody mud. And all around on the slippery ground you will show the marks where men and horses have trampled it in passing. A horse will b e dragging behind it the body of its dead rider, leaving traces of the corpse’s blood behind it in the dust and mud. Make the vanquished look pale and panic-stricken, their eyebrows raised high or knitted in grief, their faces stricken with painful lines…Men fleeing in rout will be crying out with open mouths. Have all kinds of weapons lying underfoot: broken shields, lances, stumps of swords, and other such things…The dying will be grinding their teeth, their eyeballs rolling heavenward as they beat their bodies with their fists and twist their limbs. You could show a warrior disarmed and knocked to the ground, turning on his foe, biting and scratching him in cruel and bitter revenge; there could also be a riderless horse galloping away into the enemy lines, mane flying in the wind, causing great injury with its hooves. Or perhaps some wounded man, lying on the ground and trying to protect himself with his shield, while his enemy bends over him to deal the fatal blow. Or a pile of men lying on the corpse of a horse. Several of the victors are leaving the field; they will move away from the melee, wiping their hands over their eyes and cheeks to remove the thick layer of mud caused by their eyes watering on account of the dust…Take care not to leave a single flat area that is not trampled and saturated with blood.” — Leonardo da Vinci, notes for the sketches of “The Battle of Anghiari”, MS 2038, Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, 30v; 31r.

“Apart from Poussin’s Massacre of the Innocents, Goya’s Tres de Mayo, and Picasso’s Guernica, there has probably been no picture in the history of art as violent, brutal, and terrible as The Battle of Anghiari…Unfortunately, only traces of the painting remain – in the lines quoted above, in a few of Leonardo’s sketches (in Windsor Castle and the British Library), and in partial copies of the fresco by Raphael and Michelangelo.” — Serge Bramly, Leonardo: The Artist and the Man

The Second Coming

TURNING and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

— William Butler Yeats

Ozymandias

I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read,
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed,
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look upon my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

-Percy Bysshe Shelley

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