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Lay for the Day
5th March

The birthday of Austen Henry Layard in Paris in 1814. In 1845 he was the first to excavate the remains of the ancient Assyrian capital of Nineveh, and the lower levels of the British Museum are stuffed with his finds. From the book of Praises:

55. Of the Assyrian Basement

The corpses of lions slung on poles
and headless dead flung in the river,
merciless killing of prisoners
recorded with pride, incised finely
in low relief. And all, like the leg
of the king himself, the mouth and claws
of the quarry that rears confronted
and the horned bow between, at full stretch.

limb is its smooth self here – a trunk,
a cord of twisted strength: aesthetics
of aggression perfected in these
cool grey friezes, by which a Hitler’s
or a Stalin’s jut-jawed warriors
and blockhead heroes backed by blue sky
seem sheer dissembling, domination
painted up in colours of militant

Halfway down, a long-faced lad
looked long in the moonlike face, “perhaps
of a cult figure”, bald eyes placid
and the Buddhistic lip curled, where will
to power is sated by slaughter
to stillness.

Here’s the young grey self you
shot, tête-à-tête with the cruel god,
longhaired, pale and muffled, mesmerised
by that calm and comprehensive stare.

John Gibbens
from Collected Poems


The Lay Reader: an archive of the poetic calendar

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