What a great first line for a poem. Fast forward to 1916 and you can get the same sentiment from almost any of the first World War poets. And here is Christopher Marlowe in the late 1500s, roundly condemning the uselessness, waste and suffering of war.
This piece seems to be often presented as a stand-alone poem but it is actually taken from one of Marlowe’s plays, “Tamburlaine the Great”. I’d like to see that play.
ACCURS’D BE HE THAT FIRST INVENTED WAR!
by: Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593)
CCURS’D be he that first invented war!
They knew not, ah, they knew not, simple men,
How those were hit by pelting cannon-shot
Stand staggering like a quivering aspen-leaf
Fearing the force of Boreas’ boisterous blasts!
In what a lamentable case where I,
If nature had not given me wisdom’s lore!
For kings are clouts that every man shoots at,
Our crown the pin that thousands seek to cleave:
Therefore in policy I think it good
To hide it close; a goodly stratagem,
And far from any man that is a fool:
So shall not I be known; or if I be,
They cannot take away my crown from me.
Here will I hide it in this simple hole.
The first half of the poem condemns war and describes men being mown down by cannon-shat as if ‘)they were blown over by the wind (“Boreas’ boisterous blasts”). The second half of the poem reveals that the speaker is a king, and therefore one of the causes of war as thousands try to gain the crown. There is a memorable thought about the position of kings, who we think of usually as powerful and in control, but here he is but “clouts that every man shoots at”. Who would want to be in such a position.
So the king hides the crown, so as not to be recognized, or if so, so as not to lose the crown. Kings can unleash wars, they can be the object of wars, but they suffer the consequences, just s the ordinary foot-soldier.
But above all, this poem is memorable for that thundering first line..
The Poetry Dude