Mixing Politics and Poetry


Today’s post features a kind of cautionary poem that draws much of its substance from a particular episode in Roman History.  The subject matter deals with the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest in 9 A.D, but the lessons therein provide some commentary about the state of global politics today.

Leading up to the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, excessive taxation and brutal disciplinary measures mandated by Roman authorities in the Germanic territories spurred barbarian tribes to revolt.  The uprising resulted in the massacre of three entire Roman legions – a staggering blow to what was then the most powerful army on Earth.

It’s hard not to see the parallels between ancient Rome and the global superpowers of today.  I guess I wrote this poem as a reaction to the incendiary rhetoric and cavalier attitudes that pervade much of our modern foreign policy. The stakes are much higher in the 21st century.  I didn’t crunch the numbers, but I’m pretty sure there’s a lot more destructive power in one nuclear submarine than there was in all the Roman legions and all the barbarian hordes combined.  This poem is really a plea for rational thought in an increasingly irrational world.  Anyway, here it is.

Questions, comments, and criticisms are always welcome.  And as always, keep writing, keep revising, and be kind.



When Varus Lost Three Legions, 9 A.D.

Far from the precise geometry

and carefully measured

customs of Rome,

Publius Quinctilius Varus

led his three legions

into the tangled

Teutoburg Forest.


Marching columns, four abreast,

struggled over the terrain,

stretching into one thin line –

a many miles long serpent

crawling half-blind

toward its own



The barbarian hordes

came out of the hills,

out of the trees,

out of the darkness itself.

Axes and hammers,

animal screams,

thoughts of home leaking

from cleaved and

bludgeoned men

into the gurgling mud.


We have come so far

since that late summer in 9 A.D.

Now, a few blunders

in diplomacy will

scorch continents

and boil oceans.

We can stir enough

dust with our madness

to blot out the Sun.

Those ancient Emperors

would be so damned


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