Canto 16: Siege of Malta


Malta of gold, malta of silver, malta of precious metal,
We shall never take you!
& from her ramparts a voice replied,
I am she who has decimated the galleys of the Turks
& all the warriors of Constantinople & Galata

Badajoz


Digression

Such dire encroachments to prevent in time,
Demands the critic’s voice – the poet’s rhyme.
Can our light scenes add strength to holy laws?

RB Sheridan

I pledge a motion for the grand digress,
Which poems of this nature may include,
Some may question its appropriateness,
Yet others think the moment rather shrewd;
To all accounts
I offer further gloss,
Bless’d by those faithful founts, the Crescent & the Cross.

As we walk among these pages,
With a mind to phantsize,
Ghosts have willow’d down the ages
Forming phantoms in the skies,
As the cataclysm rages
Twix Axis & Allies,
We find the legacies of former times
Have influenced the varnish of these rhymes.

The Knights of Saint John, & their swords,
Seek out new naval base
Departing Rhodes, darting Whale-roads,
Like pirates at a pace,
To settle on a treeless rock & fortify its face.

Malta
1530


War’s Promise

I feel that I am the king of time
I possess the earth and everything on it
and ride into the sun upon my horse

Nizar Qabbani

The Peacock of the World rose from his throne,
Wishing a land-lock’d sea a Turkish pond,
The fish of Malta is the stepping stone
To Sicily & all the world beyond;
That obscure rock
Insults us & our queen,
Thus from their viper-dock we’ll drive the Nazarene.

My finest force I shall employ,”
Added Allah’s deputy,
These sons of dogs ever destroy,
Tho’ they earn’d my clemency
When I was young & full of joy
Thro’ my first victory,
& I allow’d them honour after Rhodes –
No more shall we suffer their vile marauds.

Our scimitars their throats shall slit,
Dragut, prepare the fleet!

Yearning credit, gurning merit,
Gen’rals kiss jewel’d feet,
Then divan leave, planning the heathen’s ultimate defeat.

Istanbul
1564


Call to Arms

My grandmother is calling her goslings
My mother is summoning her hens
The sun has vanished into the ocean

Marilyn Chin

Grave news flies to Grandmaster De Valette,
Tho’ days of armageddon clamour near,
From coming frays his faith shall never fret,
To him the infidel inspires no fear;
Prepare the walls,
Cancel every corso!”

The clang of cannonballs rang thro’ Saint Angelo.

Across the world the summons sent
By ship & sweat-stain’d horsemen,
“Brave knights fly back to the Convent
Go fight beside your brethren!”
Soon many-a-foreign accent
With one voice sang, “Amen,
Renewing vows at the Sacred Altar;
Each man determined to die on Malta.

Outside, in strangest summer rain,
Four thousand strong Maltese
Shall march & train with men from Spain,
As on the ocean breeze
Soft scented Turkish incense wafted slowly overseas.

Birgu
May
1565


Muslim Landing

From the depths of the ocean
a crocodile in search of a destiny
spied the pool of light, and there he surfaced

Xanana Gusmão

From watchtowers the warning cannon ring,
The Sultan’s fleet arrives as a vast fan,
With livestock & the still-green crops of spring
Many to Birgu & Mdina ran;
Dead beast & dung
Poison’d the Marsa wells,
Songs of devotion sung as witches flung their spells.

That armada sail’d round Gozo,
To show that the sea was closed,
Then at the Marsascirroco
Made anchorage unnoppos’d,
As skiffs ferried his war-cargo
Their old commander dozed,
Untroubl’d by the course of coming days,
Sure on him, soon, the Sultan should heap praise.

Dreams were woken by Mustapha,
First sword of the army,
“My young Pasha, what’s the matter?”
Yawn’d adm’ral Piali,
This is no time for sleeping, we must seek the victory.”

Marsaxlokk
19th May
1565


The Fall of Fort Saint Elmo

‘Tis a true & faithful saying –
‘Greater love how can there be
Than to yield up life for thee’
Bishop Doane

Dawn lifted rosy wave-breaks to the shore
Where swept a moment of sickly slaughter
For stubborn struggles, say the laws of war,
May never be allow’d normal quarter;
The Knights prepare
To make their final stand,
One crippl’d in his chair, sword tightly in his hand.

Breachward the Janissaries pour’d,
Pride of the Sultan’s power,
All inside gutted on the sword
Yet not one Knight would cower,
For, still, the Maltese Lion roar’d
For one murderous hour –
Until its throat was cut, then stone-dead fell…
Mustapha stepp’d into that groaning hell,

“So small a son has cost us dear,
Then, what price the father?”
More shots men hear, them very near
Five knights fled thro water,
Guided by Toni Bajada safely, cross the Harbour.

Birgu
June 22nd
1565


Pivotal Point

Like cormorants that seek a submerged prey.
An angel of destruction guards the door
And keeps the peace of our ancestral home

Henry Head

By boat & tower came the great assault,
The Port of Castille reeling neath the blow
All seeming lost, but for that thunderbolt
The gods upon our mortal minds bestow;
Hospital horse
Roll’d down Mdina’s ramp,
Set on a killer course to burn the Muslim camp.

As every able-bodied Turk
Rush’d toward the walls in waves,
The christians perform’d such work
On their wounded & their slaves
That thro the smoke of battle’s murk
A road of error paves –
When verged on perfect triumph Pasha hears
“Relief is sent,” fulfilling all his fears.

He march’d his army back to base,
Of enemy no sign,
His fuming face wick with disgrace,
Neck-heckles, shiver-spine,
“Where are these men from Sicily, the victory was mine!”

Marsa
August 7th
1565


The Last Assault

In an embrace which was warm and fiery.
I sinned surrounded by arms
that were hot and avenging and iron

Forough Farrokhzad

As mines explode in animosity
Toni Bajoda shot up in his bed,
Tho’ wounded he’d discover’d energy,
Men, from the sacred infirmary, led;
All gallant friends,
Tho’ most could barely stand,
Upon this strength depends the freedom of a land.

As knight shields fill’d walls warp’d by mine,
Courageous Callachio
Join’d by the Maltese at the line,
Equal with corragio,
Toni took toll of twenty-nine,
His knife well-loved the foe,
So much an arquebusier took aim,
& sent shot flying in a flash of flame.

Tho’ wounded, in a world of pain,
Toni did not falter,
Brave Muslim bane heaping his slain,
Sacrificial altar,
Fed by force indivisible, “I shall fight for Malta!”

Senglea
August 18th
1565


Gran Sossorso

When liberty is headlong girl
And runs her roads and wends her ways
Liberty will shriek and whirl

Archibald MacLeish

One hundred days of daily hearing, “When?”
Sicily’s Viceroy sends vital relief,
Below Mellieha disembarks his men,
Mustapha strokes his beard in disbelief;
“How many ride?”
“Nigh twenty thousand sire,
Combing the countryside!” “The army may retire.”

All thro’ the night the camp was struck –
As the Maltese heard them yell
Them for more attackers were mistook,
Standing arms, set to repel,
Then saw to sea the foe had snook,
& rang triumphant bell,
Amplified across the purple clover,
“The infidel has fled, the siege over!”

Come dawntint were bells still ringing,
Folk stepp’d outside the wall,
Some dance, some sing, some tear-shedding
On bleeding knees did fall,
As all about black bodies burst, curs’d by the murd’rous maul.

Birgu
September
1565


The Relief of Malta

And so when I saw you, nightmare island,
Fade into the autumnal night
I felt the tears rise up for my land

George Barker

Mustapha heard the news he had been fool’d,
Just six thousand form’d Sicily’s relief,
Piali’s caution was soon over-ruled,
“Land ten thousand & meet us up the coast!”
How felt the Turk
When forced back onto land
For more of war’d black work, with peace so close at hand?

Dispirited once brave men are,
Heads filling with dying fear,
Hard galloping down from Naxxar
Swerve the fresh-faced Chevalier,
Men from Mdina & Mgarr
Now on his flank appear,
Enough to finalise his rising doubt,
Cohesion turns to rabble turns to rout.

Some with his friends, some limping lone,
Crawl to the coastal crack,
Shelves of sandstone bare blood & bone,
Christ-sword plunged in their back,
The Turks plunge toward safety to a shrill, “…& dont come back!”

Saint Paul’s Bay
September 8th
1565

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