Prologue for the Congress of Verona, 1914

 

Europe stands upon the brink of bloody war and civil strife.

New powers arise as ancient empires totter to their grave,

While borders meander, made perilous on both sides,

From dormant enmities burned awake, 

By murderous acts, and incendiary lies.

 

Lurking suspicions and our mutual dread

Consume our treasure and our hard-won skill,

As Promethean mills spew plums of acrid breath,

Forging fire-belching ships that can rain meteors of death

To ignite cowering cities into a living hell.

 

Our children may come to shudder in despair,

As new wonders fill the air with bird-like grace,

But carry on their wings, whirling swords of power,

And cloaked in their bellies,

The eagle’s taloned iron embrace.

 

War is the fox

And we may be the hares.

 

Too long, our wonted ways of thought

Have crept as snails,

Cowering in their shells,

A canopy of pearl, that murmurs with

The ocean’s soothing waves,

A lullaby that we may sleep.

 

But change bursts in,

Like the raven’s daggered beak,

A sudden, pounding harbinger of death.

 

Time is the wolf,

And we may be the sheep.

 

We must change or die.

The shadow of our petty bickering dances large

Upon the wall of history,

Cast ominous by sharpened armies

And surging powers of the sea.

 

The world is ours to lose.

If the bones be true,

Our long-lost forbears cowered in caves,

Ragged, hungry and afraid.

Then one nurtured fire,

To drive away the monstrous beasts of night.

A first step, to enlightenment and ourselves.

 

Will we let their efforts go in vain?

Will we watch our long-built cities turn to ash,

And see young men devoured

By bullet, blade and creeping silent gas?

 

Or will a new amity arise from meeting in this holy place,

Where honesty and grace outflank deceit?

I brought you here in friendship, to Verona,

My family’s ancient seat,

In the hope that we might seek,

For laurels, far nobler than a victor’s bloody crown –

The fruitful cornucopia of a just and lasting peace.

 

For each in each, our little lives begin

With howls of protest

And a mother’s breast,

Then with our growing powers

We climb the heady slopes

Of Fortune’s vaunted peaks,

Until, at last, we mistake our steps,

And slide into the dark crevasse

Of eyeless and indomitable Death.

 

And yet, it is for us to choose,

For all of you tonight,

Whether we make of life a tragedy,

Swept along by fate to our inevitable doom,

Dragging with us many more besides,

Or if, despite the end, we cast off our gloom,

And make of it, a comedy,

Buoyed by music and by laughter,

And sail the swirling random tides,

With nothing for our compass,

But our mutual love.

 

Love, there, I have said the word.

Verona’s patron saint of love,

My ancient ancestor,

Whose trials and triumph

Framed the very fabric of our state,

Will be your other host tonight,

Brought alive by the gentle magic of this stage.

 

Her council will be good, and her conclusions wise.

And even a happy ending may be supplied, for her and us,

For though you have heard much of her demise,

There is a real story that you do not know,

The true tale of Juliet, and her Romeo.

©2016 Gavin Miller. All rights reserved.