Student Poem:
The Start of the War
A Homeric Account of the Assassination of Archduke Ferdinand

By Peyton Louise Robuck

Darkness and night swirled over their eyes ...

Sing O Muse of the shot which began it—the war that would end all
Wars. O sing of the anguish, destruction, and slaughter that fast makes
All of the pain, desolation, and bloodshed at Ilium look small.
Tell me, what was it that drove him to murder the Austrian Archduke?
Hunger for glory, a thirst for revenge, and the zeal of a young man,
National pride that was wounded by Austrian rule of his own land.
These were like pow’rfully dangerous chargers a charioteer had
Hitched to a four-horse chariot, whipping them furiously and
Hard, and they hurtle on faster and faster till out of control, yes,
Pounding the ground with their hooves in a deafening rumble like thunder—Ominous boomings of thunder that travel the earth, and the people
Think it’s a distant and meaningless murmur, but louder it comes then,
Crashing right over their heads as the hurricane drowns them completely.
Those wild horses continue to run, and they kick up a sandstorm,
Blinding the charioteer so he can see not what is coming,
Not what he rushes to meet, what results that will come, and it makes all
Onlookers wonder and ponder if driver is driven or driving.

Thus was he spurred on to action, Gavrilo, the son of Marija,
Born to his father the Serb called Petar and fam’ly of Princip.
June twenty-eighth was the day, nineteen fourteen was the year when
Angry assassins attempted to murder the Austrian Archduke,
Doomed to a terrible death that the world would forget not.
After his comrades attempted to kill him and failed in their mission,
Princip of fateful conspirator’s pistol withdrew to a deli,
List’ning perhaps to a voice in his head like ol’ Nestor’s that counselled
Food, yes, a meal before figuring out how to deal with disaster.

    O sing of the slaughter that fast makes
All of the pain, desolation, and bloodshed
at Ilium look small.

Oh, but the voice in his head could maybe have really been Fate’s voice—Fate, as a Greek god speaking to mortal! It whispered and urged him,
Taking his hand as it led him to changing the world as they knew it.
Hearing commotion and voices from out in the street of the deli
Princip of fateful conspirator’s pistol was roused from his musings.
Stiff’ning, he suddenly looked up with fear, as a mouse is at all times
Watchful, alert, and prepared for a secret and swift disappearance,
Ready to run for its life in a moment or hide in an instant,
Small eyes darting about, ears twitching in tense agitation,
Frightened by movement or noise that might possibly signal a feline
Coming to pounce on and seize him and drag him away to his grim death.
So did he look up to see the commotion, on guard for the worst but …
Lo! ‘Twas the Austrian Archduke! He sat with his wife in the car there—
Feet from Gavrilo, he sat since the driver had taken a wrong turn.
Forward he stepped with his heart beating fast and he fired his pistol—
Bullets that killed two now but would kill many millions more too.
One hit his wife in the abdomen; one hit the neck of the Archduke,
Doomed to a terrible death that the world would forget not.
Crumpling unconscious, his wife fell onto his lap, and he begged his
Darling to live for their children, but both had been mortally wounded.
Darkness and night swirled over their eyes a few minutes apart, and
Death came and led them away and prepared for the ones that would follow.
That was the start of the war, although certainly not the whole cause, no,
Nor the whole story, but that must be told at some time in the future.

Peyton Louise Robuck is a high school junior living in Houston, TX. She enjoys Greek and Latin, and plans to study Classics in college; she is considering several institutions, including Baylor Honors College and Hillsdale College. 


If you enjoyed this poem, check out our series on the history of ideas (a.k.a. “the Great Conversation”), like this post on citizenship or this one on science. You might also enjoy Anchored, our weekly podcast on education, public discourse, and culture.

Published on 4th December, 2020.

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