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The Age of Heroes
His hair was the color of the weak winter sun;
His face was the color of the purest of snow.
His blood was his innocence, pure and unfettered;
His eyes were the ghost of the green grass below.
He did not move from the place where he lay,
And the horses half-trod on his fingers weak.
The enemy silently under the stars
Went beating a path with bloodstained feet.
Around him lay kisses and famous last words,
About him the swords they swore would not break.
Promises, curses, and legends remembered
Stained every breath that he didn’t dare take.
“Hear me, my gods!” the heroes had said,
“Tell all your children we never shall die,
“For bravery lives where all life is naught!”
The snow and the stars alone heard their cry.
He stared at the stars, and he thought of the gods,
Wondering, vaguely, how long he would last:
He thought of his future, which sat like a gate,
And the darkness beyond it, yawning and vast.
“The years shall be ours!” the heroes had cried,
“And the glory and honour shall be ours as well.”
And someone said “charge,” and everyone ran,
Thinking of heaven, colliding with hell.
One after one into Death’s hard embrace
Fell every last soldier, gallant and bold.
The stars in the sky looked down at the snow,
Indifferently burning, silent and old.
And only one man looked back at the stars
And kept his eyes open as he lay in the snow:
His blood was his innocence, staining the ground,
His eyes like the ghost of the green grass below.
He was not remembered in songs or in prayers;
The sons of his sons did not know his name.
But he looked at the sky between fading breaths:
He did not close his eyes, and he did not feel shame.
“I am mortal,” he said, and he spoke to the stars,
For he knew that the gods would not care to hear.
“And I am no hero, and I am no god,
“I’m frightened of death and I give in to fear.
“But hear me, o Death, for I see what I am,
“This world full of heroes is cruel to me.
“O Death, have pity: I am only a man.”
He smiled just once, and then he was free.
His face was the color of the purest of snow:
His hair was the color of the weak winter sun.
The enemy scoffed at him under the stars.
The heroes were dead. An age had begun.