Poem: Is freedom not beautiful?

Caution: This is LONG form poetry.

I took almost a month to spare contiguous time blocks to write this poem. First to research, then to read, and then to conceptualize. Finally, the Epic of Boudicca is out. As I have written earlier in my LinkedIn posts, this is a mammoth effort inspired by the digital artwork of Sarah Polyakov. Below is her magnificent artwork.

This did not come easy. As I prepared for a new project with Priya Patel, we exchanged poetry for our views. Our exchange itself turned into a story, ( click the link), which sent me back to my draft, and I reworked a second version. The result is magnificent, I shall admit. No words can thank you enough, Priya.

Boudicca, The Warrior Queen, by Sarah Polyakov © 2022

I have tried to compose this piece of historical fiction in a contemporary, Shakespearean style. The story is narrated by Boudica or Boudicca, the Warrior Queen of Iceni and Celtic Britannia. The poem is set in today’s context.

This poem is constructed in six parts.

  1. The Day of Travesty: The Romans and some of her tribesmen violate the treaty based on her husband’s will. Boudicca is whipped and her daughters are violated. She laments their condition and vows to avenge this travesty.
  2. The Pondering and the Preparation: Boudicca spends her last day in Iceni pondering over her condition and stares at a mirror, examining her body and mind, which brings her to the point of preparation, and she dresses up for the war.
  3. The Boudicca Speech: Boudicca exhorts the various tribes of Britain to come together with a rallying cry for revenge and freedom.
  4. The First Victories: Inspired by her call to arms, Britons from different tribes come together to defeat the Romans and destroy the temple of Claudius, and capture two other cities including modern London.
  5. The Final Stand: After a night’s rest, Boudicca leads her army into a narrow defile called Watling Street, where the Roman Army surrounds and massacres the Britons. She decides to end her life seeing her army massacred.
  6. The Victorian Monologue: Boudicca talks to Queen Victoria, who adopts her as an icon of freedom. Boudicca extolls the value of freedom and warns Victoria that colonizing puts her on the wrong side of history, especially standing for freedom. This is a pure piece of fiction, inspired by the Boudicca Odes of the Victorian Era.

So, here is the poem:

POEM: Is Freedom not beautiful

PART 1: THE DAY OF TRAVESTY

This sunset I would never forget

The red-soaked skies will turn black soon

I shall remember after many sunsets

A day that was set upon us like this.

A sunrise that seemed remarkably innocent

Sweet lies vanished when the day was done

When trust turned into a travesty

Like how milk and honey turn into poison.

The pain I felt, not when the whip ripped my body

Not when they mocked and ridiculed me,

But when I looked at the hands that held the whip

The hands that signed the agreement that made Iceni immune

The hands that tore my corset and caressed my lip

The hands that ravaged my daughters and left them in ruins.

My braids lay bare and my amulets are broken

The horrors of the morning come back in flashes

My torn corset and the bruises on my skin

trace the intensity of the whip lashes.

From happy and much-loved princess of Iceni

To the violated and vandalized victim of travesty

I turn around and see my daughters weep

In the amber light, their long shadows leap

Their bosoms heaving softly in the silence

and faces turned away, lest they show weakness.

The cuts and bruises from the lashes of the whip

Signatures of scorn, indelible in my heart

A reminder forever, in the future lest I slip

A reminder that our lives and peace are apart

A reminder that when my tears shall run dry

They all shall be dead and those alive will forever cry.

PART 2: THE PONDERING AND THE PREPARATION

Standing in the open plains, I feel the breeze

that now bites my skin, earlier it was just a tease.

I look at the clear sky, the moon, and its scars

and listen to the whisper of the sprinkled stars.

My feet are hugged by many inches of snow

For they seem to know it is my time to go

I clear the snow and feel the soil in my hand

now soiled by the marauders of my land

defecating our villages and temples sacred,

shall be avenged and washed clean by our blood.

Is freedom not beautiful, that we should cherish?

The only thing to live for, fight for and perish

I ponder over this question as I caress the new scars

that shine on my body like those timeless stars.

For the blood that runs in these Celtic veins

Shall lash like the mighty waves of the Eastern Sea

I shall raise the greatest army Briton has ever seen

to fight for this great land of Iceni and set it free.

It is about that this wrong shall be set forever right

I shall bring peace home and a future bright

and shall avenge and quench our freedom thirst

But for one last time, I want to look at myself first.

How can this frail body, bring wrath and terror?

My body shines in the sunlit copper mirror

Slowly, with care, my small fingers caress

the twists and twirls of my tawny tress.

My fingers trace the scars and the cut lip

and the sore skin caused by the vicious grip,

the deep cuts on the neck hidden by the gold necklace,

which I wear to ward off that curious gaze.

Those thin waists that my King embraced

Those eyes that drowned my King in love

Oh, gone are those sensuous days

My thin shoulders now slumped low.

Inside, something churns, bubbles, and boils,

Like a volcano that erupts in turmoil

It is time to now dress up and prepare

and do what shall be right, justice, and fair.

In a wicked wild world that betrays often

For a woman, her wardrobe is her haven

Rummaging, I find the look for my favorite attire

the brooch and my tunic made of dark leather.

All dressed up and I jump on my chariot

I call all — Julie, Mary, Elizabeth, and Harriet

Nobody shall stay and no order to peck

in the forthcoming war, all hands on the deck.

PART 3: THE BOUDICCA SPEECH

Like how amid the raging sea floats a beacon

Amidst the sea of clamoring men

I walk around lifting aloft a flaming torch,

giving them an earful ahead of the long march.

My eyes shine like yellow flintstones

Sparks fly from them, as I breathe fire

that shall set alight their bodies and souls

like a volcano that explodes in fury and ire.

I claim on top of the little mound

and address aloud to all the men I found

‘Dear Iceni and my Celtic Britons

For we shall live free and die at our will’

‘This is our air, our sea, and our land

We shall fight for and blood we shall spill.

There is no half-measure till freedom is got

Let us show the Romans how a war is fought’

‘I can and supposedly I am a woman,

Weak of the body but strong of heart;

And when you are able and strong men,

Can’t you all tear the traitors apart?’

‘Does not your blood, bubble froth and boil

At the injustice and travesty set upon us?

Depriving us of our dignity and sullying our soil

You, all Britons shall rally and put on the wardress.’

‘The silk tunic and the resplendent gold,

The wellness and happiness, for that you all yearn

won’t come when you wear slavery on your sleeves

To be rich, it is the freedom that you have to earn.’

‘Pick your axe, sword, and spear, here is where you drop your fear

To make great stories that your grandchildren shall hear

For the freedom of this great land, let us light the freedom torch

And towards the enemy lines, dear Britons, we shall march. ‘

PART 4: THE FIRST VICTORIES

What a response I get to my rallying cries

For in the wars that follow, the Roman blood flows

The men are furious and the women’s tears run dry

I am proud of the courage that my rag-tag army shows.

Our Icenians and Trinovantians ride together

Locked-in-step and shoulder-to-shoulder

A journey to freedom that we shall win together

A journey that shall cross forests, mounds, and boulders.

Like an irrepressible gale, we slaughter and smother

To their pleads and appeals, our hearts don’t bother

We slash and cut with gibbets, fire, and cross,

destroy their arms and the grains they have amassed.

Burn them alive or mow them down like weeds

None shall be spared for their vicious deeds

No Roman woman shall be spared, nor pity them ever,

for their bosoms fed those greedy mouths and minds clever.

A weed left alive takes down the whole garden

A Roman-free Britannia, this shall create for our children

Horrible, you may opine, all these acts of grotesque and gore,

For at peace they bred, the treacherous children they bore.

Camolodunum that stands on old Britons’ graves

Their hundred soldiers fall to our army brave,

Their heads separated from their Roman spine

The once erect temple of Claudius now lays supine.

Verulamium and Londonium are the next to fall

We laugh at their maimed who now beg and crawl

Bellowing in fury that made faraway Rome tremble

And their myth of invincibility, for once, stumbles.

As they scream and call their myriad Almighty

We, the Britons killed thousands in eighty.

Even the blue waters of the Thames turn crimson

washing Londonium off the traitor’s poison.

None of this sacrifice shall go ever waste

All submitted to our war goddess, Andraste.

It was safe to say that we nearly had a free Briton

When I saw the rise of the Londonium sun.

PART 5: THE FINAL STAND

Torn boots and wet tunics, tired souls but happy hearts

Andraste’s blessings have carried us this far.

Romans will flee, in their horses, carriages, and carts

Across the seas, and won’t return ever.

Tonight, we shall try to get some sleep

For there is no breeze and the skies are clear

Shall we count the stars or count the sheep

For fresh feet and minds, are what Romans shall fear.

The day came when we finally meet

The Romans march toward the Watling Street

Rested and fresh, march our rank and file

Only to discover that the path narrowed into a defile.

Narrow the entrance and narrower the middle

Our rag-tag army perplexed by this riddle

Blocked in the front and fired upon from the sides

Showers of arrow fall on us like the Eastern Sea’s tides.

‘It ain’t straightforward’ cry out my file and rank

I realize this is no more a simple Roman prank

Our vanguard is blocked by another thousand and five

The voice of the Romans hollering at an all-time high.

This is the day I always dread in my dreams

No more the victorious cries, but I hear only screams

It is clear that our triumph had run its course

Now there is no turning back or other recourse.

We stand, we fight, and we go down swinging

We are the true progeny of our honest upbringing

In a couple of hours, there is no Briton standing

Neither a woman nor an animal is spared alive.

The narrow alley is awash with crimson

Of a husband, a son, and a lover, all Britons.

Our dream of freedom is now forever gone

I do not wish to see another dawn.

PART 6: THE VICTORIAN MONOLOGUE

How tables are now turned, that you wear the British crown

Dear Queen, your name same as mine in meaning and noun

Tell me, is your mind at peace, when you stare at the stars

and you know that are we the opposites of the same war?

Aren’t you today’s Rome and India, today’s Iceni?

Trust turns into a travesty and trade turns into tyranny

In the East Indies, the natives scamper like my Celtic Britons

Dark in the skin, but their blood is red like that runs in our veins.

For one Boudicca here, there are far too many

to fight your might and set their land free

Their blood flows as your soldiers make merry

and feeds the acorn that nurtures their freedom tree.

My statue at the Westminster Bridge

shall bear witness to this hypocritical grudge

The venerated Tennyson sings about my exploits

So much that it is part of your Royal introits.

Dear Victoria, you had Cowper at your side

Writes ‘She, with all a Monarch’s pride

Rushed to the battle, fought and died’

Eulogies are fine, it is time for you to decide.

If we made every tribe call Britain their own

and brought them together for a common cause since

Yet I see you watch from your exalted throne

And usurping the diamond from the Punjab prince

That which started as a quest for spices and trade

But finally, it is their freedom, with the natives paid.

Let go, dear Victoria, for the sake of our United Kingdom

Men maimed and killed, women violated and withered,

How many times would people trade blood for freedom?

Children lay wasted, not knowing what happened.

Aren’t you worried about the consequences dire,

Because of your thirst for a sunset-less empire?

Shall our progeny weep, for the legacy you sow?

What would people say, when you are buried ten feet below?

For today we are here, and tomorrow we will be gone,

I hope that those children can rise to a free dawn

For freedom is beautiful, when it is here and now

present like the air we breathe and the land we love.

Dear Victoria, my namesake, for you I shall pray

Make it right now, do not dither or delay

The epitaph of every Boudicca shall forever say.

‘.For a free tomorrow, Boudicca’s have died today’

If you have reached this point and have taken the time and interest to read this long poem, I am grateful to you. I hope it gives us the opportunity to respect and understand the Celtic Warrior Queen Boudicca of Iceni, and her passion and sacrifice for freedom.

~Ashok Subramanian © 2022

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Ashok Subramanian

A poetic mind. Imagines characters, plots. Loves Philosophy, Literature and Science. Poetry-Short Stories-Novels- Poetry Reviews-Book Reviews