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How to Lose a War

The Spokesman, 90

Christopher Hampton – Three Poems



The kaleidoscope has been shaken. The pieces are in flux. Soon they will settle again. Before they do, let us re-order this world around us.’

Tony Blair, Labour Party Conference Speech, 2nd October 2001


This is what transcendence does to us.

It brings about the triumph of the cloaked,

the invisible, the unaccountable,

over that which can be brought to book.

Things driven by the god-obsessed

and their so-called godless enemies

sweep aside the human context

even as the hidden hand of profit does.

Now, with the moral order of the West

assuming beneficent control of the just

against the absolutes of Islam,

the politics of transcendence float above

the brutal politics of hatred and death.

And how are we to treat this high-altitude

language of the liberal conscience pitting

compassion against force, and telling us,

even as the bombers move in on Kabul,

‘the values we believe in should shine through

whatever we do in Afghanistan.’




So take it up again. What waits in silence

through the tragedies of history, in the broken mists,

beyond the doorstep, out below the planets,

where the questions beckon, is the key: the word-game.

Play it cool, play deep, play hard, make patterns

count in the thrust of dispute and disjunction;

bring together what in a century of betrayals

pulls apart – these broken imperatives of promise

that have driven millions to crisis and despair.

It’s not an option. There are words that cross the frontiers

of hope and failure, to challenge the violence

that isolates and make it possible to act

against the operators of the killer-systems

we have helped to put in place. And what they start from

is refusal, stubbornness of quest, insistence

on the fundamentals of distinction by which

fuses are lit that might begin to bring back light

to a darkened and damaged universe.





October 1916 until July 1917


To be free to think and dream

as she walks the rain

in Madam Kautsky’s cloak.

To feel as much at home

with the green of her plants

as ever she’d been on the battlefield

of European politics.

The world was there with her of course –

that murderous world

she’d walked the tightrope of

through all the jugglings of expediency,

up to the edge with the SPD

and its war-credit sell-out.


Listen! When I get back

there’ll be no more meetings,

clandestine or otherwise!

I’ll take my stand

in the thick of the action

where the wind roars in the ears.

I’ve had enough of talking.

What we need’s commitment,

getting at the roots, making things new!


Now though it’s back to my plants!


Christopher Hampton is the author of The Ideology of the Text and editor of: 

A Radical Reader: The struggle for change in England 1381-1914.

 These poems are from his latest collection, Border Crossings (Katabasis Press).


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