Decebal to his people

Proceeding on the idea of defending and protecting what’s yours, against all odds and come what may, I remembered something my father gave me along in life, which is this poem concerning the alledged speech that the dacian king Decebal held before the defenders of the Sarmisegetuza citadel:

“This life is a lost boon if you
Don’t live it as you wanted to!
Much would a warlike, ruthless foe
Enslave us all! Our birth, we know,
Was woe enough; would you get through
Another dreadful woe?

Death, even for a godlike scion,
Is a hard law, as hard as iron!
It is all one to breathe one’s last
A lad or an old man bypast,
But not the same to die a lion
Or a poor dog chained fast.

What if you fight in the first line,
What if by great exploits you shine?
A grumbler cannot better be
Than those who fear to fight and flee!
To murmur is to have no spine
And make a bootless plea!

Like dead men, cowards will keep still!
The living – let them laugh at will!
The really good ones laugh and die.
Hold, therefore, heroes, your brows high
And let your lusty cheering fill
All hell and earth and sky!

Blood may in floods and torrents flow,
The arm assail with spear and blow,
When the fierce enemies are dead!
Well, you may think yourself Godhead,
When you but laugh at what the foe
Does more than all else dread.

They’re Romans, we know that. So what?
Where they not Romans but our god,
Zamolxes, with his creatures, still
We would, sure, ask them what they will –
They won’t get of our land a jot:
They have their skies to fill!

Now, men, to sword and shield and horn!
‘Twas bad enough that we were born;
But he is free to go whose fright
Makes him too dastardly to fight,
And if there is someone foresworn,
Let him avoid our sight!

What I have told you is enow!
You swore on shields your oath of love
For Dacia! Might resides in you
And in the gods! But, heroes, know
That they, the gods, are far above,
Our foes – at a stone’s throw!”

– by George Cosbuc

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