A chronicle of mankind’s destructive urges through the ages, rendered in four epic poems spanning four wars and 1,500 years.
In his debut, Lyons offers a tetralogy—a group of four related plays written as epic poems in rhyming couplets, based on a style used in classical Athens, Greece, but unique for our age. He starts with an Indian conflict between the Gupta Empire and the invading Ephthalite Huns in the year 515, then moves on to the 1759 French and Indian War. Next he depicts a World War I battle at Amiens in 1918, followed by an undated global nuclear Armageddon, as viewed on computer screens in a Jerusalem bunker. Although widely disparate in time and place, some narratives share important threads: Brothers fight one another or participants see power, ambition and greed as the causes of conflict but stand by as the blood flows. Change is the only constant as empires rise and fall and one disaster foreshadows the next; for example, in the third poem, a priest blesses the body parts of British soldiers “blasted to atoms,” a prelude to the splitting of atoms in the fourth and final poem. In that nuclear disaster, a fictional U.S. secretary of state and his family fly into Israel to try to defuse the threats of a Middle Eastern leader, but even the leader’s brother can’t talk him out of starting a war. Lyons walks a high wire with this ambitious, difficult project—particularly with the rhyming couplets, which don’t always sing—but he successfully conveys a tragic picture of human depravity and ultimate self-destruction. Overall, it’s a work of great scholarship; not an easy read but not overly difficult, either, as ample footnotes and maps explain historical context when necessary.
A sometimes brilliant and often moving poetic exploration of humanity’s warlike ways.