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Robert Graves (1895–1985). Fairies and Fusiliers. 1918.

7. Goliath and David

(For D. C. T., Killed at Fricourt, March, 1916)

YET once an earlier David took

Smooth pebbles from the brook:

Out between the lines he went

To that one-sided tournament,

A shepherd boy who stood out fine

And young to fight a Philistine

Clad all in brazen mail. He swears

That he’s killed lions, he’s killed bears,

And those that scorn the God of Zion

Shall perish so like bear or lion.

But … the historian of that fight

Had not the heart to tell it right.

Striding within javelin range,

Goliath marvels at this strange

Goodly-faced boy so proud of strength.

David’s clear eye measures the length;

With hand thrust back, he cramps one knee,

Poises a moment thoughtfully,

And hurls with a long vengeful swing.

The pebble, humming from the sling

Like a wild bee, flies a sure line

For the forehead of the Philistine;

Then … but there comes a brazen clink,

And quicker than a man can think

Goliath’s shield parries each cast.

Clang! clang! and clang! was David’s last.

Scorn blazes in the Giant’s eye,

Towering unhurt six cubits high.

Says foolish David, “Damn your shield!

And damn my sling! but I’ll not yield.”

He takes his staff of Mamre oak,

A knotted shepherd-staff that’s broke

The skull of many a wolf and fox

Come filching lambs from Jesse’s flocks.

Loud laughs Goliath, and that laugh

Can scatter chariots like blown chaff

To rout; but David, calm and brave,

Holds his ground, for God will save.

Steel crosses wood, a flash, and oh!

Shame for beauty’s overthrow!

(God’s eyes are dim, His ears are shut.)

One cruel backhand sabre-cut—

“I’m hit! I’m killed!” young David cries,

Throws blindly forward, chokes … and dies.

And look, spike-helmeted, grey, grim,

Goliath straddles over him.