Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Degradation

 To listen to an audio recital of the poem, click here


The Degradation

(for Alfred Dreyfus)

Friday January 4th should have seen
the public degradation of Alfred Dreyfus
but the courts postponed it by a day
when they realised how much more amusing it would be
if it took place on the Sabbath

Framed and condemned as a Prussian spy
the former Captain was to be deported to Devil’s Island
but only after he had undergone the public humiliation
of an “execution procession”

Inmate number 164 was woken at 7.30am
his epaulettes his brass his buttons his gold officer’s braid
were loosened so that they would tear more easily
his sword was scored to be sure that it would be break

Then he was searched handcuffed
delivered to the Republican Guard
Mounted troops escorted a black wagon
drawn by four horses
to the Ecole Militaire
where an iron gate was kept closed
to prevent the vast crowd spilling onto the Cour Morland

      Every regiment of the Paris garrison
had sent two detachments to the ceremony
one of soldiers in arms the other of young recruits

Stiff and stoical
maintaining the steel bearing of a soldier
Dreyfus listened to the reading of the act of judgement

General Darras then stood up on his stirrups
raised his sword and declared
“Alfred Dreyfus you are not worthy of bearing arms
In the name of the French people we degrade you”
In riposte Dreyfus shouted back
“Soldiers they are degrading an innocent man
Long live France! Long live the Army!”

To which the crowd beyond the gates retorted
with cries of “Death!”

A Sergeant-Major slashed the gold braids
from his cap and uniform
stripped the regimental numbers from his collar
ripped off the brass buttons
then knelt to tear from Dreyfus’ left leg
the red stripes that denoted him a soldier

Finally he broke the prisoner’s sword over his knee
pulled off his scabbard and belt
and threw them to the ground

Once more Dreyfus protested his innocence

The year in question was 1895

Because it was the Sabbath
Dreyfus’ family were unable
to attend the ceremony

Among those Jews who did attend were
the journalist Theodor Herzl and
less famously though much more famous
the actress Sarah Bernhardt

"The Degradation" is published in "Welcome To My World, Selected Poems 1973-2013", The Argaman Press. Click here to purchase the book.

Copyright © 2014 David Prashker
All rights reserved
The Argaman Press

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