Tiger at the Gates



Hector : now we come to the real tussle, Ulysses.


Ulysses : yes: out of which either war or peace is going to come.


Hector : will war come of it?


Ulysses : we shall know in five minutes time.


Hector : and you want war? 


Ulysses : I donít want it. But I'm less sure whether war may not want us.


Hector : our people have brought us together to prevent it. Our meeting itself shows that there is still some hope.


Ulysses : you are young, Hector! It's usual on the eve of every war, for the two leaders of the peoples concerned to meet privately at some innocent village, on a terrace in a garden overlooking a lake. And they decide together that war is the world's worst scourge, and as they watch the rippling reflections in the water, with magnolia petals dropping on to their shoulders, they are both of them peace-loving, modest and friendly. They study one another. They look into each other's eyes. And, warmed by the sun and mellowed by the claret, they can't find anything in the other man's face to justify hatred, nothing, indeed, which doesn't inspire human affection, nothing incompatible in their languages any more, or in their particular way of scratching their nose or drinking wine. They really are exuding the world's desire for peace. And when their meeting is over, they shake hands in the most sincere brotherly fashion, and turn to smile and wave as they drive away. And the next day, war brakes out. One of the privileges of the great is to witness catastrophes from a terrace.


Hector : do you think this is a conversation between enemies we are having?


Ulysses : I should say a duet before the full orchestra. Because we have been created sensible and courteous, we can talk to each other, an hour or so before the war, in the way we shall talk to each other long after it's over, like old antagonists. But as the universe well knows, we are going to fight each other.


Hector : the universe might be mistaken.


Ulysses : let's hope so. But when destiny has brought up two nations, as for years it has brought up yours and mine, the universe knows that destiny wasn't preparing alternative ways for civilization to flower. It was contriving the dance of death, letting loose the brutality and human folly which is all that the gods are really contented by.


Hector : and this time it has chosen to match Greece with troy?


Ulysses : to an astonishing extent. Doom has transfigured everything here with the colour of storm. The future has never impressed me before with such clarity. There is nothing to be done.


Hector : then why a declaration of war? It would have been simpler to have taken troy by surprise.


Ulysses : there's a kind of permission for war which can be given only by the world's mood and atmosphere, the feel of its pulse. It would have been madness to undertake a war without that permission. We didn't have it.


Hector : but you have it now.


Ulysses : I think we do.





    TIGER AT THE GATES----------


                                                                                             Translated by CHRISTOPHER FRY


Selected and Edited by LUNA YAKER