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Simon Bolivar

by James Graham 

Posted: 04 April 2013
Word Count: 124
Summary: Another historical subject. I hope the poem gives a clear picture without needing too much background. This is a first draft, so criticise!
Related Works: Redemption • 

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Simon Bolívar

His battles are best not told
in a poem. We’ve grown out
of Homer. Like Agamemnon
he sent men to their deaths.

At the expense of blood
he scoured away the last conquistadors,
herders of slave-miners, pilferers
of Inca gold.

But he did better: a refusal
fit for modern epic. Called Liberator,
welcomed in Lima, Bogotá, Caracas
with flowers and songs, he was offered
(for the taking) that jackpot prize
the ravenous eyes of power-men covet:

Dictator. He reflected,
and refused. Giving
the following reason:

You cannot make a just society
with instruments of repression.
It must be done by talking, voting,
thinking: the long hard way.
However much is left undone
when we are old, we must bequeath.

Let us begin.

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Comments by other Members

James Graham at 10:39 on 16 April 2013  Report this post
I’m a little sad (awww...) that nobody has commented on my new poem so far. Is it un-commentable upon?


Bazz at 20:22 on 19 April 2013  Report this post
Hi James, sorry no one's commented! I wasn't familiar with Simon Bolivar, so I had to look him up first. I like the poem, especially the beginning and the end, which set an interesting tone, but due to unfamiliarity with the subject i was a bit lost at first.
I feel like the conclusion is too quickly reached, perhaps, without giving enough detail to work with. Sorry if that's a bit vague. Perhaps telling me what bolivar did, without telling me who he was, doesn't help me, but then it's my fault for not knowing who he was in the first place!

Dave Morehouse at 21:57 on 19 April 2013  Report this post
I don't know how but I completely missed this one. I will get back with comments soon. Again, my sincere apologies. Dave

James Graham at 11:02 on 21 April 2013  Report this post
Here’s a short note on Bolivar. He was born in 1783 in Caracas, Venezuela. He became a soldier and rose to high rank. In the early years of the 19th century there was an anti-colonial movement in every part of South America. To cut a long story short, what Bolivar did was create a new army - not unlike Cromwell’s ‘New Model Army’ - and finally defeat the Spanish forces in several battles. So he brought the independence movement to success in Venezuela, Bolivia, Colombia, Peru and eventually all the Latin American countries.

He was implacably opposed to slavery, wanted to free all slaves and give them land, and believed in a democratic system of government. What I admire about him, and why I wrote the poem, is that soon after his final victory, when he was virtually worshipped as a liberator in all these countries, he was offered the role of dictator of what was then called ‘Gran Colombia’. But he refused, saying that dictatorship and social justice were incompatible. A just society meant freedom, human rights and democracy.

He was partly influenced in his decision by George Washington, who soon after the American Revolution was offered the title of King, and refused. He followed in the footsteps of the Founding Fathers. Unlike so many power-hungry men before and since, he was able to back off from absolute power.

I hope this will throw some light on the subject. I knew very little about Bolivar until I read a biography recently; South America is a bit off the map for us - well, us Europeans at least.

For anyone who likes those long resonant Spanish names, Here’s his full name:

Simón José Antonio de la Santísima Trinidad Bolívar y Palacios Ponte y Blanco.



The problem, though, is that you can't get all this just from the poem. You know it's South America from the place-names, and you can just about deduce that he liberated South American countries. Is that right? Does the poem convey that much? Even if it does, readers need more background.

Dave Morehouse at 14:34 on 24 April 2013  Report this post
In the states students are taught early on that Simon (see-MONE) Bolivar was the 'George Wahington of South America'. He, like Washington, was offered a kingship and refused. I may be biased because I have known the backstory since elementary school back in the late 50's.

The introductory stanza is exactly that. A wonderful intro to a short biography. It sets up the basis for a poem and, at the same time, humbly excuses itself; the story is too great, too extensive for words. It is a unique setup for a poem and sets a strong tone for me as a reader. I love that.

I admire your brevity through the rest of the poem. You cover broad topics with a single phrase and don't beat the reader up with details stanza after stanza. We could all learn from that example.

If I were to pick away at any portion of this poem it would be here:
with flowers and songs, he was offered
(for the taking) that jackpot prize
the ravenous eyes of power-men covet:

Dictator. He reflected,
and refused. Giving
the following reason:

I might throw form out the window and prefer to read it this way to make it flow more smoothly and keep the reader involved.

with flowers and songs. He was offered
for the taking that jackpot prize
the ravenous eyes of power-men covet: Dictator.

He reflected,
and refused. Giving
the following reason:

That, of course, is just my thought. Perhaps if I heard you it read aloud I would see and hear the folly of my suggestion. Great poem for a hero of early democracy. Cheers, Dave.

TessaF at 13:29 on 25 April 2013  Report this post
Hi James – so sorry I have not commented in ages!

Here are my impressions: I love the boldness of the opening lines –
His battles are best not told
in a poem. We’ve grown out
of Homer.

Very early on you let us know battles are not noble, young men are sent to die: it's fitting then that you do not dwell on the battles as this is "a modern epic".

I do like the use of “scoured away”, showing us what a stain on South America
the conquistadors were.

I think that 'Dictator'(for me anyway) has some shock value in being located at the start of stanza 4, since stanza 3 was all about Bolivar being a liberator. He seems like a noble man.

The last line is very uplifting “Let us begin” – and it's a completely fantastic last line.

Just a few thoughts: I'm sure I have not done your poem justice though.

James Graham at 15:42 on 25 April 2013  Report this post
Thanks, Dave and Tessa. Dave, I thought you would have been taught about Bolivar at school. I wasn’t, and knew very little about him until I read a new biography. Probably Europeans in general (except Spanish and Portuguese) don’t know much about him, or about South America. It was inspiring to read that he was an exception to the rule that men who have power within reach grab it with both hands and often go on to abuse it abominably. In our own time: Pinochet, Saddam, Assad etc etc.

I like your suggestions. Certainly the parenthesis can go. As for ‘Dictator’ - a word placed at the end of a line, or at the end of several smooth-running lines, can be more emphatic than if it is run on to the next line. I’ll weigh this up and may well change it.

Tessa, you clearly understood the point that Bolivar was a military commander but that, in a modern poem, his battles should be mentioned but not narrated in detail. The Greek epic isn’t our thing - at least, not writing modern equivalents. According to military historians, Bolivar was as good as Napoleon - but that’s for military historians to write about.

I’m glad those lines stood out for you. I wondered if ‘Let us begin’ might seem like a tailing-off, but I’m reassured. Thank you for your comment.


V`yonne at 18:08 on 26 April 2013  Report this post
I see you got some feedback and I had to read your note before commenting as did Dave so maybe the poem isn't as self-explanatory as you want it to be nd of course now that we have read that note we cannot go back to that position :/ of ignorance but one line for me just keeps reading wrong and that is:
At the expense of blood

I mean isn't that what soldiers do?

he was offered
(for the taking)

seems like tautology to me.

I liked the ending.

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