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By Niccolo Machiavelli

Written at a very close time to The Prince, this poem strikes an unexpected chord with its sorrow towards the folly of war and the grief of conflict. For those of you acquainted only with the general term 'Machiavellian,' this will confuse you. This poem, though not intended to, connects quite directly with today's conflict in Iraq in a most shocking manner.

The poem was probably written for an Italian Carnival festival around 1513. According to my edition of The Prince, the 'new swain' was Leo X, the Medici Pope. The Turkish sultan is Selim I Yavuz, who ruled from 1512 to 1521. He was indeed a harsh and brutal conqueror.

Blessed spirits are we,
Who from seats on high
Have come down here to earth's low floor
Because indeed we see
In what distress the peoples lie
And what slight reasons stir men up to war;
We want to show
To him who strays from Truth's bright star
That nothing here below
Brings Our Lord such heartfelt ease
As when men lay down arms and live in peace.

The life on earth of humankind
Is martyrdom, bitter and cruel and long;
Hateful their pains, and no cure can they find
For their disease; and so their constant song
Is but of endless grief and pain,
Of which all day and night they must complain,
Lamenting, wailing every wrong,
Sobbing aloud and calling out their grief,
And each man asking mercy and relief.

This is for God a bitter pain,
As it must be for any living heart
Where traces of humanity remain;
And so he told us to impart,
And to you people here below explain,
How fierce his anger is and his disdain
At seeing how his kingdom disappears.
His flock grows ever few with the years--
Unless new ways come in with the new swain.

So deep is the fierce thirst to lay
This ancient country waste
Which once gave laws to all of humankind,
That you are wholly blind
And don't see how your quarrels pave the way
For enemies who press you thick and fast.
The Turkish sultan, day by day,
Sharpens his sword, and rubs his bloody hands,
Ready to burst upon your peaceful lands.

Raise, then, your weapons high
Against a cruel foe;
But to your own, bring healing remedy.
Lay down that old hostility
Fostered between you since long, long ago.
Turn on the real foe your common strength,
Else Heaven will at length
Deny to you the right to any force,
Seeing that pious zeal in you has run its course.

Dismiss, then, all fears,
All hatreds and rancorous jeers,
All cruelty, avarice, pride:
Bring back honor and trust,
The love of the true and the just,
And turn back the world to the ages of gold:
The heavenly gates will then open wide
To let the blessed people inside,
And the fire of virtue will never grow cold.
Source: Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince. Revised translation by Robert Adams. W. W. Norton & Company, 2nd Ed. (1992)

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