As the sorry end to America’s “forever war” plays out across Afghanistan, the Hound has rediscovered Ave Imperatrix (Hail, Empress!), Oscar Wilde’s 1881 poetic critique of monarchy which exquisitely captures the sorrow and futility of sending brave young men to their deaths in far-flung lands. Wilde was writing in the wake of the Second Anglo-Afghan War, part of the Great Game between the British and Russian empires. His words ring true today.

Set in this stormy Northern sea,Queen of these restless fields of tide,England! what shall men say of thee,Before whose feet the worlds divide?

The earth, a brittle globe of glass,Lies in the hollow of thy hand,And through its heart of crystal pass,Like shadows through a twilight land,

The spears of crimson-suited war,The long white-crested waves of fight,And all the deadly fires which areThe torches of the lords of Night.

The yellow leopards, strained and lean,The treacherous Russian knows so well,With gaping blackened jaws are seenLeap through the hail of screaming shell.

The strong sea-lion of England’s warsHath left his sapphire cave of sea,To battle with the storm that marsThe stars of England’s chivalry.

The brazen-throated clarion blowsAcross the Pathan’s reedy fen,And the high steeps of Indian snowsShake to the tread of armed men.

And many an Afghan chief, who liesBeneath his cool pomegranate-trees,Clutches his sword in fierce surmiseWhen on the mountain-side he sees

The fleet-foot Marri scout, who comesTo tell how he hath heard afarThe measured roll of English drumsBeat at the gates of Kandahar.

For southern wind and east wind meetWhere, girt and crowned by sword and fire,England with bare and bloody feetClimbs the steep road of wide empire.

O lonely Himalayan height,Grey pillar of the Indian sky,Where saw’st thou last in clanging flightOur winged dogs of Victory?

The almond-groves of Samarcand,Bokhara, where red lilies blow,And Oxus, by whose yellow sandThe grave white-turbaned merchants go:

And on from thence to Ispahan,The gilded garden of the sun,Whence the long dusty caravanBrings cedar wood and vermilion;

And that dread city of CaboolSet at the mountain’s scarped feet,Whose marble tanks are ever fullWith water for the noonday heat:

Where through the narrow straight BazaarA little maid CircassianIs led, a present from the CzarUnto some old and bearded Khan, –

Here have our wild war-eagles flown,And flapped wide wings in fiery fight;But the sad dove, that sits aloneIn England – she hath no delight.

In vain the laughing girl will leanTo greet her love with love-lit eyes:Down in some treacherous black ravine,Clutching his flag, the dead boy lies.

And many a moon and sun will seeThe lingering wistful children waitTo climb upon their father’s knee;And in each house made desolate

Pale women who have lost their lordWill kiss the relics of the slain –Some tarnished epaulette – some sword –Poor toys to soothe such anguished pain.

For not in quiet English fieldsAre these, our brothers, lain to rest,Where we might deck their broken shieldsWith all the flowers the dead love best.

For some are by the Delhi walls,And many in the Afghan land,And many where the Ganges fallsThrough seven mouths of shifting sand.

And some in Russian waters lie,And others in the seas which areThe portals to the East, or byThe wind-swept heights of Trafalgar.

O wandering graves! O restless sleep!O silence of the sunless day!O still ravine! O stormy deep!Give up your prey! Give up your prey!

And thou whose wounds are never healed,Whose weary race is never won,O Cromwell’s England! must thou yieldFor every inch of ground a son?

Go! crown with thorns thy gold-crowned head,Change thy glad song to song of pain;Wind and wild wave have got thy dead,And will not yield them back again.

Wave and wild wind and foreign shorePossess the flower of English land –Lips that thy lips shall kiss no more,Hands that shall never clasp thy hand.

What profit now that we have boundThe whole round world with nets of gold,If hidden in our heart is foundThe care that groweth never old?

What profit that our galleys ride,Pine-forest-like, on every main?Ruin and wreck are at our side,Grim warders of the House of Pain.

Where are the brave, the strong, the fleet?Where is our English chivalry?Wild grasses are their burial-sheet,And sobbing waves their threnody.

O loved ones lying far away,What word of love can dead lips send!O wasted dust! O senseless clay!Is this the end! is this the end!

Peace, peace! we wrong the noble deadTo vex their solemn slumber so;Though childless, and with thorn-crowned head,Up the steep road must England go,

Yet when this fiery web is spun,Her watchmen shall descry from farThe young Republic like a sunRise from these crimson seas of war.