a poem about revenge
Boudicca (also known as Boadicea) of the British Celtic Iceni tribe of East Anglia (Eastern England) led a rebellion against the Roman army in 60 CE after being flogged in the streets and her daughters raped. They successfully defeated (destroyed perhaps is more like it) 3 settlements — not taking prisoners but slaughtering anyone left behind (a total of almost 80,000 people). They were defeated in the Battle of Watling Street, themselves losing about 80,000 people. Boudicca, who had spurred on her troops from a chariot, her daughters by her side, drank poison rather than be taken prisoner. History does not tell us of the fate of her daughters.
As myself a woman of Celtic descent, Boudicca’s name has always been a source of inspiration and empowerment — and still is. However, after reading some of the details of the rebellion army, I am reminded that, like many things, morality and justice can be very complicated issues.
Hail to thee, mistress of revenge, curator of rebellion, you
who carried the assault of your daughters as a savage
avenging sword slashing through an ocean of imperialism:
the blood of 80,000 Romans crashing onto the shore
Did you stand in the surf, let the receding waters
carry away the pain of your flogging? With each death
were your daughters able to soothe a wound, forget a thrust,
feel again a glimmer of safety in their world? Or were they
so thoroughly terrorized you had no choice but
to incite a bloody massacre?
Did you ever weep for the daughters of your enemies?
Hail to thee, Warrior Queen, should we call upon you
as you once called upon the Goddess Andraste?
If we release a hare from the folds of our dresses
will it lead us to the White House? Or to the borders
where children wither in cages? or to Alabama
where women’s choices are being punished?
or to the void where Native women are disappearing? Or to the graves
where pregnant black women are falling? Or to the darkened corners,
closets of depraved sexuality where children
and women are being stowed? Where do we even begin?
and where does it end? Must we destroy
the families of our enemies? Raze whole cities to the ground,
ride aboard our chariots, amass our troops, yell encouraging words
of defending freedom, of a woman’s resolve to win or die! Do we
ride to victory or defeat? For where there is one there is
most assuredly the other. After the Roman soldiers
flayed your back, defiled your daughters, your army slayed
their mothers and smashed the heads of their children; they in turn
slaughtered your army and speared the wives of soldiers
come to see a husband’s victory. But I ask –
who was the victor? To free the children from their cages must we
attack the homes of their captors? Burn down the halls of legislature?
crucify our enemies and their families? I don’t know how
this ends, and I do not mean to criticize for I too would follow your path
were it my daughters, my blood boils rage at the atrocities in the news —
I long for a chariot of my own, the invocation of your spirit on my lips
but I must ask again — did you weep for the daughters of your enemies?
Are we destined to fight for righteous victory,
until the poison invades our blood?
“Out of evil evil flourishes, out of tyranny tyranny buds”
-Alfred Lord Tennyson, from “Boadicea”
This poem was originally published in One Mother’s Revolution.