Goliath and David
(For D. C. T., Killed at Fricourt, March, 1916)
by Robert Graves
Yet once an earlier David took  
Smooth pebbles from the brook:  
Out between the lines he went  
To that one-sided tournament,  
A shepherd boy who stood out fine  5
And young to fight a Philistine  
Clad all in brazen mail. He swears  
That he’s killed lions, he’s killed bears,  
And those that scorn the God of Zion  
Shall perish so like bear or lion. 10
But . . . the historian of that fight  
Had not the heart to tell it right.  
Striding within javelin range,  
Goliath marvels at this strange 15
Goodly-faced boy so proud of strength.  
David’s clear eye measures the length;  
With hand thrust back, he cramps one knee,  
Poises a moment thoughtfully,  
And hurls with a long vengeful swing. 20
The pebble, humming from the sling  
Like a wild bee, flies a sure line  
For the forehead of the Philistine;  
Then . . . but there comes a brazen clink,  
And quicker than a man can think 25
Goliath’s shield parries each cast.  
Clang! clang! and clang! was David’s last.  
Scorn blazes in the Giant’s eye,  
Towering unhurt six cubits high.  
Says foolish David, “Damn your shield! 30
And damn my sling! but I’ll not yield.”  
He takes his staff of Mamre oak,  
A knotted shepherd-staff that’s broke  
The skull of many a wolf and fox  
Come filching lambs from Jesse’s flocks. 35
Loud laughs Goliath, and that laugh  
Can scatter chariots like blown chaff  
To rout; but David, calm and brave,  
Holds his ground, for God will save.  
Steel crosses wood, a flash, and oh! 40
Shame for beauty’s overthrow!  
(God’s eyes are dim, His ears are shut.)  
One cruel backhand sabre-cut —  
“I’m hit! I’m killed!” young David cries,  
Throws blindly forward, chokes . . . and dies. 45
And look, spike-helmeted, grey, grim,  
Goliath straddles over him.  

D. C. T. — This poem is dedicated to David Cuthbert Thomas, a lieutenant in the First Battalion of the Royal Welch Fusiliers and a good friend of both Robert Graves and Siegfried Sassoon.  (Sassoon’s poem “Enemies” was also inspired by Thomas’s death.)
Fricourt — A place in the Somme département and the site of particularly heavy fighting during several battles of the war.
David — The earlier David is, of course, the boy whose defeat of Goliath is related in 1 Samuel 17, and who later becomes King of Israel.
Philistine — In the bibilical story, Goliath is a Philistine warrior. In modern usage, the word philistine has come to mean someone who is uncultured, crude, and who has no appreciation for the arts. This describes quite well the general attitude other Europeans had towards the Germans at the time.  Some evidence now suggests that the Philistines were actually a branch of Mycenaean Greeks — the same people who inspired Homer’s epics.
Zion — An ancient name for one of the mountains near Jerusalem, the word Zion gradually became a poetic term for the entire city.
six cubits — A cubit is a common measurement of ancient cultures, though the exact length varied from place to place and over time. (Actually, the oldest texts give Goliath’s height as four cubits and a span, while the later versions of the story increase that to six cubits and a span — a span being a smaller measument into which the cubit was divided.)
Mamre — a marketplace mentioned in the Old Testament and traditionally associated with oak trees
Jesse’s — Jesse of Bethlehem is David’s father in the story; David is his youngest son (his eighth, though the New Testament changes that to seventh)
spike-helmeted — a reference to the Picklhaube, the well-known German helmet that was standard-issue during the first half of the war but was then gradually replaced by the Stahlhelm, or steel helmet. (The Picklhaube was made of boiled leather and provided little protection against shrapnel.)