by Alfred D. Byrd

When we first observed the heavens, Mars became a star of fear
Moving through the constellations in its own erratic year.
Glowing reddish, waxing, waning, Mars awoke the thought of war
In the hearts of those who struggled to comprise their world in lore.
Mars they clothed in shining armor and equipped with spear and sword;
Mars they gave two bitter servants and of slaughter made the lord.
Sacrifice was offered to him; temples, reared as sites of praise
For the one whose bloody visage called to it our dreadful gaze.

Time would teach us new perceptions of the heavens and the earth;
We conceived the pleasant notion that the stars determine birth.
Mars with sister planets governed by its passage through the sky
For the seed of man and woman who would live and who would die.
Long and subtle calculations told the fate that Mars decreed
For the folk who for its guidance had a clear, compelling need.
Under baleful Martian aspect, one in fear might keep one's bed
Until movements of the planets had erased one's cause of dread.

Some would come to view the heaven as mere nature, not as god,
And consider that the planets might consist of earthly sod.
Minds that pondered the ecliptic where worlds' turnings drew men's glance
Thought of circle within circle as the measure of a dance.
As the focus of the circles most assigned the earth, their home,
For they deemed the world beneath them to support a starry dome.
Some, but few, however, averred that the sun lay at the heart
Of the wheel of which the turning gave the other worlds their start.

Over time a host of godlings yielded to a single God
Kingship of the throne of heaven with its crown and ruler's rod.
Priests and prophets in His service taught that planets were but lights
Hung aloft to mark the seasons, not to govern wrongs or rights.
Still, beneath a holy surface, ancient misconceptions reigned;
Thoughts of gods and fear of portents, centered on the earth, remained.
In an age of war and hardship when much ancient lore was lost,
Dogma held the world together; ignorance was dogma's cost.

Fires of ancient learning flickered, but were fanned to brighter glow
Than the ancient world had witnessed by new minds who sought to grow
Far beyond the bounds of knowledge handed down to them by rote;
They would view new worlds through lenses and would publish things of note.
Through these minds the earth discovered that the baleful planet Mars
Was a rock that ran ellipses 'round the sun, the least of stars.
Still, the lenses did inform us of the ancients' speaking true
When they claimed that Mars was honored with attendants numbered two!

That which eye perceived through lenses, mind could sadly misconstrue:
Patches of uncertain greenness turned to meadows drenched with dew!
Rumors of canals and plant life spurred the Muse to fashion tales
Of an ancient, dying planet where a brilliant people fails.
Martians red and green were foemen; white and black fought both, but quailed;
Carter wed with Dejah Thoris and in love and war prevailed!
Golden-eyed in chess-piece cities yielded Humans Mars in jest;
Tentacled who fought from tripods found bacteria a test!

Robots sent to Mars by rocket slew the dragons of our dreams
With the aid of close-up pictures carried home on cryptic beams.
Mars had no canals, but craters wide and ancient, like the moon's,
Linked with canyons and volcanos, and, instead of plant life, dunes.
Still, we noticed signs of water in the caps upon Mars' poles
And in deltas and meanders formed wherever water rolls.
Signs like these made some consider life, once burgeoned, to remain,
Others, seeking growth for Humans, Mars as future fertile plain.

Mars awaits the choice of Humans to ordain its future state
As a refuge for the desert, or the earth's transfigured mate.
Whether Humans will discover fire within them to ascend
To the reddish light that lures them, hopeful watchers now attend.
We may choose to send but robots to pursue there quests for life;
We may make a new Antarctic of a pristine god of strife;
We may fill its deeps with oceans and its highlands with our homes --
What we do depends on choices:  whether one stands still, or roams.

Copywrite 2004 Alfred D. Byrd. Visit Alfred D. Byrd's Web site.