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North Ossetia, September 2004

In Russia, 1 September is the Day of Knowledge, and is a celebration to mark the beginning of the new school year. On that day in 2004 Chechen separatists entered School Number One in Beslan and took schoolchildren, teachers and parents hostage, immediately shooting some of the men.  After three days Russian forces stormed the school. Over 300 people were killed, and of these 186 were children.


The world’s quota of suffering

Is best swallowed in small doses.

It should dilute itself and spread

To a village here, a city there,

In manageable proportions.


Sometimes in spring a violent tide,

Joins forces with gales and storms and waves,

All pulled along by the innocent moon,

And attacks a small, defenceless seaside town.

It breaks and sinks the little boats

In the ineffectual harbour,

And laughs at the plucky seawall,

That did its best,

And the remorseless water

Then swarms down the quiet streets.


No need of tides or wind or moon,

For two brothers, ignorance and despair,

Joined with their cousin, hatred, there.

Putting their minds to a single aim,

They met together in a single place,

To create a never-ending pain

Too great for one small town to face.