Atext, or an epigraph, for what I am going to say: somenlines from John Ciardi’s poem about the Birdman ofnAlcatraz who was, among other things, a trickster of sorts.nThese words are from Ciardi’s poem “Snickering in Solitary”:nIn every life sentencensome days are better thannothers; even, sometimes,nbetter than being free.nAnd one other, the basic ethical and aesthetic principle Inhave tried to live by and act on all my life as a writer and findnfirmly stated in these lines by W.H. Auden, from his poemn”The Cave of Making.” Which is an elegy for another goodnpoet — Louis MacNeice:nEven a limericknought to be something a man ofnhonor, awaiting death from cancer or a firing squad,ncould read without contempt: (atnthat frontier I wouldn’t dare speak to anyonenin either a prophet’s bellownor a diplomat’s whisper).nIn the fall of 1940, a dark and dangerous year for ourncivilization. General Sir Archibald Wavell, commanding annill-equipped, ragtag-and-bobtail force, an Army of AnzacsnGeorge Garrett is the author of Death of the Fox andnThe Succession, and his new novel, Entered From thenSun, is due out from Doubleday this fall. He was thenrecipient of The Ingersoll Foundation’s 1989 T.S. EliotnAward, for which this was his acceptance speech.n18/CHRONICLESnInch by Inchnby George Garrettnnnand Indians, South Africans and Scotsmen with, at its corenand center, a few impeccably cool battalions of the Brigadenof Guards, a force which could still be called, then, withoutnirony or apology, Imperial, attacked a much larger force ofnwhat was very likely the best equipped army in the worldn(now that the superbly equipped French, together with theirnextravagant claims to civilization and culture, had collapsednlike a shack in a hurricane). Wavell attacked and drovenMussolini’s army out of Egypt and halfway across Libya,ntaking more prisoners in the process than the total numbernof all his own forces. Even allowing that it was an Italiannarmy, it was a stunning victory, a brief bright moment in thendark times on either side, before and after.nAt the moment of Wavell’s triumph, Winston Churchill,nprime minister, sent a simple message: “Matthew 7:7.” Innimmediate response to which Wavell signaled to him, withnthe same cheerful irreverence: “James 1:17.”nThat is. Churchill to Wavell: “Ask and it shall be given tonyou; seek and ye shall find; knock and it shall be openednunto you.”nWavell’s reply had been, then: “Every good and everynperfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Fathernof lights, with whom there is no variableness, neither shadownof turning.”nI stand here grateful for your good gift and astonished thatnit has come to me.nAnd although a shifty and sneaky shadow of myself (whonmay be real) keeps whispering in my ear the 11 th verse ofnthe last chapter of the Book of Job — “Then came therenunto him all his brethren, and all his sisters, and all that hadnbeen of his acquaintance before, and did eat bread with himnin his house: and them bemoaned him and comforted himnover all the evil the Lord had brought upon him; every mannalso gave him a piece of money and an earring ofn