Thursday, November 11, 2010

Poem of the Day, Armistice Day edition

Before it was Veterans Day, November 11 was Armistice Day, commemorating the end of one of the most terrible wars in human history -- a judgment simply strengthened when you remember that so many of the horrors of the Twentieth Century sprang from it, including Communism, Fascism and the second and even more destructive world war. I prefer to recall the horrors of one war than to praise the service of those in all, if only because the former is the recognition of the horrors of war while the latter can slide all-too-easily into war's glorification. (Militarism must be eliminated also from the American mind.)

So here's a poem for Armistice day, about the beginning of the horrors which it remembers the end of.


Those long uneven lines
Standing as patiently
As if they were stretched outside
The Oval or Villa Park,
The crowns of hats, the sun
On moustached archaic faces
Grinning as if it were all
An August Bank Holiday lark;

And the shut shops, the bleached
Established names on the sunblinds,
The farthings and sovereigns,
And dark-clothed children at play
Called after kings and queens,
The tin advertisements
For cocoa and twist, and the pubs
Wide open all day;

And the countryside not caring
The place-names all hazed over
With flowering grasses, and fields
Shadowing Domesday lines
Under wheat's restless silence;
The differently-dressed servants
With tiny rooms in huge houses,
The dust behind limousines;

Never such innocence,
Never before or since,
As changed itself to past
Without a word--the men
Leaving the gardens tidy,
The thousands of marriages
Lasting a little while longer:
Never such innocence again.

-- Philip Larkin

Update: According to Wikipedia, while the holiday is often spelled "Veteran's Day or Veterans' Day... [and] while these spellings are grammatically acceptable, the United States government has declared that the attributive (no apostrophe) rather than the possessive case is the official spelling". More here. I've altered this post accordingly.

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