Saturday, November 11, 2006

Poems for Armistice Day

Eighty-eight years ago today World War One ended: after four mad years, the guns at last fell silent.

November 11, therefore, is Armistice Day -- re-named Veterans Day in the U.S. to extend its meaning. But it comes from the Great War, the war that should have taught us the madness of all wars. The war we did not learn enough from.

Some bloggers are posting In Flanders Fields to mark the day; but a few other poems come to my mind. So I give you three poems to mark Armistice Day.

The first is by Wilfred Owen, who died in combat November 4, 1918 -- just seven days before the war he wrote about was finally ended. (LGM has a good post today about the very last person to die in the war -- two minutes before the armistice took effect.)


So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned both of them together,
Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
And builded parapets and trenches there,
And stretched forth the knife to slay his son.
When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him. Behold,
A ram, caught in a thicket by its horns;
Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.

But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.

-- Wilfred Owen

Next we have a poem by an older man who survived the war:

I could not dig: I dared not rob:
Therefore I lied to please the mob.
Now all my lies are proved untrue
And I must face the men I slew.
What tale shall serve me here among
Mine angry and defrauded young?

-- Rudyard Kipling

And, lastly, a poem which I posted once before, but which is quite appropriate for today. Its author, W. D. Ehrhart, is a Vietnam Veteran.

I didn't want a monument,
not even one as sober as that
vast black wall of broken lives.
I didn't want a postage stamp.
I didn't want a road beside the Delaware
River with a sign proclaiming:
"Vietnam Veterans Memorial Highway."

What I wanted was a simple recognition
of the limits of our power as a nation
to inflict our will on others.
What I wanted was an understanding
that the world is neither black-and-white
nor ours.

What I wanted
was an end to monuments.

-- W. D. Ehrhart
To the dead of the Great War; to the dead of Iraq -- Rest in Peace.

To the rest of us: may we learn to better serve those who serve us in days to come.

Update: As she reminds us, Teresa Nielsen Hayden had an extraordinary collection of WW1 links last (and previous) years. Well worth checking out.

One link from her collection that struck me in particular this year was Will Longstaff's painting Menin Gate at Midnight (Ghosts of Menin Gate), painted in 1927 by an Australian vetran of the Great War. Here's a picture of it:

(The link goes to the Wikipedia page, from where I got the image; TNH had linked to it on this page, where they have a very different reproduction of the same painting; worth looking at both, really: first, second.)

1 comment:

Hels said...

I am very impressed that a person who is not a member of the British Commonwealth would publish Longstaff's painting. It is a very telling piece of art and I am so glad you found it.

Thanks for the link to your blog
this 2009 ANZAC Day,