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17 May 2005

another recycled old war poem from another old war

Isn't it wonderful? Aren't we lucky? Our soldiers and Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan don't have to write new poems to describe what they're experiencing, to describe their wounds and their terrors. There are already wonderful old poems, by wounded and terrified and maimed and blinded and dead British soldiers from World War One, and nothing's changed! We can just read them over again, and the terrors and dreads are the same, the wounds are exactly the same! (But the bullets and shells aren't lead anymore, they're the harder and more dense depleted uranium, and the battlefield is now radioactive.)

Here's another. Isaac Rosenberg was one of the few WWI poets who wasn't an aristocrat and officer, but just a short, sickly, hardscrabble enlisted man. He didn't want to be a soldier at all, he wanted to be an artist, but he couldn't find a job in England and he was starving, so he signed up and took the King's shilling.

By June 1916 he was in France. He wrote many of his poems on scraps of paper during brief interludes in the trenches. Rosenberg was killed while out on patrol in the early hours of 1 April 1918. His body was buried with nine others on the battlefield."

After the War, Siegfried Sassoon saw to the publication of his poems, Sassoon considered Rosenberg the finest of all the soldier poets. He was just not a very good soldier, and he was unlucky. He died on April Fool's Day.

Returning, We Hear the Larks
by Isaac Rosenberg (1890 - 1918)

Sombre the night is.
And though we have our lives, we know
What sinister threat lurks there.

Dragging these anguished limbs, we only know
This poison-blasted track opens on our camp --
On a little safe sleep.

But hark! joy -- joy -- strange joy.
Lo! heights of night ringing with unseen larks.
Music showering on our upturned list'ning faces.

Death could drop from the dark
As easily as song --
But song only dropped,
Like a blind man's dreams on the sand
By dangerous tides,
Like a girl's dark hair for she dreams no ruin lies there,
Or her kisses where a serpent hides.


Blogger Joana said...

I like this Sassoon one a lot.

Does it Matter?
(from Counter-Attack)
DOES it matter?--losing your legs?...
For people will always be kind,
And you need not show that you mind
When the others come in after hunting
To gobble their muffins and eggs.

Does it matter?--losing your sight?...
There's such splendid work for the blind;
And people will always be kind,
As you sit on the terrace remembering
And turning your face to the light.

Do they matter?--those dreams from the pit?...
You can drink and forget and be glad,
And people won't say that you're mad;
For they'll know you've fought for your country
And no one will worry a bit.

Blogger Bob Merkin said...

This one, authentically, is doing things to my US Army Veteran's Heart which I simply cannot speak about. But thank you.

Sassoon also wrote a "novel", fiction, about his WWI soldiering experiences. Every nation's bookstores only sells its own "fiction" about its own wonderful patriotic democracy-and-freeedom wars, so I never knew about this book, but last year I found it (Penguin, of course) in a Canadian bookstore.

Never mind if Sassoon's poems or his "fiction" are better. His war really sucked. My war really sucked. These new wars really suck. If you meet an 18-year-old person on his/her way to the Military Recruiter, run him/her over with your car -- just to break the kid's leg. The kid will thank you later. Or maybe not. Doesn't matter.


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