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08 August 2005

recycle your old World War I soldier poems

Flag-draped caskets of American servicemen
killed in Iraq and Afghanistan
returning to Dover (Delaware) Air Force Base
from The Memory Hole

Tomorrow Paradise Copies will sell me a white t-shirt with the poem "When You See Millions of the Mouthless Dead" -- everything in black letters in this post -- as big as they can fit them, and Wednesday when I go downtown I will wear it, and anyone who wants to read my upper body may. I have also made 50 copies of the poem and its miserable fatal provenance and am taping them here and there around town -- I am leafletting, pamphleting, broadsiding.

Northampton's Company B, 101st Engineers of the Massachusetts Army National Guard -- all its members are my neighbors -- flew off from nearby Westover Air Force Base for duty in Iraq.

If this were my Old Stupid War, I would add: For a Maximum of One Year. But actually, with these wars, no one can know and no one will say in advance how long my neighbors will have to serve active combat duty in Iraq. A very safe bet: Longer Than One Year.

Here, if you can, if you wish, you can Leave A Comment to tell us to what purpose my neighbors will face death and dish death out to Iraqis.

Remember that Vietnam, the Evil Villain in My Stupid War, is now an entirely independent, sovereign nation entirely free of the military interference of the world's most powerful military, the United States. Ultimately, I suspect, that will be Iraq's fate.

The only question is: How long will it take the USA to go away and leave Iraq and Afghanistan alone, to resolve their internal struggles themselves? Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld suspects American troops may remain in Iraq for the next twelve years.

This poem -- isn't it silly and weenie and pathetic to try to stop war with poetry and disco songs and folksongs? -- on my chest and in this post demonstrates that it is not necessary to write New Poems about the War in Iraq. Perfectly Good English-Language Poems Written by Soldiers, Most Dead in combat, Many Maimed, Several Driven Insane by an earlier useless slaughter, World War One, are still available to say everything that needs to be said about this vile, useless scoundrels' war.

I'd like to encourage everyone on Earth who hates these wars and wants them to end now to republish these World War One poems, tape them to walls, post them on the Internet, hand them out to strangers, make t-shirts of them, give the t-shirts to friends, recite them on the sidewalk -- any way you can think of to get the messages of these doomed young soldier poets to people living today who have agreed to do it all over again to American and British young men and women. The Doomed Youth are calling to us from the battlefields of France circa 1915, from 90 years ago.

originally posted 17 May 2005

but the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continue to this moment

pack up your troubles in your old kit bag

From a popular World War I song by George Henry Powell, tune by his brother Felix:

Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag

And smile, smile, smile!
While you've a lucifer to light your fag
[while you've got a match to light your cigarette]
Smile boys, that's the style!
What's the use of worrying?
It never was worthwhile.
Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag And smile, smile, smile!

Charles Sorley, a Scot from Aberdeen, was shot through the head and died instantly at age 20, at the Battle of Loos, on Wednesday 13 October 1915. His body was lost, but his kit bag was found and sent home to his family. They found this poem inside it.

When You See Millions of the Mouthless Dead

Charles Hamilton Sorley (1895-1915)

When you see millions of the mouthless dead
Across your dreams in pale battalions go,
Say not soft things as other men have said,
That you'll remember. For you need not so.
Give them not praise. For, deaf, how should they know
It is not curses heaped on each gashed head?
Nor tears. Their blind eyes see not your tears flow.
Nor honour. It is easy to be dead.
Say only this, "They are dead." Then add thereto,
"Yet many a better one has died before."
Then, scanning all the o'ercrowded mass, should you
Perceive one face that you loved heretofore,
It is a spook. None wears the face you knew.
Great death has made all his for evermore.

Original text: Charles Hamilton Sorley. Marlborough and other Poems. 4th edition. Cambridge: University Press, 1919: 78 (no. XXXIV). First publication date: 1916. Composition date: 1915. Form: sonnet. Rhyme: ababbabacdcdcd


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