Monday, November 11, 2019

Pale Battalions

The leaves are always doing something noteworthy
on Veterans Day ~ this year it was a snow show
In honor of the Armistice, I have looked up the following bleakly honest poem, new to me this year. A few lines are recited very briefly during a party scene in the 2017 movie (based on the novel by Penelope Fitzgerald), The Bookshop, in which a WWII widow finds a way to go on with her life:

A Sonnet [XXXIV]

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.

Charles Hamilton Sorley (1895 - 1915)

And this one, suggested by my friend Bill McInerney

Two Sides Of War (All Wars)

All wars are planned by older men
In council rooms apart,
Who call for greater armament
And map the battle chart.

But out along the shattered field
Where golden dreams turn gray,
How very young the faces were
Where all the dead men lay.

Portly and solemn in their pride,
The elders cast their vote
For this or that, or something else,
That sounds the martial note.

But where their sightless eyes stare out
Beyond life's vanished toys,
I've noticed nearly all the dead
Were hardly more than boys.

Henry Grantland Rice (1880 – 1954)


I always take a moment on Veterans Day to contemplate
Two Things I Will Never Understand:
War [Waste] and Littering.

Take these two patriots, for example;
which one sounds sane and which one sounds insane?

Compared to war, all other forms of human endeavor
shrink to insignificance. God help me, I do love it so

George S. Patton Jr. (1885 – 1945)
General of the United States Army in WW II

"Though I have been trained as a soldier,
and participated in many battles,
there never was a time when, in my opinion,
some way could not be found
to prevent the drawing of the sword.
I look forward to an epoch when a court,
recognized by all nations,
will settle international differences

Ulysses S. Grant (1822 - 1885)
Commanding General of the United States Army, 1864 to 1865
18th President of the United States, 1869 - 1877


I'm always highly suspicious of the war movie genre as well (and war video games). Is their goal really to teach about history or just a morbid interest in war re-encactment? I think the latter, as if somehow war is the pinnacle of human existence / achievement. I guess for some men, such as Patton, it is. God help him, indeed. So pathologically wrong.

" . . . something
I never had, that black tangle
of branches in a shifting light . . ."

Margaret Atwood

1 comment: