By: Lorelei Kenny
Today, on the eleventh day of the eleventh month marks ninety-eight years since the end of World War I.
On this day we take time to reflect on all those who have suffered and died because of war and to acknowledge the courage and the sacrifices of the men and women affected by war. On this day we remember them.
Many of us attend a local remembrance day ceremony at a local cenotaph at 11:00 am where we pay our respects, but then go home not knowing what else to do. Yet there are many ways to continue your meditation; consider reading war poetry.
These eleven poems below are worth reading as they are raw, bloody, and horrific which by in large is the reality of war. The selection proposed below gives a glimpse into the terror of the trenches of WWI, the horrors of the Holocaust in WWII, and the long fought war in Vietnam. However, some of these poems address other realities of war. The fact that war does not end when someone claims victory as it can take years for a country to rebuild and heal. Another touches on the psychological effects that soldiers and war victims suffer after war. Another on how easy it is for us to forget the tragedies that have taken place if we don’t make an effort to remember. These poems address a variety of aspects stemming from war, and most importantly these poems are honest.
Dulce et Decorum Est
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.
Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
Under the level winter sky
I saw a thousand Christs go by.
They sang an idle song and free
As they went up to calvary.
Careless of eye and coarse of lip,
They marched in holiest fellowship.
That heaven might heal the world, they gave
Their earth-born dreams to deck the grave.
With souls unpurged and steadfast breath
They supped the sacrament of death.
And for each one, far off, apart,
Seven swords have rent a woman’s heart.
Charles Hamilton Sorley
You are blind like us. Your hurt no man designed,
And no man claimed the conquest of your land.
But gropers both through fields of thought confined
We stumble and we do not understand.
You only saw your future bigly planned,
And we, the tapering paths of our own mind,
And in each other’s dearest ways we stand,
And hiss and hate. And the blind fight the blind.
When it is peace, then we may view again
With new-won eyes each other’s truer form
And wonder. Grown more loving-kind and warm
We’ll grasp firm hands and laugh at the old pain,
When it is peace. But until peace, the storm
The darkness and the thunder and the rain.
Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo.
Shovel them under and let me work—
I am the grass; I cover all.
And pile them high at Gettysburg
And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.
Shovel them under and let me work.
Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor:
What place is this?
Where are we now?
I am the grass.
Let me work.
The End and the Beginning
After every war
someone has to clean up.
straighten themselves up, after all.
Someone has to push the rubble
to the side of the road,
so the corpse-filled wagons
Someone has to get mired
in scum and ashes,
and bloody rags.
Someone has to drag in a girder
to prop up a wall.
Someone has to glaze a window,
rehang a door.
Photogenic it’s not,
and takes years.
All the cameras have left
for another war.
We’ll need the bridges back,
and new railway stations.
Sleeves will go ragged
from rolling them up.
Someone, broom in hand,
still recalls the way it was.
Someone else listens
and nods with unsevered head.
But already there are those nearby
starting to mill about
who will find it dull.
From out of the bushes
sometimes someone still unearths
and carries them to the garbage pile.
Those who knew
what was going on here
must make way for
those who know little.
And less than little.
And finally as little as nothing.
In the grass that has overgrown
causes and effects,
someone must be stretched out,
blade of grass in his mouth
gazing at the clouds.
On the Anniversary of Her Grace
Rain and low clouds blown through the valley,
rain down the coast raising the brackish
rivers at their high tides too high,
rain and black skies that come for you.
Not excellent and fair,
I wake from a restless night of dreams of her
whom I will never have again
as surely as each minute passing
makes impossible another small fulfillment
until there’s only a lingering
I remember, a kiss I had imagined
would come again and again to my face.
Inside me the war had eaten a hole.
I could not touch anyone.
The wind blew through me to the green place
where they still fell in their blood.
I could hear their voices at night.
I could not undress in the light
her body cast in the dark rented room.
I could keep the dragons at the gate.
I could paint my face and hide
as shadow in the triple-canopy jungle.
I could not eat or sleep then walk all day
and all night watch a moonlit path for movement.
I could draw leeches from my skin
with the tip of a cigarette
and dig a hole deep enough to save me
before the sun bloodied the hills we could not take
even with our lives
but I could not open my arms to her
that first night of forgiveness.
I could not touch anyone.
I thought my body would catch fire.
John Taylor Jones
Like white shadows
On the black earth
They came to gather their dead.
I knew the dead
Where unknown to us
But every mothers dread.
It took two days
For them to pick them up;
To let their families know–
Back in Manchuria,
In hamlets throughout China–
Your son is dead,
Your only son,
He never will come home.
born 19.6.32—deported 24.9.42
Undesirable you may have been, untouchable
you were not. Not forgotten
or passed over at the proper time.
As estimated, you died. Things marched,
sufficient, to that end.
Just so much Zyklon and leather, patented
terror, so many routine cries.
(I have made
an elegy for myself it
September fattens on vines. Roses
flake from the wall. The smoke
of harmless fires drifts to my eyes.
This is plenty. This is more than enough.
The rain how it fell; the cadaver smell
My eyes transfixed on that pit of Hell,
Vapid flesh foul, horrendously bland.
But why this carnage, I don’t understand;
Retching, gagging, holding back the bile.
I turn from the evil to rest for a while,
From decomposing mothers, fathers and child;
Satan’s work, merciless, callously wild.
Laid out in graves grotesquely remorse,
Lucifer’s carnage has taken its course
In a dance of death, contorted and thin,
Thousands of bodies, bound together by skin.
Now sixty years passed, will I ever forget.
That day when in person, with Satan I met;
He showed me firsthand his evil, his sin.
Flames of contempt still burn deep within.
Wise men instruct us ‘we must never, forget’,
Upon the memory of them, ‘let the sun never set’;
For six million Jews paid the ultimate cost,
I know, I was there, at the great Holocaust.
The Scout on point has raised his hand
And flashed the signal to his band
ENEMY IN SIGHT GET DOWN!
But in the distance, sickening sounds,
The deadened “thunk” of mortar rounds
Leaving hollow tubes.
The men melt to the ground,
Scrambling, crabbing leaving the trail
High, thin-screamed, louder, whistling wail
The men cower, cringing low
The clench their necks, await the blow
That erupts with such a smashing “crack”,
That rings the ears and slams the back
That bleeds the nose, that aches the head,
That takes the breath, and kills them dead.
In Flanders Field
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders Fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
Lest we forget.