A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Veteran's Day, 2006

Today, Veteran's Day, was once known as Armistice Day, since it originally memorialized the day of the armistice that ended the fighting during what was then known, oxymoronically, as the Great War. My friend EdWonk has a great post up at his place which includes one of my favorite poems about this war.

I want to turn to two great poets of that war, Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen. Both men spoke so powerfully of the damage that war does to the soul. Sassoon and Owen met while Owen was in hospital for neurasthenia, or what was then called shell-shock. Sassoon survived the war, but sadly, Owen was killed leading his men at Ors on November 4, 1918-- just a week before the armistice was declared. His parents were informed of his death on Armistice Day.

Soldier's Dream
Wilfred Owen

I dreamed kind Jesus fouled the big-gun gears;
And caused a permanent stoppage in all bolts;
And buckled with a smile Mausers and Colts;
And rusted every bayonet with His tears.

And there were no more bombs, of ours or Theirs,
Not even an old flint-lock, not even a pikel.
But God was vexed, and gave all power to Michael;
And when I woke he'd seen to our repairs.

Siegfried Sassoon

No doubt they'll soon get well; the shock and strain
Have caused their stammering, disconnected talk.
Of course they're 'longing to go out again,' —
These boys with old, scared faces, learning to walk.
They'll soon forget their haunted nights; their cowed
Subjection to the ghosts of friends who died,—
Their dreams that drip with murder; and they'll be proud
Of glorious war that shatter'd all their pride...
Men who went out to battle, grim and glad;
Children, with eyes that hate you, broken and mad.

God bless all those who have been willing to put their souls to the test in such a struggle. Remember and honor the men and women who have served in our military, both those who returned and those who sleep with their brothers and sisters beneath the fields which they bought with their blood. Pray for those who continue to serve at this moment, that they will return safe and whole to the arms of all who love them.


At 11/11/06, 6:05 PM, Blogger Al said...

"...their cowed
Subjection to the ghosts of friends who died."

The last Christmas I was able to be in the same room with my favorite uncle, he saw somewhere in my features a friend who had fallen serving alongside him in Korea, and had to leave and go home to try to outrun the nightmare.

It was a sporadic thing; we were able to talk baseball and other issues when I saw him again later. But Veteran's Day doesn't roll around that I don't remember the terror in his eyes as I came through the door that day. Christmas haunts me a bit, too, since then.

But all I suffer is a pang, a tear perhaps, and I roll on. I am neither haunted by nor subjected to the ghosts.

At 11/11/06, 9:41 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

To be willing to obey even unto death. To have strangers become brothers and watch brothers die before your very eyes...

I don't know how people risk it.

At 11/12/06, 11:04 AM, Blogger EdWonk said...

Thanks for the mention.

I've always thought that Wilfred Owen's Dulce et Decorum Est is one of the most moving poems that I've ever read. (See the poem's full text full text here.)

At 11/12/06, 4:01 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Oh yes, I love that one too.

The title refers to all the things that war is NOT.

At 11/15/06, 9:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some excellent poems about this nasty business of war, and I somewhat like Sassoon (referencing him some in my own war poems), but I have to admit my favorite poem from that era is 'I Have a Rendevous with Death' by Alan Seeger, who foresaw his own death in words during the Great War. (considering the odds of survival in the Great War, it was not hard to predict one's own death sadly)

I haven't quite posted all of my works and by no means do I consider myself the equal of those who have seen the face of battle. But the best thing I can do is honor them with my words for the enemy is not the faceless soldier that seeks only to save their own life, but the demon of war itself.


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