Why I wear a white poppy
November 10, 2006 8:55 AM   Subscribe

An equally apt poem might be this.
posted by greycap at 9:00 AM on November 10, 2006

From my mother's sleep I fell into the State,
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.

The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner Randall Jarrell
posted by hal9k at 9:09 AM on November 10, 2006 [4 favorites]

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori: it is sweet and right to die for your country.
posted by hal9k at 9:11 AM on November 10, 2006 [1 favorite]

I know that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above;
Those that I fight I do not hate
Those that I guard I do not love;
My country is Kiltartan Cross,
My countrymen Kiltartan’s poor,
No likely end could bring them loss
Or leave them happier than before.
Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,
Nor public man, nor cheering crowds,
A lonely impulse of delight
Drove to this tumult in the clouds;
I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.
posted by Falconetti at 9:24 AM on November 10, 2006

These fought in any case,
and some believing,
pro domo, in any case . . .

Some quick to arm,
some for adventure,
some from fear of weakness,
some from fear of censure,
some for love of slaughter, in imagination,
learning later . . .
some in fear, learning love of slaughter;
Died some, pro patria,
non "dulce" non "et decor" . . .

walked eye-deep in hell
believing in old men's lies, then unbelieving
came home, home to a lie,
home to many deceits,
home to old lies and new infamy;
usury age-old and age-thick
and liars in public places.

Daring as never before, wastage as never before.
Young blood and high blood,
fair cheeks, and fine bodies;

fortitude as never before

frankness as never before,
disillusions as never told in the old days,
hysterias, trench confessions,
laughter out of dead bellies.

There died a myriad,
And of the best, among them,
For an old bitch gone in the teeth,
For a botched civilization,

Charm, smiling at the good mouth,
Quick eyes gone under earth's lid,

For two gross of broken statues,
For a few thousand battered books.

Or, Alternately:

i sing of Olaf glad and big
whose warmest heart recoiled at war:
a conscientious object-or

his wellbelovéd colonel(trig
westpointer most succinctly bred)
took erring Olaf soon in hand;
but--though an host of overjoyed
noncoms(first knocking on the head
him)do through icy waters roll
that helplessness which others stroke
with brushes recently employed
anent this muddy toiletbowl,
while kindred intellects evoke
allegiance per blunt instruments--
Olaf(being to all intents
a corpse and wanting any rag
upon what God unto him gave)
responds,without getting annoyed
"I will not kiss your fucking flag"

straightway the silver bird looked grave
(departing hurriedly to shave)

but--though all kinds of officers
(a yearning nation's blueeyed pride)
their passive prey did kick and curse
until for wear their clarion
voices and boots were much the worse,
and egged the firstclassprivates on
his rectum wickedly to tease
by means of skilfully applied
bayonets roasted hot with heat--
Olaf(upon what were once knees)
does almost ceaselessly repeat
"there is some shit I will not eat"

our president,being of which
assertions duly notified
threw the yellowsonofabitch
into a dungeon,where he died

Christ(of His mercy infinite)
i pray to see;and Olaf,too

preponderatingly because
unless statistics lie he was
more brave than me:more blond than you.

posted by damnthesehumanhands at 9:26 AM on November 10, 2006 [1 favorite]

And in honor of America's Armistice Day tomorrow:

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.
posted by Falconetti at 9:28 AM on November 10, 2006

Cadets of the graduating class -- boys -- I’ve been where you are now and I know just how you feel. It’s entirely natural that there should beat in the breast of every one of you a hope and desire that some day you can use the skill you have acquired here.

Suppress it! You don’t know the horrible aspects of war. I’ve been through two wars and I know. I’ve seen cities and homes in ashes. I’ve seen thousands of men lying on the ground, their dead faces looking up at the skies. I tell you, war is hell!
Major General William T. Sherman, speech to the Graduating Class, Michigan Military Academy, 19 June 1879.
posted by eriko at 9:29 AM on November 10, 2006

Holy crap, thparkth, definitely one of the best posts I have seen in a loooong time. Well done.
posted by msali at 9:30 AM on November 10, 2006

The last link provides a remarkably effective presentation of the data. (What a contrast when it is run with all nations and then run again minus the U.S. and the U.K.!)
But the data are pretty meaningless without the reality provided by the other links...
Good post - thank you...
posted by speug at 9:32 AM on November 10, 2006

hal9k writes "The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner Randall Jarrell"

Christ. I had forgotten about this poem. It's just tremendous, though. Man, ...
posted by mr_roboto at 9:37 AM on November 10, 2006

Why can you not wear a red poppy and believe these things too? Why can you not respect the sacrifice that was made and also work for peace?
posted by patricio at 9:41 AM on November 10, 2006

I know an 86 year-old man who served with the British military in WWII. He had incredible adventures, but considers himself lucky to be alive. He does not see any honour in war. He says you hear about the glory and the heroism, but you don't hear enough about the bodies without limbs or heads, or the airmen throwing up behind the hangar before their mission, from which only half of them will return.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:45 AM on November 10, 2006

I was about to ask what the significance of a white poppy was...

I concur with patricio; by understanding the sacrifices made I understand why war is something we must struggle to avoid. Do people percieve a red poppy to mean "war is good"?
posted by dazed_one at 9:46 AM on November 10, 2006

I once used "Death of the Ball Turret Gunner" in a poetry discussion group on "description" in poetry. While everyone else presented long, lyrical, pastoral images, I dropped this into the group as an example of a stunningly effective message needing no more than those few words to convey it. All the description in the world could not make it any more effective.

Thanks for the reminder.

Up here north of the 49th, our music video channel, "MuchMusic", used to present Dire Straits' "Brothers in Arms" and John Lennon's "Imagine" back-to-back across the 11am hour chime on November 11th. I'm hoping they still do that, because together they are a deeply evocative pair of tunes to reach the MuchMusic generations.
posted by Mike D at 9:48 AM on November 10, 2006

Nike Who Hesitates

Nike is most beautiful at the moment
when she hesitates
her right hand beautiful as a command
rests against the air
but her wings tremble

For she sees
a solitary youth
he goes down the long tracks
of a war chariot
on a grey road in a grey landscape
of rocks and scattered juniper bushes

that youth will perish soon
right now the scale containing his fate
abruptly falls
towards the earth

Nike would terribly like
to go up
and kiss him on the forehead

but she is afraid
that he who has never known
the sweetness of caresses
having tasted it
might run off like the others
during the battle

Thus Nike hesitates
and at last decides
to remain in that position
which sculptors taught her
being mightily ashamed of that flash of emotion

she understands
that tomorrow at dawn
this boy must be found
with an open breast
closed eyes
and the acid obol of his country
under his numb tongue

--Zbigniew Herbert transalted by Czeslaw Milosz
posted by cal71 at 9:58 AM on November 10, 2006 [3 favorites]

I don't know much about this sort of thing. I've never seen war. But, looking at it from afar, and reading about it, it seems like the difficult thing is making the distinction between honoring the willingness of others to go through hell and honoring the willingness of others to create hell. A very precise distinction, that, when it comes to war.

There's nothing nice about killing other people. Those happily willing to do it are dishonorable in the extreme. Those who hate it, and have the wisdom and courage to do it when necessary, are more honorable than I'll ever be. I have no idea how one goes about maintaining that kind of healthy dislike of one's business, or how one goes about maintaining one's business when one hates it.

And he should know-- he saved more lives than most. My great-great-grandfather was a minor general for the South during the Civil War. He (and several of his colleagues) admired Sherman greatly for being wise enough to calculate the best way to end the war and careful enough to do it right. When Sherman died, my great-great-grandfather was a pallbearer in his funeral; it rained, and my great-great-grandfather contracted pneumonia and died. Random fact for the day.
posted by koeselitz at 9:58 AM on November 10, 2006 [1 favorite]

"Well, how'd you do, Private Willie McBride,
D'you mind if I sit down down here by your graveside?
I'll rest for awhile in the warm summer sun,
Been walking all day, Lord, and I'm nearly done.
I see by your gravestone you were only nineteen
When you joined the glorious fallen in 1916,
I hope you died quick and I hope you died "clean,"
Or, Willie McBride, was it slow and obscene?

Did they beat the drum slowly, did they sound the fife lowly?
Did the rifles fire o'er ye as they lowered ye down?
Did the bugles sing "The Last Post" in chorus?
Did the pipes play the "Flower's Of The Forest"?

And did you leave a wife or a sweetheart behind
In some faithful heart is your memory enshrined?
And, though you died back in 1916,
To that loyal heart are you forever nineteen?
Or are you a stranger, without even a name,
Forever enshrined behind some glass pane,
In an old photograph, torn and tattered and stained,
And fading to yellow in a brown leather frame?

Well, the sun's shining down on these green fields of France;
The warm wind blows gently, the red poppies dance.
The trenches have vanished long under the plow;
No gas and no barbed wire, no guns firing now.
But here in this graveyard it's still No Man's Land;
The countless white crosses in mute witness stand
To man's blind indifference to his fellow man.
And a whole generation who were butchered and damned.

And I can't help but wonder now, Willie McBride,
Do all those who lie here know why they died?
Did you really believe them when they told you "the cause?"
Did you really believe that this war would end wars?
Well the suffering, the sorrow, the glory, the shame,
The killing, the dying, it was all done in vain,
For Willie McBride, it's all happened again,
And again, and again, and again, and again."

Eric Bogle - No Man's Land
posted by dazed_one at 10:00 AM on November 10, 2006

The site for the Peace Pledge Union, who originated the white poppy post-WW1, explains the background.
posted by raygirvan at 10:10 AM on November 10, 2006

“We’re not making a sacrifice.
Jesus, you’ve seen this war.
We are the sacrifice.”

-Frank McGuinness
Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme
posted by Divine_Wino at 10:26 AM on November 10, 2006

Not yet will those measureless fields be green again
Where only yesterday the wild sweet blood of wonderful youth was shed;
There is a grave whose earth must hold too long, too deep a stain,
Though for ever over it we may speak as proudly as we may tread.
But here, where the watchers by lonely hearths from the thrust of an
inward sword have more slowly bled,
We shall build the Cenotaph: Victory, winged, with Peace, winged too, at the column's head.
And over the stairway, at the foot -- oh! here, leave desolate, passionate hands to spread
Violets, roses, and laurel, with the small, sweet, tinkling country things
Speaking so wistfully of other Springs,
From the little gardens of little places where son or sweetheart was born and bred.
In splendid sleep, with a thousand brothers
To lovers - to mothers
Here, too, lies he: Under the purple, the green, the red,
It is all young life: it must break some women's hearts to see
Such a brave, gay coverlet to such a bed!
Only, when all is done and said,
God is not mocked and neither are the dead
For this will stand in our Market-place -
Who'll sell, who'll buy?
(Will you or I
Lie each to each with the better grace?)
While looking into every busy whore's and huckster's face
As they drive their bargains, is the Face
Of God: and some young, piteous, murdered face.

-"The Cenotaph," Charlottel Mew, 1919
posted by Falconetti at 10:30 AM on November 10, 2006


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.

-- Siegfried Sasson, 1917
posted by dw at 10:38 AM on November 10, 2006

Now when I was a young man I carried me pack
And I lived the free life of the rover.
From the Murray's green basin to the dusty outback,
Well, I waltzed my Matilda all over.
Then in 1915, my country said, "Son,
It's time you stop ramblin', there's work to be done."
So they gave me a tin hat, and they gave me a gun,
And they marched me away to the war.

And the band played "Waltzing Matilda,"
As the ship pulled away from the quay,
And amidst all the cheers, the flag waving, and tears,
We sailed off for Gallipoli.

And how well I remember that terrible day,
How our blood stained the sand and the water;
And of how in that hell that they call Suvla Bay
We were butchered like lambs at the slaughter.
Johnny Turk, he was waitin', he primed himself well;
He showered us with bullets, and he rained us with shell --
And in five minutes flat, he'd blown us all to hell,
Nearly blew us right back to Australia.

But the band played "Waltzing Matilda,"
When we stopped to bury our slain,
Well, we buried ours, and the Turks buried theirs,
Then we started all over again.

And those that were left, well, we tried to survive
In that mad world of blood, death and fire.
And for ten weary weeks I kept myself alive
Though around me the corpses piled higher.
Then a big Turkish shell knocked me arse over head,
And when I woke up in me hospital bed
And saw what it had done, well, I wished I was dead --
Never knew there was worse things than dying.

For I'll go no more "Waltzing Matilda,"
All around the green bush far and free --
To hump tents and pegs, a man needs both legs,
No more "Waltzing Matilda" for me.

So they gathered the crippled, the wounded, the maimed,
And they shipped us back home to Australia.
The armless, the legless, the blind, the insane,
Those proud wounded heroes of Suvla.
And as our ship sailed into Circular Quay,
I looked at the place where me legs used to be,
And thanked Christ there was nobody waiting for me,
To grieve, to mourn and to pity.

But the band played "Waltzing Matilda,"
As they carried us down the gangway,
But nobody cheered, they just stood and stared,
Then they turned all their faces away.

And so now every April, I sit on my porch
And I watch the parade pass before me.
And I see my old comrades, how proudly they march,
Reviving old dreams of past glory,
And the old men march slowly, all bones stiff and sore,
They're tired old heroes from a forgotten war
And the young people ask "What are they marching for?"
And I ask meself the same question.

But the band plays "Waltzing Matilda,"
And the old men still answer the call,
But as year follows year, more old men disappear
Someday, no one will march there at all.

Waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda.
Who'll come a-waltzing Matilda with me?
And their ghosts may be heard as they march by the billabong,
Who'll come a-Waltzing Matilda with me?

Eric Bogle, "And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda"

(thanks, dazed_one, for reminding me of this song.
posted by tzikeh at 10:47 AM on November 10, 2006


Thanks, dazed_one, for reminding me of this song.
posted by tzikeh at 10:48 AM on November 10, 2006

Oh, criminy.

Thanks to dazed_one for reminding me of this song.)
posted by tzikeh at 10:50 AM on November 10, 2006

It was back in nineteen forty-two,
I was a member of a good platoon.
We were on maneuvers in-a Loozianna,
One night by the light of the moon.
The captain told us to ford a river,
That's how it all begun.
We were - knee deep in the Big Muddy,
But the big fool said to push on.

The Sergeant said, "Sir, are you sure,
This is the best way back to the base?"
"Sergeant, go on! I forded this river
'Bout a mile above this place.
It'll be a little soggy but just keep slogging.
We'll soon be on dry ground."
We were - waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool said to push on.

The Sergeant said, "Sir, with all this equipment
No man will be able to swim."
"Sergeant, don't be a Nervous Nellie,"
The Captain said to him.
"All we need is a little determination;
Men, follow me, I'll lead on."
We were - neck deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool said to push on.

All at once, the moon clouded over,
We heard a gurgling cry.
A few seconds later, the captain's helmet
Was all that floated by.
The Sergeant said, "Turn around men!
I'm in charge from now on."
And we just made it out of the Big Muddy
With the captain dead and gone.

We stripped and dived and found his body
Stuck in the old quicksand.
I guess he didn't know that the water was deeper
Than the place he'd once before been.
Another stream had joined the Big Muddy
'Bout a half mile from where we'd gone.
We were lucky to escape from the Big Muddy
When the big fool said to push on.

Well, I'm not going to point any moral;
I'll leave that for yourself
Maybe you're still walking, you're still talking
You'd like to keep your health.
But every time I read the papers
That old feeling comes on;
We're - waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool says to push on.

Waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool says to push on.
Waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool says to push on.
Waist deep! Neck deep! Soon even a
Tall man'll be over his head, we're
Waist deep in the Big Muddy!
And the big fool says to push on!
posted by hortense at 11:01 AM on November 10, 2006 [1 favorite]


I went into a public-'ouse to get a pint o' beer,
The publican 'e up an' sez, "We serve no red-coats here."
The girls be'ind the bar they laughed an' giggled fit to die,
I outs into the street again an' to myself sez I:
O it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, go away";
But it's "Thank you, Mister Atkins", when the band begins to play,
The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
O it's "Thank you, Mister Atkins", when the band begins to play.

I went into a theatre as sober as could be,
They gave a drunk civilian room, but 'adn't none for me;
They sent me to the gallery or round the music-'alls,
But when it comes to fightin', Lord! they'll shove me in the stalls!
For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, wait outside";
But it's "Special train for Atkins" when the trooper's on the tide,
The troopship's on the tide, my boys, the troopship's on the tide,
O it's "Special train for Atkins" when the trooper's on the tide.

Yes, makin' mock o' uniforms that guard you while you sleep
Is cheaper than them uniforms, an' they're starvation cheap;
An' hustlin' drunken soldiers when they're goin' large a bit
Is five times better business than paradin' in full kit.
Then it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, 'ow's yer soul?"
But it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll,
The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
O it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll.

We aren't no thin red 'eroes, nor we aren't no blackguards too,
But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;
An' if sometimes our conduck isn't all your fancy paints,
Why, single men in barricks don't grow into plaster saints;
While it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, fall be'ind",
But it's "Please to walk in front, sir", when there's trouble in the wind,
There's trouble in the wind, my boys, there's trouble in the wind,
O it's "Please to walk in front, sir", when there's trouble in the wind.

You talk o' better food for us, an' schools, an' fires, an' all:
We'll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
Don't mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
The Widow's Uniform is not the soldier-man's disgrace.
For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Chuck him out, the brute!"
But it's "Saviour of 'is country" when the guns begin to shoot;
An' it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' anything you please;
An' Tommy ain't a bloomin' fool -- you bet that Tommy sees!

-- Rudyard Kipling
posted by taosbat at 11:07 AM on November 10, 2006

I'll give you style points for the form of the post, but most are missing the point.

In the final stanza, Owen writes that if readers could see the body—the "eyes writhing", the "face hanging", the "vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues"—they would cease to send young men to war while instilling visions of glory in their heads. No longer would they tell their children the "Old lie," so long ago told by the Roman poet Horace: "Dulce et decorum est / Pro patria mori", literally, ("It is sweet and honourable to die for one's country").

It is this lie, and those who are willing to teach it to their children that is the primary enabler of evil in the world.
posted by spock at 11:08 AM on November 10, 2006

spock, perhaps the lie is not that it is in honorable to die for one's country--there could be times that is true--the lie that enables the greatest evil is that it is sweet an honorable to kill for one's country. The poem doesn't focus on the other side, the young men who fired the gas at the other group of young men, but they are enamored a greater lie than the nobility of sacrifice, imho.
posted by cal71 at 11:13 AM on November 10, 2006

Bob Dylan . . .
So now as I'm leavin'
I'm weary as Hell
The confusion I'm feelin'
Ain't no tongue can tell
The words fill my head
And fall to the floor
If God's on our side
He'll stop the next war.

posted by fourcheesemac at 11:23 AM on November 10, 2006

If any of you MeFi'ers has access to Greg Kuzma's poem "Peace, So That" -- pls post it in this thread and save me a trip to the library. Thx.
posted by pax digita at 11:30 AM on November 10, 2006

spock, I think you may be underestimating the intelligence of the posters here. I know in my case I purposely posted poems that provided more perspectives on war and sacrifice, rather than mimicking the (profound) sentiments of Owen's poem. In my case, I tried to find well-known ones that were worthy as poems and were not jingoistic or overly bellicose, but still demonstrated the sorrow of the fallen soldier without necessarily making their sacrifice meaningless or at least meaningless in the same way Owen does. My postings were responses to the sentiment that clearly underlies Owen's poem.

Also, I don't mean to say that Owen was mocking his compatriots, he obviously felt great affection for them, or that his sentiment is wrong. The Great War produced so much moving poetry, not all of it sharing Owen's point of view.
posted by Falconetti at 11:31 AM on November 10, 2006

Recalling War (Robert Graves)

Entrance and exit wounds are silvered clean,
The track aches only when the rain reminds.
The one-legged man forgets his leg of wood,
The one-armed man his jointed wooden arm.
The blinded man sees with his ears and hands
As much or more than once with both his eyes.

Their war was fought these twenty years ago
And now assumes the nature-look of time,
As when the morning traveler turns and views
His wild night-stumbling carved into a hill.

What, then, was war? No mere discord of flags
But an infection of the common sky
That sagged ominously upon the earth
Even when the season was the airiest May.
Down pressed the sky, and we, oppressed, thrust out
Boastful tongue, clenched fist and valiant yard.
Natural infirmities were out of mode,
For Death was young again; patron alone
Of healthy dying, premature fate-spasm.

Fear made fine bed-fellows. Sick with delight
At life's discovered transitoriness,
Our youth became all-flesh and waived the mind.
Never was such antiqueness of romance,
Such tasty honey oozing from the heart.
And old importances came swimming back -
Wine, meat, log-fired, a roof over the head,
A weapon at the thigh, surgeons at call.
Even there was a use again for God ---
A word of rage in lack of meat, wine, fire,
In ache of wounds beyond all surgeoning.

War was return of earth to ugly earth,
War was foundering of sublimities,
Extinction of each happy art and faith
By which the world has still kept head in air,
Protesting logic or protesting love,
Until the unendurable moment struck ---
The inward scream, the duty to run mad.

And we recall the merry ways of guns ---
Nibbling the walls of factory and church
Like a child, piecrust; felling groves of trees
Like a child, dandelions with a switch.
Machine-guns rattle toy-like from a hill,
Down in a row the brave tin-soldiers fall:
A sight to be recalled in elder days
When learnedly the future we devote
To yet more boastful visions of despair.
posted by jokeefe at 11:33 AM on November 10, 2006

See also here: The War Poets Association.
posted by jokeefe at 11:36 AM on November 10, 2006

Patricio, some of us wear a white poppy because we want to remember and honour the victims of war, while utterly rejecting the notion of war as honourable or good in itself. Of course I realise, and respect, that many people do not intend any glorification of war itself when they wear a red poppy.

Much more on white poppies here.
posted by thparkth at 11:39 AM on November 10, 2006

Oh, and one more:

Farewell my wistful Saigon bride
I'm going out to stem the tide
A tide that never saw the seas
It flows through jungles, round the trees
Some say it's yellow, some say red
It will not matter when we're dead

How many dead men will it take
To build a dike that will not break?
How many children must we kill
Before we make the waves stand still?

Though miracles come high today
We have the wherewithal to pay
It takes them off the streets you know
To places they would never go alone
It gives them useful trades
The lucky boys are even paid

Men die to build their Pharoah's tombs
And still and still the teeming wombs
How many men to conquer Mars
How many dead to reach the stars?

Farewell my wistful Saigon bride
I'm going out to stem the tide
A tide that never saw the seas
It flows through jungles, round the trees
Some say it's yellow, some say red
It will not matter when we're dead.
posted by jokeefe at 11:43 AM on November 10, 2006

Since we're posting lots of war poetry, here's one more, with a brief explanation.
posted by Joe Invisible at 11:48 AM on November 10, 2006

And in honor of America's Armistice Day tomorrow:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow ...

You might want to investigate that poem on Wikipedia.
posted by fish tick at 11:53 AM on November 10, 2006

a bit of Kipling:

When first under fire an' you're wishful to duck,
Don't look nor take 'eed at the man that is struck,
Be thankful you're livin', and trust to your luck
And march to your front like a soldier.
Front, front, front like a soldier . . .

When 'arf of your bullets fly wide in the ditch,
Don't call your Martini a cross-eyed old bitch;
She's human as you are -- you treat her as sich,
An' she'll fight for the young British soldier.
Fight, fight, fight for the soldier . . .

When shakin' their bustles like ladies so fine,
The guns o' the enemy wheel into line,
Shoot low at the limbers an' don't mind the shine,
For noise never startles the soldier.
Start-, start-, startles the soldier . . .

If your officer's dead and the sergeants look white,
Remember it's ruin to run from a fight:
So take open order, lie down, and sit tight,
And wait for supports like a soldier.
Wait, wait, wait like a soldier . . .

When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains,
And the women come out to cut up what remains,
Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
An' go to your Gawd like a soldier.

Go, go, go like a soldier,
Go, go, go like a soldier,
Go, go, go like a soldier,
So-oldier of the Queen!
posted by Spatch at 12:00 PM on November 10, 2006

Another of Wilfred Owen's:

Anthem for Doomed Youth

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.
posted by jesourie at 12:00 PM on November 10, 2006

odinsdream: A lot of these are doubles. What exactly is this post for?

Uh, Remembrance Day?

Not to break up the poetry, but I was trying to explain war to my four-year-old son the other day. (I was telling him about bullet trains, and he wanted to know what a bullet was. There's also a brief reference to World War I in William Steig's When Everyone Wore a Hat.) I told him that two sides fight a war when one side wants to take something, and the other side doesn't want to give it up. Each side tries to destroy the other's soldiers, vehicles, buildings, until the other side gives up. If one side knows it's going to lose, there's not much point fighting; so if you're strong enough, you don't need to fight.

I don't think we'll ever see the end of war.
posted by russilwvong at 12:01 PM on November 10, 2006

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 the passengers ask the conductor: What place is this?
Where are we now? I am the grass.
Let me work.
--Carl Sandberg, Grass
posted by eriko at 12:07 PM on November 10, 2006 [1 favorite]


Carl Sandburg.

posted by eriko at 12:08 PM on November 10, 2006

ANGVSTAM amice pauperiem pati
robustus acri militia puer
condiscat et Parthos ferocis
uexet eques metuendus hasta

uitamque sub diuo et trepidis agat
in rebus. illum ex moenibus hosticis
matrona bellantis tyranni
prospiciens et adulta uirgo

suspiret, eheu, ne rudis agminum
sponsus lacessat regius asperum
tactu leonem, quem cruenta
per medias rapit ira caedis.

dulce et decorum est pro patria mori:
mors et fugacem persequitur uirum,
nec parcit inbellis iuuentae
poplitibus timidoue tergo.

Virtus, repulsae nescia sordidae,
intaminatis fulget honoribus,
nec sumit aut ponit securis
arbitrio popularis aurae:

Virtus, recludens inmeritis mori
caelum, negata temptat iter uia
coetusque uolgaris et udam
spernit humum fugiente penna.

est et fideli tuta silentio
merces: uetabo, qui Cereris sacrum
uolgarit arcanae, sub isdem
sit trabibus fragilemue mecum

soluat phaselon. saepe Diespiter
neglectus incesto addidit integrum:
raro antecedentem scelestum
deseruit pede Poena claudo.

posted by jfuller at 12:10 PM on November 10, 2006

One of the earliest poetic meditations on war and glory - Odysseus descends into Hades':

"Through the thick gloom his friend Achilles knew,
And as he speaks the tears descend in dew.

"'Comest thou alive to view the Stygian bounds,
Where the wan spectres walk eternal rounds;
Nor fear'st the dark and dismal waste to tread,
Throng'd with pale ghosts, familiar with the dead?'

"But sure the eye of Time beholds no name
So bless'd as thine in all the rolls of fame;
Alive we hail'd thee with our guardian gods,
And dead thou rulest a king in these abodes.'

"'Talk not of ruling in this dolorous gloom,
Nor think vain words (he cried) can ease my doom.
Rather I'd choose laboriously to bear
A weight of woes, and breathe the vital air,
A slave to some poor hind that toils for bread,
Than reign the sceptred monarch of the dead.

Homer, Odyssey, Book 11.

Earlier white poppy thread.
posted by Urban Hermit at 12:21 PM on November 10, 2006

There was this sniper in Kosovo. Part of a team dropped behind enemy lines. Technically, that’s not a fully accurate description. The lines were fuzzy. It wasn’t any kind of special op. Gunships were crashing, command was low on smart missles and the dumb bombs had only gps guidance. Someone had to let the planes know what to hit because the enemy were using all kinds of decoys, sticking gas furnaces in them to fool the heat seekers, things like that. So the war had to be more hands on. They were going through and doing soldier things and they came upon a temporary detention center for children. The Yugo and Serb paramilitary forces had been raping women and beating people, forcing their husbands into labor. The 400-odd child detainees were from several villages that, among other things, had their wells poisoned by chemicals and human corpses. This was a small team. Not much they could do to help that many kids. They tried to explain that they would be back. One little girl, in perfect English, told them that “we know you will be back. We have had some people come and never return. But you are Americans. You help people.”
They did come back, in force, and rescued all of those kids. Many of them became citizens of the U.S. or Canada.

Now I recognize the difference between personal events and immediacy and the moral imperative to act versus the broader illusion that military humanitarianism transcends political consequences and responsibilities.
One Somali warlord f’rinstance drags soldiers corpses through the streets and the PR drops the support at home.

But I think some of the poetry affects a romanticized notion between the two relationships. There can be sublime moments as a warfighter. You save a child. You stop the rape. You have the revelation that the folks at home don’t give a crap and you’re fighting for guys smoking cigars in some back room on wall street. But rarely does the population back home entirely get either the really good stuff or the really bad stuff. Mostly it’s ‘a bunch of guys from home died - what’s the point?’ Certainly war is a racket, but wars of principle, humanitarian intervention, seem to wind up even more destructive, so it’s more than that.
Really, I dunno. Maybe I just can’t think of any poem. I’ve always preferred letters.

The worst crimes were dared by a few, willed by more and tolerated by all. - Tacitus
posted by Smedleyman at 12:28 PM on November 10, 2006 [2 favorites]

You might want to investigate that poem on Wikipedia.

I knew a Canadian wrote the poem, but my actual mistake was double:

1. Thinking that only America celebrated Armistice Day tomorrow, while other countries celebrated it on another day. I don't know where I got that from because it is clearly wrong and doesn't even make any sense.

2. America doesn't even celebrate Armistice Day, but rather superimposes Veterans Day on Nov 18, which doesn't quite mean the same thing. America's Memorial Day is closer.

American exceptionalism at its worst: thinking a holiday that America doesn't even celebrate is celebrated by American on a special day other country's don't celebrate it!
posted by Falconetti at 12:40 PM on November 10, 2006

From Brodsky:

As you pour yourself a scotch,
crush a roach, or check your watch,
as your hand adjusts your tie,
people die.

In the towns with funny names,
hit by bullets, cought in flames,
by and large not knowing why,
people die.

In small places you don't know
of, yet big for having no
chance to scream or say good-bye,
people die.

People die as you elect
new apostles of neglect,
self-restraint, etc. - whereby
people die.

Too far off to practice love
for thy neighbor/brother Slav,
where your cherubds dread to fly,
people die.

While the statues disagree,
Cain's version, history
for its fuel tends to buy
those who die.

As you watch the athletes score,
check your latest statement, or
sing your child a lullaby,
people die.

Timee, whose sharp blood-thirsty quill
parts the killed from those who kill,
will pronounce the latter tribe
as your tribe.
posted by etaoin at 12:42 PM on November 10, 2006

Softly and humbly to the Gulf of Arabs
The convoys of dead sailors come;
At night they sway and wander in the waters far under,
But morning rolls them in the foam.

Between the sob and clubbing of the gunfire
Someone, it seems, has time for this,
To pluck them from the shallows and bury them in burrows
And tread the sand upon their nakedness;

And each cross, the driven stake of tidewood,
Bears the last signature of men,
Written with such perplexity, with such bewildered pity
The words choke as they begin -

'Unknown Seaman' - the ghostly pencil
Wavers and fades, the purple drips;
The breath of the wet season has washed their inscriptions
As blue as drowned men's lips,

Dead Seamen, gone in search of the same landfall,
Whether as enemies they fought,
Or fought with us, or neither; the sand joins them together,
Enlisted on the front.

El Alamein.

Kenneth Slessor
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:43 PM on November 10, 2006

I meant Nov 11 not Nov 18.
posted by Falconetti at 12:45 PM on November 10, 2006

Smedleyman, Yeats shared your opinion on war poems:

I think it better that in times like these
A poet’s mouth be silent, for in truth
We have no gift to set a statesman right;
He has had enough of meddling who can please
A young girl in the indolence of her youth,
Or an old man upon a winter’s night.

-Yeats, "On Being Asked for a War Poem"
posted by Falconetti at 12:55 PM on November 10, 2006

I was just thinking of that Falconetti. Weird.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:01 PM on November 10, 2006

Life at War

The disasters numb within us
caught in the chest, rolling
in the brain like pebbles. The feeling
resembles lumps of raw dough

Weighing down a child's stomach on baking day.
Or Rilke said it, "My heart...
Could I say of it, it overflows
with bitterness...but no, as though

its contents were simply balled into
formless lumps, thus
do I carry it about."
The same war

We have breathed the grits of it in, all our lives,
our lungs are pocked with it,
the mucous membrane of our dreams
coated with it, the imagination
filmed over with the gray filth of it:

the knowledge that humankind,

delicate Man, whose flesh
responds to a caress, whose eyes
are flowers that perceive the stars,

whose music excels the music of birds,
whose laughter matches the laughter of dogs,
whose understanding manifests designs
fairer than the spider's most intricate web,

still turns without surprise, with mere regret
to the scheduled breaking open of breasts whose milk
runs out over the entrails of still-alive babies,
transformation of witnessing eyes to pulp-fragments,
implosion of skinned penises into carcass-gulleys.

We are the humans, men who can make;
whose language imagines mercy,
lovingkindness, we have believed one another
mirrored forms of a God we felt as good–

who do these acts, who convince ourselves
it is necessary; these acts are done
to our own flesh; burned human flesh
is smelling in Vietnam as I write.

Yes, this is the knowledge that jostles for space
in our bodies along with all we
go on knowing of joy, of love;

our nerve filaments twitch with its presence
day and night,
nothing we say has not the husky phlegm of it in the saying,
nothing we do has the quickness, the sureness,
the deep intelligence living at peace would have.

Denise Levertov
To Stay ALive

A bit more on Kipling.
posted by taosbat at 1:06 PM on November 10, 2006

I'm actually jealous, thparkth. You've taken one of my favorite poems and done something wonderful with it. Great job.
posted by malaprohibita at 1:15 PM on November 10, 2006

This is better performed than read in the blue, but still . . .

My name is Francis Tolliver, I come from Liverpool,
Two years ago the war was waiting for me after school.
To Belgium and to Flanders to Germany to here
I fought for King and country I love dear.
'Twas Christmas in the trenches where the frost so bitter hung,
The frozen fields of France were still, no Christmas song was sung,
Our families back in England were toasting us that day,
Their brave and glorious lads so far away.

I was lying with my messmate on the cold and rocky ground
When across the lines of battle came a most peculiar sound
Says I, "Now listen up, me boys!" each soldier strained to hear
As one young German voice sang out so clear.
"He's singing bloody well, you know!" my partner says to me
Soon one by one each German voice joined in in harmony
The cannons rested silent, the gas clouds rolled no more
As Christmas brought us respite from the war.

As soon as they were finished and a reverent pause was spent
"God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" struck up some lads from Kent
The next they sang was "Stille Nacht," "Tis 'Silent Night'," says I
And in two tongues one song filled up that sky.
"There's someone coming towards us!" the front line sentry cried
All sights were fixed on one lone figure coming from their side
His truce flag, like a Christmas star, shone on that plain so bright
As he bravely strode unarmed into the night.

Soon one by one on either side walked into No Man's land
With neither gun nor bayonet we met there hand to hand
We shared some secret brandy and we wished each other well
And in a flare-lit soccer game we gave 'em hell.
We traded chocolates, cigarettes, and photographs from home
These sons and fathers far away from families of their own
Young Sanders played his squeeze box and they had a violin
This curious and unlikely band of men.

Soon daylight stole upon us and France was France once more
With sad farewells we each began to settle back to war
But the question haunted every heart that lived that wondrous night
"Whose family have I fixed within my sights?"
'Twas Christmas in the trenches, where the frost so bitter hung
The frozen fields of France were warmed as songs of peace were sung
For the walls they'd kept between us to exact the work of war
Had been crumbled and were gone for evermore.

My name is Francis Tolliver, in Liverpool I dwell
Each Christmas come since World War I I've learned its lessons well
That the ones who call the shots won't be among the dead and lame
And on each end of the rifle we're the same.

John McCutcheon, "Christmas in the Trenches"
posted by palancik at 1:24 PM on November 10, 2006

Oh I marched to the battle of New Orleans
At the end of the early British war
The young land started growing
The young blood started flowing
But I ain't marchin' anymore

For I've killed my share of Indians
In a thousand different fights
I was there at the Little Big Horn
I heard many men lying I saw many more dying
But I ain't marchin' anymore

It's always the old to lead us to the war
It's always the young to fall
Now look at all we've won with the saber and the gun
Tell me is it worth it all

For I stole California from the Mexican land
Fought in the bloody Civil War
Yes I even killed my brothers
And so many others But I ain't marchin' anymore

For I marched to the battles of the German trench
In a war that was bound to end all wars
Oh I must have killed a million men
And now they want me back again
But I ain't marchin' anymore

For I flew the final mission in the Japanese sky
Set off the mighty mushroom roar
When I saw the cities burning I knew that I was learning
That I ain't marchin' anymore

Now the labor leader's screamin'
when they close the missile plants,
United Fruit screams at the Cuban shore,
Call it "Peace" or call it "Treason,"
Call it "Love" or call it "Reason,"
But I ain't marchin' any more,
No I ain't marchin' any more

-- Phil Ochs
posted by tzikeh at 1:24 PM on November 10, 2006

One more from me - a rather recent one.

History of the Airplane
by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

And the Wright brothers said they thought they had invented
something that could make peace on earth when their wonderful
flying machine took off at Kitty Hawk into the kingdom of birds
but the parliament of birds was freaked out by this man-made bird
and fled to heaven

And then the famous Spirit of Saint Louis took off eastward and
flew across the Big Pond with Lindy at the controls in his leather
helmet and goggles hoping to sight the doves of peace but he did not
even though he circled Versailles

And then the famous Flying Clipper took off in the opposite
direction and flew across the terrific Pacific but the pacific doves
were frighted by this strange amphibious bird and hid in the orient sky

And then the famous Flying Fortress took off bristling with guns
and testosterone to make the world safe for peace and capitalism
but the birds of peace were nowhere to be found before or after Hiroshima

And so then clever men built bigger and faster flying machines and
these great man-made birds with jet plumage flew higher than any
real birds and seemed about to fly into the sun and melt their wings
and like Icarus crash to earth

And the Wright brothers were long forgotten in the high-flying
bombers that now began to visit their blessings on various Third
Worlds all the while claiming they were searching for doves of

And they kept flying and flying until they flew right into the 21st
century and then one fine day a Third World struck back and
stormed the great planes and flew them straight into the beating
heart of Skyscraper America where there were no aviaries and no
parliaments of doves and in a blinding flash America became a part
of the scorched earth of the world

And a wind of ashes blows across the land
And for one long moment in eternity
There is chaos and despair

And buried loves and voices
Cries and whispers
Fill the air
posted by tzikeh at 1:31 PM on November 10, 2006

An example of the "old lie" made manifest:

The King in Henry V:

What’s he that wishes so?
My cousin Westmoreland? No, my fair cousin;
If we are mark’d to die, we are enow
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
God’s will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.
By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;
It yearns me not if men my garments wear;
Such outward things dwell not in my desires.
But if it be a sin to covet honour,
I am the most offending soul alive.
No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England.
God’s peace! I would not lose so great an honour
As one man more methinks would share from me
For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!
Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made,
And crowns for convoy put into his purse;
We would not die in that man’s company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
This day is call’d the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam’d,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say “To-morrow is Saint Crispian.”
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say “These wounds I had on Crispian’s day.”
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words-
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester-
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb’red.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.
posted by Falconetti at 1:44 PM on November 10, 2006

I'm Explaining a Few Things
Pablo Neruda

You are going to ask: and where are the lilacs?
and the poppy-petalled metaphysics?
and the rain repeatedly spattering
its words and drilling them full
of apertures and birds?
I'll tell you all the news.

I lived in a suburb,
a suburb of Madrid, with bells,
and clocks, and trees.

From there you could look out
over Castille's dry face:
a leather ocean.
My house was called
the house of flowers, because in every cranny
geraniums burst: it was
a good-looking house
with its dogs and children.
Remember, Raul?
Eh, Rafel? Federico, do you remember
from under the ground
my balconies on which
the light of June drowned flowers in your mouth?
Brother, my brother!
loud with big voices, the salt of merchandises,
pile-ups of palpitating bread,
the stalls of my suburb of Arguelles with its statue
like a drained inkwell in a swirl of hake:
oil flowed into spoons,
a deep baying
of feet and hands swelled in the streets,
metres, litres, the sharp
measure of life,
stacked-up fish,
the texture of roofs with a cold sun in which
the weather vane falters,
the fine, frenzied ivory of potatoes,
wave on wave of tomatoes rolling down the sea.

And one morning all that was burning,
one morning the bonfires
leapt out of the earth
devouring human beings—
and from then on fire,
gunpowder from then on,
and from then on blood.
Bandits with planes and Moors,
bandits with finger-rings and duchesses,
bandits with black friars spattering blessings
came through the sky to kill children
and the blood of children ran through the streets
without fuss, like children's blood.

Jackals that the jackals would despise,
stones that the dry thistle would bite on and spit out,
vipers that the vipers would abominate!

Face to face with you I have seen the blood
of Spain tower like a tide
to drown you in one wave
of pride and knives!

see my dead house,
look at broken Spain :
from every house burning metal flows
instead of flowers,
from every socket of Spain
Spain emerges
and from every dead child a rifle with eyes,
and from every crime bullets are born
which will one day find
the bull's eye of your hearts.

And you'll ask: why doesn't his poetry
speak of dreams and leaves
and the great volcanoes of his native land?

Come and see the blood in the streets.
Come and see
The blood in the streets.
Come and see the blood
In the streets!
posted by ronv at 1:45 PM on November 10, 2006

Homage to a Government
by Philip Larkin

Next year we are to bring all the soldiers home
For lack of money, and it is all right.
Places they guarded, or kept orderly,
We want the money for ourselves at home
Instead of working. And this is all right.

It's hard to say who wanted it to happen,
But now it's been decided nobody minds.
The places are a long way off, not here,
Which is all right, and from what we hear
The soldiers there only made trouble happen.
Next year we shall be easier in our minds.

Next year we shall be living in a country
That brought its soldiers home for lack of money.
The statues will be standing in the same
Tree-muffled squares, and look nearly the same.
Our children will not know it's a different country.
All we can hope to leave them now is money.
posted by koeselitz at 1:55 PM on November 10, 2006

Sing, Heart, a gay song,
Before my knees give way and I grovel;
Before I break from my own rein,
And the eyes of those that love me
See me a coward, and fill with ice, despising!
(Heart's Song)

Across the pain-jerked body of the Night
We must go, taking the new-born Death in arms,
Holding it close, warmly to us, as our own,
Giving it new games to play, new toys to tear apart.
(Tunisian Patrol)

Richard Spender, d. 29 March 1943
posted by MinPin at 2:08 PM on November 10, 2006

By the way, some thoughts on Urban Hermit's quotation from the Odyssey, since I'm reading through it again myself:

(1) That speech of Achilles in Hades is notable in that it seems to contradict completely Achilles' character in the Iliad. That is, it seems to be an expression of regret for the way Achilles lived.

(2) It also contradicts Odysseus' own choice; the choice Odysseus makes in the Odyssey is to be a mortal, and someday die, rather than be subject to marriage to a Goddess and never see his home again. That embrace of humanity is, for me, the most poignant thing about the Odyssey.

(3) More generally, I find Achilles' words there tragic, in the deepest sense. For a human being to utterly fail to accept death is tragic, though common.
posted by koeselitz at 2:11 PM on November 10, 2006

Seems like Billy Bragg should be heard from here...

What will you do when the war is over, tender comrade
When we lay down our weary guns
When we return home to our wives and families
And look into the eyes of our sons
What will you say of the bond we had, tender comrade
Will you say that we were brave
As the shells fell all around us
Or that we wept and cried for our mothers
And cursed our fathers
For forgetting that all men are brothers

Will you say that we were heroes
Or that fear of dying among strangers
Tore our innocence and false shame away
And from that moment on deep in my heart I knew
That I would only give my life for love

Brothers in arms in each others arms
Was the only time that I was not afraid
What will you do when the war is over, tender comrade
When we cast off these khaki clothes
And go our separate ways
What will you say of the bond we had
Tender comrade
posted by pdb at 2:16 PM on November 10, 2006

Here come the helicopters
Second time today
Everybody scatters
And hope they go away
How many kids they've murdered
Only God can say
If I had a rocket launcher
If I had a rocket launcher
If I had a rocket launcher
I'd make somebody pay.

I don't believe in guarded borders
I don't believe in hate
I don't believe in generals
Or their stinking torture states
When I talk with the survivors
Of things too sickening to relate
If I had a rocket launcher
If I had a rocket launcher
If I had a rocket launcher
I would retaliate.

On the Rio Lacantun
One hundred thousand wait
To fall down from starvation
Or some less humane fate.
Cry for Guatemala,
With a corpse in every gate
If I had a rocket launcher
If I had a rocket launcher
If I had a rocket launcher
I would not hesitate.

I want to raise every voice
At least I've got to try
Every time I think about it
Water rises to my eye
Situation desperate
Echoes of the victims cry
If I had a rocket launcher
If I had a rocket launcher
If I had a rocket launcher
Some son of a bitch would die.

(Bruce Cockburn)
posted by jfuller at 2:32 PM on November 10, 2006

Great poems, all. Thank you.
posted by darkstar at 2:43 PM on November 10, 2006

More from recent popular culture:

Roads to Moscow (Al Stewart)

They crossed over the border the hour before dawn
Moving in lines through the day
Most of our planes were destroyed on the ground where they lay
Waiting for orders we held in the wood - word from the front never came
By evening the sound of the gunfire was miles away
Ah, softly we move through the shadows, slip away through the trees
Crossing their lines in the mists in the fields on our hands and our knees
And all that I ever was able to see
The fire in the air glowing red silhouetting the smoke on the breeze

All summer they drove us back through the Ukraine
Smolyensk and Viyasma soon fell
By autumn we stood with our backs to the town of Orel
Closer and closer to Moscow they come - riding the wind like a bell
General Guderian stands at the crest of the hill
Winter brought with her the rains, oceans of mud filled the roads
Gluing the tracks of their tanks to the ground while the sky filled with snow
And all that I ever was able to see
The fire in the air glowing red silhouetting the snow on the breeze

In the footsteps of Napoleon the shadow figures stagger through the winter
Falling back before the gates of Moscow,
Standing in the wings like an avenger
And far away behind their lines the partisans are stirring in the forest
Coming unexpectedly upon their outposts, growing like a promise
You'll never know, you'll never know
Which way to turn, which way to look, you'll never see us
As we're stealing through the blackness of the night
You'll never know, you'll never hear us
And the evening sings in a voice of amber, the dawn is surely coming
The morning road leads to Stalingrad, and the sky is softly humming

Two broken Tigers on fire in the night flicker their souls to the wind
We wait in the lines for the final approach to begin
It's been almost four years that I've carried a gun
At home it'll almost be spring
The flames of the Tigers are lighting the road to Berlin
Ah, quickly we move through the ruins that bow to the ground
The old men and children they send out to face us, they can't slow us down
And all that I ever was able to see
The eyes of the city are opening now it's the end of the dream

I'm coming home, I'm coming home
Now you can taste it in the wind, the war is over
And I listen to the clicking of the train wheels as we roll across the border
And now they ask me of the time
That I was caught behind their lines and taken prisoner
"They only held me for a day, a lucky break", I say;
They turn and listen closer
I'll never know, I'll never know
Why I was taken from the line and all the others
To board a special train and journey deep into the heart of holy Russia
And it's cold and damp in the transit camp, and the air is still and sullen
And the pale sun of October whispers the snow will soon be coming
And I wonder when I'll be home again and the morning answers
And the evening sighs and the steely Russian skies go on forever.
posted by jokeefe at 2:52 PM on November 10, 2006

Just one more (honestly, I could do this all day):

The First Long Range Artillery Fire on Leningrad (Akhmatova)

A multi-colored crowd streaked about,
and suddenly all was totally changed.
It wasn't the usual city racket.
It came from a strange land.
True, it was akin to some random claps of thunder,
but natural thunder heralds the wetness of fresh water
high clouds
to quench the thirst of fields gone dry and parched,
a messenger of blessed rain,
but this was as dry as hell must be.
My distraught perception refused
to blieve it, because of the insane
suddenness with which it sounded, swelled and hit,
and how casually it came
to murder my child.
posted by jokeefe at 3:02 PM on November 10, 2006

posted by jokeefe at 3:02 PM on November 10, 2006

The flesh of brown-skinned men,
Shadowy wisps in my bunker dreams,
Burned and twisted.
Suppress. Push down. Forget.
Resurrect in twenty years
With solemn regret.
— word collage from Pieces of Intelligence: The Existential Poetry of Donald H. Rumsfeld
posted by rob511 at 3:17 PM on November 10, 2006

And in honor of America's Armistice Day tomorrow:

There were other nations fighting in WW1 who suffered greater casualties than the Americans, lest we forget.
posted by Joeforking at 3:40 PM on November 10, 2006

What's on November 18? Remembrance Day in Canada and Britain - when we wear the poppies from In Flanders Fields - is on November 11. We also have two minutes of silence at 11am - the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.
posted by jb at 3:50 PM on November 10, 2006

1916 seen from 1921

Tired with dull grief, grown old before my day,
I sit in solitude and only hear
Long silent laughters, murmurings of dismay,
The lost intensities of hope and fear;
In those old marshes yet the rifles lie,
On the thin breastwork flutter the grey rags,
The very books I read are there—and I
Dead as the men I loved, wait while life drags

Its wounded length from those sad streets of war
Into green places here, that were my own;
But now what once was mine is mine no more,
I seek such neighbours here and I find none.
With such strong gentleness and tireless will
Those ruined houses seared themselves in me,
Passionate I look for their dumb story still,
And the charred stub outspeaks the living tree.

I rise up at the singing of a bird
And scarcely knowing slink along the lane,
I dare not give a soul a look or word
Where all have homes and none’s at home in vain:
Deep red the rose burned in the grim redoubt,
The self-sown wheat around was like a flood,
In the hot path the lizard lolled time out,
The saints in broken shrines were bright as blood.

Sweet Mary’s shrine between the sycamores!
There we would go, my friend of friends and I,
And snatch long moments from the grudging wars,
Whose dark made light intense to see them by.
Shrewd bit the morning fog, the whining shots
Spun from the wrangling wire: then in warm swoon
The sun hushed all but the cool orchard plots,
We crept in the tall grass and slept till noon.

Edmund Blunden
posted by ereshkigal45 at 4:08 PM on November 10, 2006

More Sassoon, this one makes me shiver...

The Kiss

To these I turn, in these I trust;
Brother Lead and Sister Steel.
To his blind power I make appeal;
I guard her beauty clean from rust.

He spins and burns and loves the air,
And splits a skull to win my praise;
But up the nobly marching days
She glitters naked, cold and fair.

Sweet Sister, grant your soldier this;
That in good fury he may feel
The body where he sets his heel
Quail from your downward darting kiss.
posted by hardcode at 4:10 PM on November 10, 2006

More Kipling I'm afraid, but this seems particularly appropriate given the nature of the war in Iraq:
A great and glorious thing it is
To learn, for seven years or so,
The Lord knows what of that and this,
Ere reckoned fit to face the foe—
The flying bullet down the Pass,
That whistles clear: “All flesh is grass.”

Three hundred pounds per annum spent
On making brain and body meeter
For all the murderous intent
Comprised in “villanous saltpetre!”
And after—ask the Yusufzaies
What comes of all our ’ologies.

A scrimmage in a Border Station—
A canter down some dark defile—
Two thousand pounds of education
Drops to a ten-rupee jezail—
The Crammer’s boast, the Squadron’s pride,
Shot like a rabbit in a ride!

No proposition Euclid wrote,
No formulae the text-books know,
Will turn the bullet from your coat,
Or ward the tulwar’s downward blow
Strike hard who cares—shoot straight who can—
The odds are on the cheaper man.

One sword-knot stolen from the camp
Will pay for all the school expenses
Of any Kurrum Valley scamp
Who knows no word of moods and tenses,
But, being blessed with perfect sight,
Picks off our messmates left and right.

With home-bred hordes the hillsides teem,
The troop-ships bring us one by one,
At vast expense of time and steam,
To slay Afridis where they run.
The “captives of our bow and spear”
Are cheap—alas! as we are dear.
Arithmetic on the Frontier
posted by Ritchie at 4:15 PM on November 10, 2006


It is certainly one of the most intriguing passages in Homer, and despite having pondered it on more than one occasion, I am far from settling its significance in my own mind.

But surely it is not without meaning that Achilles follows this remarkable and plaintive claim with an expression of worry about the fates of his father and his son. Fagles translates the end of the encounter as follows:

So I said and
off he went, the ghost of the great runner, Aecus' grandson
loping with great strides across the fields of asphodel,
triumphant in all I had told him of his son,
his gallant, glorious son.

At first Achilles is willing to trade long life for everlasting glory; later he does not really yearn for more life for himself, but rather to ensure that his family honour is alive and well. Thus I think there might be a deeper consistency in Achilles - he may no longer think that his deeds were glorious in their own right, but it still may be the love of honour in some sense that drives him.

You describe the refusal to accept death as tragic. Perhaps it is, but perhaps only a beast or a god could do otherwise. We all seek comfort in the idea that something of us will live on - in our accomplishments, in our offspring, or in some kind of afterlife. If Achilles repudiates anything, it is that the possible existence of this latter is any consolation for the emphemerality and contingency of the other two.

If this truly is the way of things, it would be remarkable indeed for anyone to fully understand and accept it, with equanimity and without the slightest measure of despair. For the rest of us, there are the poets.
posted by Urban Hermit at 4:17 PM on November 10, 2006

And in honor of America's Armistice Day tomorrow:

There were other nations fighting in WW1 who suffered greater casualties than the Americans, lest we forget.
posted by Joeforking at 6:40 PM EST on November 10

Of course, I detailed my ignorance above and chastised myself for my stupidity already. I explained why I singled out America falsely. Didn't mean to imply anything about the relative worth of nations or sacrifices.

What's on November 18? Remembrance Day in Canada and Britain - when we wear the poppies from In Flanders Fields - is on November 11. We also have two minutes of silence at 11am - the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.
posted by jb at 6:50 PM EST on November 10

I corrected myself already. It was the correction of the correction, to help orient the reader confused by my copious errors.
posted by Falconetti at 4:19 PM on November 10, 2006

The US has confused the situation by turning Armistice Day into Veterans Day meant to honor all veterans, distinct from Memorial Day and honoring the dead.
posted by etaoin at 6:28 PM on November 10, 2006

It's really not that confusing.
posted by taosbat at 7:39 PM on November 10, 2006

I know its not confusing. When I corrected myself, I explained it. (look two posts after that to see the correction on the date)
posted by Falconetti at 8:20 PM on November 10, 2006

Please pardon me for not being more clear, I was really replying to etaoin, Falconetti. I saw that you self-corrected...good on you.
posted by taosbat at 8:24 PM on November 10, 2006

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.

--Grantland Rice
posted by deborah at 9:16 PM on November 10, 2006 [1 favorite]

A Thomas Hardy poem:

The Man He Killed

Had he and I but met
By some old ancient inn,
We should have set us down to wet
Right many a nipperkin!

But ranged as infantry,
And staring face to face,
I shot at him as he at me,
And killed him in his place.

I shot him dead because—
Because he was my foe,
Just so: my foe of course he was;
That's clear enough; although

He thought he'd 'list, perhaps,
Off-hand like—just as I—
Was out of work—had sold his traps—
No other reason why.

Yes; quaint and curious war is!
You shoot a fellow down
You'd treat, if met where any bar is,
Or help to half a crown.
posted by kozad at 9:21 PM on November 10, 2006

Facing It

My black face fades,
hiding inside the black granite.
I said I wouldn't,
dammit: No tears.
I'm stone. I'm flesh.
My clouded reflection eyes me
like a bird of prey, the profile of night
slanted against morning. I turn
this way--the stone lets me go.
I turn that way--I'm inside
the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
again, depending on the light
to make a difference.
I go down the 58,022 names,
half-expecting to find
my own in letters like smoke.
I touch the name Andrew Johnson;
I see the booby trap's white flash.
Names shimmer on a woman's blouse
but when she walks away
the names stay on the wall.
Brushstrokes flash, a red bird's
wings cutting across my stare.
The sky. A plane in the sky.
A white vet's image floats
closer to me, then his pale eyes
look through mine. I'm a window.
He's lost his right arm
inside the stone. In the black mirror
a woman's trying to erase names:
No, she's brushing a boy's hair.

(Yusef Komunyakaa)
posted by melissa may at 9:27 PM on November 10, 2006

This is an excellent post and thread. I thank you all.
posted by Divine_Wino at 10:05 PM on November 10, 2006

Thank you for what this thread has become.

War Poet (Sidney Keyes)

I am the man who looked for peace and found
My own eyes barbed.
I am the man who groped for words and found
An arrow in my hand.
I am the builder whose firm walls surround
A slipping land.
When I grow sick or mad
Mock me not nor chain me;
When I reach for the wind
Cast me not down
Though my face is a burnt book
And a wasted town.

(Sidney Keyes went to my old school and was killed in 1942 just before he turned 21. I've always thought it a shame that he is not more widely known since this poem is up there with the best of Owen for me).

posted by greycap at 10:36 PM on November 10, 2006

Falconetti: I came to the thread late, noticed the misattribution of "Flander's Fields" as American, scanned down to see if this had been corrected, but missed your first comment, and saw only your post "I meant Nov 11 not Nov 18.". I thought maybe that Armistice Day or Veterens Day in the US was on November 18, but I wasn't sure, so I was very confused.

Do Americans read In Flanders Fields? Because while I lived in the US, no one seemed to understand the symbolism of the poppy. The Canadians at my university got poppies from Canada. I'm not sure where I stand on the red vs white poppy, but I always took the red to represent blood, and thus to be itself an anti-war statement.

But you can understand why Canadians might take it a bit badly to have it attached to the US - that poem is as important to our patriotism/history as the words of the "Star Spangled Banner" are to an American. We already feel very threatened by American culture swamping our own, so to see something so important being labelled as American is very disturbing . But I understand that it was an honest mistake.

posted by jb at 1:28 AM on November 11, 2006

"They say it was a shocking sight
After the field was won;
For many thousand bodies here
Lay rotting in the sun;
But things like that, you know, must be
After a famous victory."

Robert Southey, 'The Battle of Blenheim' -- full poem here.

It's been twenty years since I wore a white poppy. It was 1986, and I was 17 years old; deeply concerned, like so many others, about the possibility of a nuclear war. Mrs Thatcher, in a speech, had expressed her distaste for the white-poppy campaign, and I went to the Peace Pledge Union headquarters in Bloomsbury, in a state of passionate indignation, to buy myself a white poppy. The PPU offices were empty, except for two elderly ladies drinking tea. They seemed rather surprised to see me, but they sold me a white poppy, and I went to school the next day defiantly wearing it in my lapel.

Naively, I'd thought of the white poppy as making a purely political statement. Mrs Thatcher was against them; I was against Mrs Thatcher; so what better way of expressing my anti-Thatcherite sentiments than by wearing a white poppy? I wasn't prepared for the reaction -- ranging from puzzlement, and a certain wary respect, to anger and disgust. 'So you think our soldiers in the First World War died in vain?' (this from an enraged teacher) 'What about Hitler? Are you saying we should have stood back and let the Holocaust happen?' (this from a thoughtful Jewish friend) The following day I quietly left my white poppy at home.

I respect people who are prepared to make the case for pacifism, but I can't make that case myself. Some wars have to be fought. And I think it is profoundly disingenuous of the Peace Pledge Union to advertise its white poppies as symbolising a 'culture of peace' (something we can all support) when the PPU is a pacifist organisation and the white poppy is a pacifist symbol. By all means wear your white poppy if you want to, but at least be clear about what it stands for.

posted by verstegan at 4:30 AM on November 11, 2006

'So you think our soldiers in the First World War died in vain?'

Well, yes.

And, incidently, I believe the Second World War was primarily caused by the First World War.
posted by thparkth at 6:13 AM on November 11, 2006

of course, jb, which is why I chastised myself so thoroughly, because I realized the obnoxious implications of the misattribution. No offense was met, it was just a stupid brainfart.
posted by Falconetti at 7:15 AM on November 11, 2006

My god, what a great thread.

Preparation (1986)

Still one more year of preparation.
Tomorrow at the latest I'll start working on a great book
In which my century will appear as it really was.
The sun will rise over the righteous and the wicked.
Springs and autumns will unerringly return,
In a wet thicket a thrush will build his nest lined with clay
And foxes will learn their foxy natures.

And that will be the subject, with addenda. Thus: armies
Running across frozen plains, shouting a curse
In a many-voiced chorus; the cannon of a tank
Growing immense at the corner of a street; the ride at dusk
Into a camp with watchtowers and barbed wire.

No, it won't happen tomorrow. In five or ten years.
I still think too much about the mothers
And ask what is man born of woman.
He curls himself up and protects his head
While he is kicked by heavy boots; on fire and running,
He burns with bright flame; a bulldozer sweeps him into a clay pit.
Her child. Embracing a teddy bear. Conceived in ecstasy.

I haven't learned yet to speak as I should, calmly.

Czeslaw Milosz, 1911–2004
posted by Turtles all the way down at 10:21 AM on November 11, 2006

When Statesmen gravely say 'We must be realistic',
The chances are they're weak and, therefore, pacifistic,
But when they speak of Principles, look out: perhaps
Their generals are already poring over maps.

WH Auden
(from Shorts in Collected Shorter Poems 1927-1957)
posted by fingerbang at 11:28 AM on November 11, 2006

Ah well, since I'm on an Auden thing ... oddly enough this one always makes me think of Don Rumsfeld.

Epitaph on a Tyrant

Perfection, of a kind, was what he was after,
And the poetry he invented was easy to understand;
He knew human folly like the back of his hand,
And was greatly interested in armies and fleets;
When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter,
And when he cried the little children died in the streets.

W. H. Auden
posted by fingerbang at 11:35 AM on November 11, 2006

'So you think our soldiers in the First World War died in vain?'

What an horribly easy question to answer...
posted by Skeptic at 4:04 PM on November 11, 2006

"Mama, Look Sharp"

Momma, hey momma
Come looking for me
I'm here in the meadow
By the red maple tree
Momma, hey momma
Look sharp
Here I'll be
Hey, hey momma, look sharp
Them soldiers they fired
Oh ma did we run
But when we turn around
The battle begun
Then I went under
Oh ma, am I done
Hey, hey momma, look sharp
My eyes are wide open
My face to the sky
Is that you I'm hearing
In the tall grass near by?
Momma come and find me
Before I do die!
Hey, hey momma look sharp

I'll close your eyes, my Billy
Them eyes that can not see
And I'll bury you, my Billy
Beneath the maple tree
And never again
Will you whisper to me
Hey, hey, oh momma, look sharp
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 5:00 PM on November 11, 2006

'So you think our soldiers in the First World War died in vain?'

Obviously it would have been far better if the war could have been avoided--the war was a terrible catastrophe for Western civilization. But it appears that this was not possible (from the point of view of Britain): Germany wanted war.
There is an abundant scholarship that has definitively demonstrated that Imperial Germany used the Sarajevo assassination as a pretext to wage a carefully planned preventive war and sabotaged all efforts to reach a peaceful solution of the crisis. But this interpretation has never advanced beyond the professional journals and scholarly monographs to challenge the “blundering into Armageddon, all were guilty” thesis, which continues to hold pride of place in the public imagination.
Why aren't there many pacifist societies? Because they would tend to get overrun by more militaristic neighbors. See Schmookler's Parable of the Tribes.
posted by russilwvong at 10:48 PM on November 11, 2006

Armistice Day was first celebrated at the end of WWI, the War to End All Wars. Armistice means a cessation of fighting. Americans stopped calling November 11th Armistice Day many years ago because the country became involved in other wars since.
posted by Titania at 1:47 AM on November 12, 2006

My husband pointed out that the white poppy campaign is itself politicizing poppies. Poppies are worn in remembrance, not for any other reason - the white poppy campaign wants to imply that wearing a red poppy means you support going to war (by claiming to stand for peace). When I wear a poppy, it is in remembrance of blood.
posted by jb at 3:48 PM on November 12, 2006

Excellent post, beautifully constructed.

I've always loved that poem.
posted by digitalis at 2:56 AM on November 13, 2006

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