Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Armistice Day

Armistice Day again and I don't know where to put myself, as usual. It's a time of frustration for me because it seems to me that the war dead and injured deserve unlimited dignity and respect but I can't bring myself to believe that anyone from the Great War, or countless other wars for that matter died for "us" like David Dimbleby and numerous commentators, churchpeople etc say. Moreover I think they do the dead a disrespect by this annual lie. The Great War was fought for a lot of things but not for freedom. Imperialist and economic domination. Not freedom. If we hadn't swallowed this interpretation of history there might not have been a Second World War, the only one you could argue was a "just" war.

As long as the grey suits get away with flogging tired old militaristic values and misrepresenting them as patriotism or a defence of freedom we'll keep burying our war dead. 1968 is the only year since 1914 when British soldiers have not died in foreign wars. It's a disgrace. I remember reading that when the war with iraq was announced Tony Blair looked "hugely excited". If people are still getting excited about wars we're remembering the wrong way.

I come back to my fellow Scotsman Charles Hamilton Sorley's poem, all the more evocative, powerful and radical because he himself died in the trenches.

When You see Millions of the Mouthless Dead

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 Sorley


Sorlil said...

What a powerful poem, thanks for that.

shug said...

I'll put the whole of it on. It's a brilliant piece.

hope said...

That is more honoring than all the wreaths that will be placed today on memorials...many by men who never had to look death in the face.

Thanks for reminding us of both sides.

the broken down barman said...

even i appreciate that piece shuggy.

its a shame to awake in a world of pain
what does it mean when a war has taken over


McGuire said...

Love this poem.

D'yknow that I first discovered poetry in my English class in high school, I wasn't charmed by the beat poets or more 'trendy' poets, I came to the War Poets and became obssessed by them, Owen and Sassoon, I have a whole host of war poetry, from unnkown italian soldiers to the most fascistic Kipling.

This is one of my favourite and most saddening poems on war, it's a lofty incantation:

Parable of the Old Man and the Young

So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,

And took the fire with him, and a knife.

And as they sojourned both of them together,

Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father,

Behold the preparations, fire and iron,

But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?

Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,

and builded parapets and trenches there,

And stretchèd forth the knife to slay his son.

When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,

Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,

Neither do anything to him. Behold,

A ram, caught in a thicket by its horns;

Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.

But the old man would not so, but slew his son,

And half the seed of Europe, one by one.

Wilfred Owen


I should be in attendance on Friday, but I may be travelling to Hull, so it's still in debate. But, hopefully, I make it to the reading. Would be great to finally meet and greet.

shug said...

hope to see you there mcguire bring a busload.

hope said...

Shug, kindly stop by my blog today and pick up your awards. :)

Rachel Fox said...

Shug or Hull...what a choice...

shug said...

it's a choice between monosyllables at least

Rachel Fox said...

And he chose you!