Thursday, November 11, 2004

One More on the Great War

Since the anniversary of the Treaty of Versailles is now Veterans Day, which seems appropriate since it is this treaty that led to the creation of millions of future veterans of foriegn wars, Lindsay Beyerstein gives us "In Flanders Field," a poem written in 1915, during the Second Battle of Ypres, before McCrae could have known just how many more would die. Instead offering a another poem that glorifies the dead directly, I think I'll post one with a different perspective on the men who fought, and society in general. I think it does a good job of capturing the war, and the atmosphere that allowed it. Sometimes this sort of commentary can do more to honor those who died than direct tributes. I also think the poem is disturbingly appropriate for today. The entire poem is here. I will only give you a piece:

From Ode Pour L'election De Son Sepulchre by Ezra Pound

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" not "et decor"...
walked eye-deep in hell
believing 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.


Anonymous said...

I felt odd about posting "Flanders Fields" in wartime America. In Canada, Remembrance Day is a national day of reflection on the horror and futility of war. November 11 is arguably the least jingoistic day of the year. It's a day of the dead on which living veterans lead us in honoring the fallen.

"Flanders Fields" is the traditional Remembrance Day poem. It is recited at high school assemblies and on the radio.

When I reread the poem in wartime America, I suddenly remembered that the lyrics were literally urging us to keep slogging away in a futile war. "Remembered" is a funny term, because I've known the poem by heart since I was a small child.

The interesting thing is how the meaning of the poem is shaped by the cultural context in which it is traditionally read. When Canadians read that poem aloud on Remembrance day they do so with solemn irony. Most people don't identify with the literal sentiments in the poem. They take a more detached perspective on the poem as a poignant artifact, rather than as an object lesson.

I decided to post "Flanders Fields" because it's a traditional Canadian way to observe Remembrance day. I hope it didn't come across as glorifying war or the dead.  

Posted by Lindsay Beyerstein

Anonymous said...

Oh, definitely not. It's a beautiful poem, and I always treat its call to defeat the enemy in the name of the dead as irony. I just wanted to include another, less ironic look at WWI's dead.  

Posted by Chris

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