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PostPosted: Sun Jul 22, 2007 11:48 am 
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Location: Sheffield, UK
From AP Herbert, and based on a true incident:

The General inspecting the trenches
Exclaimed with a horrified shout
'I refuse to command a division
Which leaves its excreta about.'

But nobody took any notice
No one was prepared to refute,
That the presence of shit was congenial
Compared to the presence of Shute.

And certain responsible critics
Made haste to reply to his words
Observing that his staff advisors
Consisted entirely of turds.

For shit may be shot at odd corners
And paper supplied there to suit,
But a shit would be shot without mourners
If someone shot that shit Shute.

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PostPosted: Sun Jul 22, 2007 9:26 pm 
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:D Oh, he was a naughty man! Three strains of poetry - his beautiful sorrowful war stuff, his satires (there's one about a woman in the theatre), and this abuse of a red tab! TEE HEE!

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PostPosted: Sun Jul 22, 2007 9:54 pm 
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Location: Sheffield, UK
'The General Inspecting The Trenches' always amuses me, but I must admit I much prefer Owen. This is one of my favourites:-

So the church Christ was hit and buried
Under its rubbish and its rubble.
In cellars, packed-up saints lie serried,
Well out of hearing of our trouble.

One Virgin still immaculate
Smiles on for war to flatter her.
She's halo'd with an old tin hat,
But a piece of hell will batter her.

That last verse pretty much says it all...

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PostPosted: Sun Jul 22, 2007 11:46 pm 
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Here's Owen on the subject of Inspection, also based on a true incident:

'You! What d'you mean by this?' I rapped.
'You dare come on parade like this?'
'Please, sir, it's -' ''Old yer mouth,' the sergeant snapped.
'I takes 'is name, sir?' - 'Please, and then dismiss.'

Some days 'confined to camp' he got,
For being 'dirty on parade'.
He told me, afterwards, the damned spot
Was blood, his own. 'Well, blood is dirt,' I said.

'Blood's dirt,' he laughed, looking away
Far off to where his wound had bled
And almost merged for ever into clay.
'The world is washing out its stains,' he said.
'It doesn't like our cheeks so red:
Young blood's its great objection.
But when we're duly white-washed, being dead,
The race will bear Field-Marshal God's inspection.'

I always liked 'Le Christianisme, Ian' - the sense of despair and lack of succour is very strong, and the hopelessness of belief.

'packed-up saints lie serried,
Well out of hearing of our trouble.'

IT always makes me think, funnily enough, of the legend of the 'Angel of Mons', born out of fear and need. Also the Virgin of Albert and the beliefs that grew up around it. Here's the story and a photo if you haven''t already seen it:

Note how the British and the Germans interpreted the leaning statue differently, another telling comment on religion. And here's owne again on the religious theme:

The Parable of the Young Man and the Old
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 the trenches there,
And stretched 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

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PostPosted: Mon Jul 23, 2007 6:17 am 
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One of the reasons I like Le Christianisme is because it's easy to remember :-) Of course, that final image of the Virgin Mary 'halo'd with an old tin hat' is pretty memorable.. But if I was to pick a favourite Owen poem, it would have to be 'S.I.W.', whose final line sums up all the hopelessness and despair felt in the Trenches:


Patting good-bye, doubtless they told the lad
He'd always show the Hun a brave man's face;
Father would sooner him dead than in disgrace, -
Was proud to see him going, aye, and glad.
Perhaps his mother whimpered how she'd fret
Until he got a nice safe wound to nurse.
Sisters would wish girls too could shoot, charge, curse...
Brothers - would send his favourite cigarette.
Each week, month after month, they wrote the same,
Thinking him sheltered in some Y.M. Hut,
Because he said so, writing on his butt
Where once an hour a bullet missed its aim
And misses teased the hunger of his brain.
His eyes grew old with wincing, and his hand
Reckless with ague. Courage leaked, as sand
From the best sand-bags after years of rain.
But never leave, wound, fever, trench-foot, shock,
Untrapped the wretch. And death seemed still withheld
For torture of lying machinally shelled,
At the pleasure of this world's Powers who'd run amok.

He'd seen men shoot their hands, on night patrol.
Their people never knew. Yet they were vile.
'Death sooner than dishonour, that's the style!'
So Father said.

One dawn, our wire patrol
Carried him. This time, Death had not missed.
We could do nothing but wipe his bleeding cough.
Could it be accident? - Rifles go off...
Not sniped? No. (Later they found the English ball.)

It was the reasoned crisis of his soul
Against more days of inescapable thrall,
Against infrangibly wired and blind trench wall
Curtained with fire, roofed in with creeping fire,
Slow grazing fire, that would not burn him whole
But kept him for death's promises and scoff,
And life's half-promising, and both their riling.

With him they buried the muzzle his teeth had kissed,
And truthfully wrote the Mother, 'Tim died smiling'

- ian

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PostPosted: Mon Jul 23, 2007 7:56 am 
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Location: Bethesda, Gwynedd
I'm not normally a fan of Mister Owen, finding him too blank, but that's wonderful. The lyricism reminds me of Dylan Thomas.

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PostPosted: Mon Jul 23, 2007 9:18 am 
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Good one, Ian.
Is this one blank. Foxie? One of my faves:

The Sentry
We'd found an old Boche dug-out, and he knew,
And gave us hell, for shell on frantic shell
Hammered on top, but never quite burst through.
Rain, guttering down in waterfalls of slime,
Kept slush waist-high and rising hour by hour,
And choked the steps too thick with clay to climb.
What murk of air remained stank old, and sour
With fumes of whizz-bangs, and the smell of men
Who'd lived there years, and left their curse in the den,
If not their corpses...

There we herded from the blast
Of whizz-bangs, but one found our door at last,
Buffeting eyes and breath, snuffing the candles,
And thud! flump! thud! down the steep steps came thumping
And sploshing in the flood, deluging muck -
The sentry's body; then his rifle, handles
Of old Boche bombs, and mud in ruck on ruck.
We dredged him up, for killed, until he whined
'O sir, my eyes - I'm blind, - I'm blind, I'm blind!'
Coaxing, I held a flame against his lids
And said if he could see the least blurred light
He was not blind; in time he'd get all right.
'I can't' he sobbed. Eyeballs, huge-bulged like squids',
Watch my dreams still; but I forgot him there
In posting Next for duty, and sending a scout
To beg a stretcher somewhere, and flound'ring about
To other posts under the shrieking air.

* * *
Those other wretches, how they bled and spewed,
And one who would have drowned himself for good, -
I try not to remember these things now.
Let dread hark back for one word only: how
Half-listening to that sentry's moans and jumps,
And the wild chattering of his broken teeth,
Renewed most horribly whenever crumps
Pummelled the roof and slogged the air beneath, -
Through the dense din, I say, we heard him shout
'I see your lights!' But ours had long died out.

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PostPosted: Mon Jul 23, 2007 10:01 am 
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Location: Swansea
This is Wilfred Owen:

"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."

Brings it home eh?

My Blog:

Debut novel site:

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PostPosted: Mon Jul 23, 2007 11:11 am 
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Joined: Tue Jun 05, 2007 7:19 am
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Location: Sheffield, UK
How about some AE Tomlinson? There's seems an almost modern streak of cynicism to his poetry.

from "To German Soldiers"

As crump-hole differs from crump-hole, as mire may be
softer than mire,
As the cut of the tunics won't help much when the men are
maimed yet alive,
So killerman Grey and killerman Drab are oafs of one sire,
Settling problems of population with Mills, Number Five.

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PostPosted: Mon Jul 23, 2007 5:21 pm 
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Hi, Ian - modern cynicism began n the trenches, I think. Thamks for the Tomlinson - I hadn't seen that before. Here's Owen's take on an enemy soldier:

Strange Meeting

It seemed that out of battle I escaped
Down some profound dull tunnel, long since scooped
Through granites which titanic wars had groined.

Yet also there encumbered sleepers groaned,
Too fast in thought or death to be bestirred.
Then, as I probed them, one sprang up, and stared
With piteous recognition in fixed eyes,
Lifting distressful hands, as if to bless.
And by his smile, I knew that sullen hall,-
By his dead smile I knew we stood in Hell.

With a thousand pains that vision's face was grained;
Yet no blood reached there from the upper ground,
And no guns thumped, or down the flues made moan.
"Strange friend," I said, "here is no cause to mourn."
"None," said that other, "save the undone years,
The hopelessness. Whatever hope is yours,
Was my life also, I went hunting wild
After the wildest beauty in the world,
Which lies not calm in eyes, or braided hair,
But mocks the steady running of the hour,
And if it grieves, grieves richlier than here.
For by my glee might many men have laughed,
And of my weeping something had been left,
Which must die now I mean the truth untold,
The pity of war, the pity war distilled.
Now men will go content with what we spoiled,
Or, discontent, boil bloody, and be spilled.
They will be swift with swiftness of the tigress.
None will break ranks, though nations trek from progress.
Courage was mine, and I had mystery,
Wisdom was mine, and I had mastery:
To miss the march of this retreating world
Into vain citadels that are not walled.
Then, when much blood had clogged their chariot-wheels,
I would go up and wash them from sweet wells,
Even with truths that lie too deep for taint.
I would have poured my spirit without stint
But not through wounds; not on the cess of war.
Foreheads of men have bled where no wounds were.
I am the enemy you killed, my friend.
I knew you in this dark: for so you frowned
Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed.
I parried; but my hands were loath and cold.
Let us sleep now... "

-- Wilfred Owen

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PostPosted: Mon Jul 23, 2007 5:36 pm 
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Location: Sheffield, UK
Here's something a bit different. Well, alright - a lot different. :-)

We've had anti-war poetry from the Great War, but how about some Jahili (Pre-Islamic) poetry juxtaposing war and a man's unrequited love for an enemy's daughter...

And surely I recollected you, even when the lances were drinking my blood,
and bright swords of Indian make were dripping with my blood.

I wished to kiss the swords, for verily they shone as bright
as the flash of the foretooth of your smiling mouth.

If you lower your veil over yourself in front of me, of what use will it be?
for, verily, I am expert in capturing the mailed horseman.

Praise me for the qualities which you know I possess, for,
verily, when I am not ill-treated, I am gentle to associate with.

And if I am ill-treated, then, verily, my tyranny is severe,
very bitter is the taste of it, as the taste of the colocynth.

This is a section of a qasida by 'Antara Ibn Shaddād al-'Absi. I suspect it loses a lot in translation. The full translated text of the poem (and two others of the Mu'allaqa) can be found here:

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PostPosted: Mon Jul 23, 2007 10:37 pm 
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Love and threat - what a mixture. I wonder what the maid replied?

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PostPosted: Wed Jul 25, 2007 6:04 pm 
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Location: Sheffield, UK
While Arab poetry has been dominated by male poets, there have been some famous female ones - such as Al-Khansa' bint 'Amr ibn Al-Sharid (575 - 645 AD). Here's an excerpt from 'Lament for a Brother':

What have we done to you, death,
that you treat us so,
with always another catch
one day a warrior
the next a head of state;
charmed by the loyal
you choose the best.
Iniquitous, unequalling death
I would not complain
if you were just
but you take the worthy
leaving fools for us.

(Arabic and Persian Poems, Omar S Pound)

It's not war poetry, although it does reference war. But battle and war was a common occurrence at that time. Perhaps that's why much of the poetry of the time includes boasting about the writer's own prowess in battle. Compare & contrast poetry from the Great War... Which does make you wonder what sort of poetry, if any, is going to come out of Iraq - both by Iraqi writers and Western soldiers.

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PostPosted: Thu Jul 26, 2007 7:40 pm 
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Women's war poetry ,like the Arab poetess's, is often concerned with those left behind. This is from Violet Hacob, who lost a son on the Somme in 1916. She lived in the farm country in the north of Scotlandand so wrote in dialect sometimes. I have provoded a 'translation'. She's hard to beat for sheer pain and reestrained mourning:

DAYTIME an nicht,
Sun, wind an rain;
The lang, cauld licht
O the spring months again,
The yaird's a' weed,
An the fairm's a' still-
Wha'll sou the seed
I' the field by the lirk o the hill?
Prood maun ye lie,
Prood did ye gang;
Auld, auld am I,
But O! life's lang!
Gaists i' the air,
Whaups cryin shrill,
An you nae mair
I' the field by the lirk o the hill-
Aye, bairn, nae mair, nae mair,
I' the field by the lirk o the hill!

The Field By The Fold In The Hill

Daylight and night
Sun, wind and rain
The Long cold light
Of the spring months again
The yard's all weed
And the farm's all still-
Who'll sow the seed
In the field by the fold of the hill?
Proud must you lie
Proud did you go;
Old, old am I
But O! Life's long!
Ghosts in the air
Curlews crying shrill
And you no more
In the field by the fold in the hill-
Aye, little child
No more, no more
In the field by the fold in the hill.

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PostPosted: Mon Jul 30, 2007 11:28 pm 
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A poignant lyric from John Murray:


This year, nest year, sometime, never,”
A lanely lass, bringing hame the kye,
Pu’s at a floo’er wi’ a weary sigh,
An’ laich, laich, she is coontin’ ever
“This year, neist year, sometime, never,
When will the war be by?”

“Weel, wounded, missin’, deid,”
Is there nae news o’ oor lads ava?
Are they hale an’ fere that are hine awa’?
A lass raxed oot for the list to read—
“Weel, wounded, missin’, deid”;
An’ the war was by for twa.

kye - cattle
pu's - pulls
floor - flower
laich - in a low voice
coontin - counting
weel - well
deid - dead
hale and fere - hae and hearty
raxed - reached
twa - two

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