My experience of war is confined to books, research, history, text, empty battlefields and tv news. Still, on Remembrance Sunday and on the 11th at 11am I remember.
I remember a woman, standing on the corner across the street from the Martin Luther King Library, in Washington D.C.. She was crying, or, to be precise, she was crying and screaming, very loudly, about war and the injustice of loss. I crossed the street to avoid her and took a longer route to the metro-line. I was embarrassed. Embarrassed about the scene she was creating – embarrassed at her womanly ‘madness’ – embarrassed at my own embarrassment. I spent the day in the Library of Congress researching Napoleonic war poems and thinking of the woman; thinking that, if she was still there at 5 o’clock, I would speak to her. I thought, if I was brave enough, I might take her for a cup of tea.
I remembered her black hair flying in the wind, her blue coat flapping open, her flat shoes and the way that she stood, with one foot up one foot down on the high kerb. I remembered her tear-stained face. I remembered the medal she held up to the sunlight… When I returned in the early evening, she was gone.
I always think of her in November and always regret avoiding her; avoiding the harsh reality and the stark, mad, angry truth of war.
I asked recently in a ‘tweet’, ‘What is your favourite war poem’. The response brought some surprises and some familiar titles, and I was introduced to poems I wish I’d known sooner. Out of the response I’ve compiled a ‘Twitterthology of War Poems’.
Wilfred Owen’s ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ was mentioned most frequently so it’s pasted in below.
What, or whom do you remember?
- Here, Bullet, Brian Turner, from @StepUpFinance
- ‘Drummer Hodge’, Hardy http://tinyurl.com/yf224k8 Kipling: “If any question why we died, Tell them, because our fathers lied …” from @TallStoriesBook
- ‘i sing of Olaf glad and from big’, by ee cummings, http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15408 from @redredbeard
- ‘In Parenthesis’, David Jones, Moments of real sublimity. Unjustly thought of as impenetrable. ‘Canoe’, by Keith Hughes. Modern, Hugely moving. Good analysis of it in Paulin’s Secret Life of Poems, from @ahmpreston
- ‘High Flight’ by John Gillespie Magee http://bit.ly/3AYm6 from @lilliesleaf
- “In Flanders Fields” by McCrae, “Dulce et Decorum est” by Owen, “The Death of the Ball-Turret Gunner” by Jarrell from @thebookmaven
- An old one by Siegfried Sassoon: ‘Suicide in the Trenches’, from @paula_sherrill
- It might not be the most original choice but the power of the words still hit you. ‘Dulce et Decorum est’ by Wilfred Owen, from @insidebooks
- I remember being moved at school by anything Siegfried Sassoon, from @RobAroundBooks
- ‘War Music’, …selections from the Iliad, by Christopher Logue, from @annthewriter
- ‘On Somme’, or ‘The Silent one’, by Ivor Gurney, from @DavidDOCT
- ‘Attack’, by Siegfried Sassoon. Utterly unprecedented http://bit.ly/21fhrV from @clivebirnie
- ‘The Soilder’, by Rupert Brooke, from @stujallen
- ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’, from @iamamro
- ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’, from @CafeNirvana
- ‘Still Falls the Rain’, by Edith Sitwell, from @Margit11
- Has to be ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’, from @the_rts
- ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’, from @hoodedpigwoman
- ‘Dulce et Decorum est’, by Wilfred Owen, from @RedMummy
DULCE ET DECORUM EST
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 tired, outstripped5 Five-Nines that dropped 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.
8 October 1917 – March, 1918