Carol Ann Duffy: It is the wound in Time

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It is the wound in Time. The century’s tides,
chanting their bitter psalms, cannot heal it.
Not the war to end all wars; death’s birthing place;
the earth nursing its ticking metal eggs, hatching
new carnage. But how could you know, brave
as belief as you boarded the boats, singing?
The end of God in the poisonous, shrapneled air.
Poetry gargling its own blood. We sense it was love
you gave your world for; the town squares silent,
awaiting their cenotaphs. What happened next?
War. And after that? War. And now? War. War.
History might as well be water, chastising this shore;
for we learn nothing from your endless sacrifice.
Your faces drowning in the pages of the sea.

Carol Ann Duffy (1955–), British poet laureate, on the hundredth anniversary of the end of World War I.

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"The Wound in Time" by Carol Ann Duffy. Published by the Guardian, 2018. Copyright © Carol Ann Duffy. Reproduced by permission of the author c/o Rogers, Coleridge & White Ltd., 20 Powis Mews, London W11 1JN, U.K.

Photos:

New Zealand division marching to take ship to Europe. These men fought, among other battles, at Passchendaele; hundreds of thousands of soldiers, including 2375 New Zealanders, died there. 

The morning after the first battle of Passchendaele.


Arcos: The dead are all on the same side

Dead German soldier WWI natlib-govt-nz:records:22791416

They float in the wind
on the same side,
the widows' veils—

and the mingled sobs
of a thousand sorrows
all flow into
the same river.
Crowded against each other,
the dead with no hate, with no flags,
their hair matted with blood—
the dead are all on the same side.

In the same clay, where the world that is dying
endlessly melds with the world that begins,
the brotherly dead, their foreheads together,
now atone for the same defeat.

Pummel each other, divided children!
Tear Humanity apart
into pointless shreds of territory—
the dead are all on the same side.

For under the earth there is only one country
and only one hope
just as there is, for the Universe,
only one war and one victory.

René Arcos (1880–1959), "Les Morts"

Le vent fait flotter
Du même côté
Les voiles des veuves

Et les pleurs mêlés
Des mille douleurs
Vont au même fleuve.
Serrés les uns contre les autres
Les morts sans haine et sans drapeau,
Cheveux plaqués de sang caillé,
Les morts sont tous d’un seul côté.

Dans l’argile unique où s’allie sans fin
Au monde qui meurt celui qui commence
Les morts fraternels tempe contre tempe
Expient aujourd’hui la même défaite.

Heurtez-vous, ô fils divisés !
Et déchirez l’Humanité
En vains lambeaux de territoires,
Les morts sont tous d’un seul côté.

Car sous la terre il n’y a plus
Qu’une patrie et qu’un espoir
Comme il n’y a pour l’Univers
Qu’un combat et qu’une victoire.


Erich Maria Remarque: on the horror of endless war

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"Germany ought to be empty soon," says Kat.

We have given up hope that some day an end may come. We never think so far...

In one attack our Company Commander, Bertinck, falls. He was one of those superb front-line officers who are foremost in every hot place. He was with us for two years without being wounded, so that something had to happen in the end....

Bertinck has a chest wound. After a while a fragment smashes away his chin, and the same fragment has sufficient force to tear open Leer's hip. Leer groans as he supports himself on his arm, he bleeds quickly, no one can help him. Like an emptying tube, after a couple of minutes he collapses.

What use is it to him now that he was such a good mathematician at school.

Erich Maria Remarque (1898–1970), All Quiet on the Western Front, ch. 11, translated here by A.W. Wheen. Both men were soldiers in World War I. 

"Deutschland muß bald leer sein" sagt Kat.

Wir sind ohne Hoffnung, daß einmal ein Ende sein könnte. Wir denken überhaupt nicht so weit....

Bei einem Angriff fällt unser Kompanieführer Bertinck. Er war einer dieser prachtvollen Frontoffiziere, die in jeder brenzligen Situation vorne sind. Seit zwei Jahren war er bei uns, ohne daß er verwundet wurde, da mußte ja endlich etwas passieren....

Bertinck hat einen Brustschuß. Nach einer Weile schmettert ihm ein Splitter das Kinn weg. Der gleiche Splitter hat noch die Kraft, Leer die Hüfte aufzureißen. Leer stöhnt und stemmt sich auf die Arme, er verblutet rasch, niemand kann ihm helfen. Wie ein leerlaufender Schlauch sackt er nach ein paar Minuten zusammen. Was nützt es ihm nun, daß er in der Schule ein so guter Mathematiker war.

 


Mohammed Assaf, age 12, on his mother

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Aleppo, Syria in December 2016
 

The Word Ummī— My Mother

My beloved mother.
When I go to my house, the pain of missing her
Arrives before me.

Mohammed Assaf of Syria, age 12 when he wrote this.
Mohammed lives in England now and his poem is in
England: Poems from a School (2018), edited by Kate Clanchy


Message from a dead father to his child

Kalle-Gustafsson-Flickr

Before long I will leave this earth. I am trying to stay calm, to talk with you for the first and last time on this paper. I fear you can’t imagine what it’s like, alas. To face this moment and be unable to see you once, to hug you once, to kiss you once ... I am heartbroken. My regret is unending. 

  –Huang Wen-kung 黃溫恭 (1920–1953), a political prisoner condemned to execution in 1950s Taiwan, writing to his unborn child. The family was told he had killed himself. His daughter finally received her father's letter in 2008, at age 56, after her daughter found it in government archives.

黃溫恭

我不久就要和世間永別了。用萬分的努力來鎮靜心腦,來和妳做一次最初而最終的紙上談話吧。我的這心情 恐怕妳不能想像吧! 嗚呼!臨於此時不能見妳一面,抱妳一回, 吻妳一嘴…………我甚感遺憾! 長恨不盡!

 

 


Emily Dickinson: After a hundred years

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After a hundred years
nobody knows the place,—
agony, that enacted there,
motionless as peace.

Weeds triumphant ranged,
strangers strolled and spelled
at the lone orthography
of the elder dead.

Winds of summer fields
recollect the way,—
instinct picking up the key
dropped by memory.

    --Emily Dickinson  (1830-1886) 


Lee Brice: Mama asked me this morning if I'd been by your grave

 

Eighty-nine cents in the ashtray 
Half empty bottle of Gatorade 
Rollin' on the floorboard 

That dirty Braves cap on the dash 
Dogtags hangin' from the rear view 
Old Skoal can and cowboy boots 
And a "Go Army" shirt folded in the back 

This thing burns gas like crazy 
But that's all right 
People got their ways of copin' 
Oh, and I've got mine 

I drive your truck 
I roll every window down 
And I burn up 
Every back road in this town 
I find a field, I tear it up 
Till all the pain is a cloud of dust 
Yes, sometimes, I drive your truck 

I leave that radio playin' 
The same ole country station 
Where you left it 

Yeah, man, I crank it up 
You'd probably punch my arm right now 
If you saw this tear rollin' down my face 
Hey, man, I'm tryin' to be tough 

And Mama asked me this mornin' 
If I'd been by your grave 
But that flag of stone 
Ain't where I feel you, anyway 

I drive your truck 
I roll every window down 
And I burn up 
Every back road in this town 
I find a field, I tear it up 
Till all the pain is a cloud of dust 
Yes, sometimes, I drive your truck 

I've cussed, I've prayed, I've said goodbye 
I've shook my fist and asked God why 
These days, when I'm missin' you this much 

I drive your truck 
I roll every window down 
And I burn up 
Every back road in this town 
I find a field, and I tear it up 
Till all the pain is a cloud of dust 
Yes, sometimes, 
Brother, sometimes, I drive your truck 

I drive your truck 
I hope you don't mind 
I hope you don't mind 
I drive your truck

The story behind the song


Kenneth Patchen: Hands that shall reach icily into their warm beds

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Rifle goes up
does what a rifle does.

Star is very beautiful:
doing what a star does.

Tell them, O Sleeper, that some
were slain at the start of the slaughter

Tell them, O Sleeper, that sleet and rain
are falling on those poor riderless heads

Tell them, O Sleeper, that pitiful hands float on the water...
hands that shall reach icily into their warm beds.

     --Kenneth Patchen (1911-1972), Selected Poems (1936), "The Soldier and the Star."


Lincoln: You are sure to be happy again

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Executive Mansion,
Washington, December 23, 1862.

Dear Fanny,

It is with deep grief that I learn of the death of your kind and brave Father; and, especially, that it is affecting your young heart beyond what is common in such cases. In this sad world of ours, sorrow comes to all; and, to the young, it comes with bitterest agony, because it takes them unawares. The older have learned to ever expect it. I am anxious to afford some alleviation of your present distress. Perfect relief is not possible, except with time. You can not now realize that you will ever feel better. Is not this so? And yet it is a mistake. You are sure to be happy again. To know this, which is certainly true, will make you some less miserable now. I have had experience enough to know what I say; and you need only to believe it, to feel better at once. The memory of your dear Father, instead of an agony, will yet be a sad sweet feeling in your heart, of a purer and holier sort than you have known before.

Please present my kind regards to your afflicted mother.

Your sincere friend
A. Lincoln

According to website Abraham Lincoln Online, "President Abraham Lincoln wrote this touching letter of condolence to the daughter of his long-time friend, William McCullough." Lieutenant Colonel McCullough of the Fourth Illinois Cavalry was killed in Coffeeville, Mississippi on December 5th, 1862.