The war to end all wars…

In honor of the 100th anniversary of America’s entry into WWI, I would like to pay my respects to all of those men and women who faced those atrocities.  Understanding of poetry came later in life for me.  Words are both adequate and inadequate to represent certain situations and, yet, many poets have been successful in that venture.  Poetry from the WWI era is so tragically eloquent and somber.

One poem that depicts the stark reality of wartime is by Ivor Gurney and is entitled “To His Love.”  Here is a snippet:  “He’s gone, and all our plans/Are useless indeed./We’ll walk no more on Cotswalds/Where the sheep feed/Quietly and take no heed.”  The pain of loss is somewhat tempered by the loveliness of the peaceful pastoral nature of rural England.  Yet, the last stanza really hits home.  “Cover him!  Cover him soon!/And with thick-set/Masses of memoried flowers-/Hide that red wet/Thing I must somehow forget.”  I truly am unable to fathom what that could be like.

Here is an image from Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce et Decorum Est.”   “In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,/He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.”  This is a description of a comrade who has fallen prey to poison gas.  His demise is not pretty.  Owen ends his poem with a fabulous “lesson.”   “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.”  This bit of Latin is borrowed from the Roman poet Horace and roughly means “It is sweet and proper to die for one’s country,” and came to be known as “The Old Lie.”  Owen urges us not to teach the young that dying in battle is glorious.

But I’m not here to make a political statement, really, though it seems I have.  There is a ton of great poetry decrying war, furnishing images of horror and loss.  I will share my favorite with you in its entirety.  Written by a Canadian doctor, John McRae shares his WWI experience with us and creates a lasting symbol for the war:  the poppy.

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In Flanders Fields, by John McRae

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

N.B.—it is felt that the bombing and disrupting of the ground in this hallowed cemetery caused dormant poppy seeds to come to life and bloom.  Whether true or not, it’s a heart-wrenching explanation.

***In honor of my great uncle James A. Pringle who served in France during WWI.



About thequarryschild

A self-described forensic junkie, Beth Anderson spends her days shaping young minds to ask critical questions and wonder “whodunit.” Beth resides in the Capital District of New York and spends her free time reading and solving the great mysteries. Her love of swimming, tennis and sports provides the basis for one of the lead characters in her new book The Quarry’s Child. Beth is one of the founding members of the Upper Hudson Valley Chapter of Sisters in Crime (aka Mavens of Mayhem), a graduate of the FBI Citizens Academy, a survivor of a visit to an active aircraft carrier while it was at sea, and a published poet in Soundings, a literary journal. Beth continues to instill a love for mystery fiction in her students as she has for over twenty years. Photo credit: Quinn Mulvey
This entry was posted in nostalgia, poetry, war and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The war to end all wars…

  1. LaurieAnn says:

    Beautifully written, Beth. The poetry of war is so moving and truthful. I am reminded of Walt Whitman’s writings from the Civil War. Flanders Fields is a poem my dad recited often. Thank you for this remembrance. L

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