Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Armistice Day, With Robert Graves

Today is Armistice Day, a holiday established to mark the end of the Great War, the War to End All Wars. We shouldn't forget the most important message of this day: Never Again. It's a message the world has failed utterly to understand. We Americans, who for a time seemed to keep it in mind, except when we were attacked, have forgotten it, fighting a number of wars for no purpose and to no good end. Vietnam and the Second Iraq war were particularly disastrous - killing thousands, causing immense domestic strife and harm, having ongoing repercussions. (Though oddly, 40 years along, Vietnam's legacy isn't quite so bad - we get along with them now. We had the decency to lose, I suppose, and somehow were able to get past that loss, and move toward decent relations with Southeast Asia. Though that just tends to indicate that the war was a waste - we would have ended up friends anyway, maybe. When you look at the devastation that war brought - to Vietnam, to Cambodia - and the amount of harm it did to us, the ways it stranded Johnson's political achievements, delivering the country to Nixon and evil - it is a horrible thing.) And Iraq? we're back to talking about boots on the ground in the Middle East - insanity... Though here - blaming George Bush and co. is well justified - they took bad things and made them far worse - but in so many ways, the ongoing strife in the middle east is just a reminder that 11/11/18 was just a ceasefire in one theater of the Great War. The war didn't really stop in the middle east - it kept going, the results of the war warping and twisting around each other, and forming new conflicts, which go on to this day.


It's important, then, to remember that today is a sad day - a day of mourning for the men sacrificed in war, for what war did to them. A day of atonement for all the young men we have killed (all us countries.)

So - from one who was there, Robert Graves. First, an arty video set to the poem, The Assault Heroic:

And then - getting to the point in a hurry: the Dead Boche:

And text: The Assault Heroic:

Down in the mud I lay,
Tired out by my long day
Of five damned days and nights,
Five sleepless days and nights, ...
Dream-snatched, and set me where
The dungeon of Despair
Looms over Desolate Sea,
Frowning and threatening me
With aspect high and steep—
A most malignant keep.
My foes that lay within
Shouted and made a din,
Hooted and grinned and cried:
"Today we've killed your pride;
Today your ardour ends.
We've murdered all your friends;
We've undermined by stealth
Your happiness and your health.
We've taken away your hope;
Now you may droop and mope
To misery and to Death."
But with my spear of Faith,
Stout as an oaken rafter,
With my round shield of laughter,
With my sharp, tongue-like sword
That speaks a bitter word,
I stood beneath the wall
And there defied them all.
The stones they cast I caught
And alchemized with thought
Into such lumps of gold
As dreaming misers hold.
The boiling oil they threw
Fell in a shower of dew,
Refreshing me; the spears
Flew harmless by my ears,
Struck quivering in the sod;
There, like the prophet's rod,
Put leaves out, took firm root,
And bore me instant fruit.
My foes were all astounded,
Dumbstricken and confounded,
Gaping in a long row;
They dared not thrust nor throw.
Thus, then, I climbed a steep
Buttress and won the keep,
And laughed and proudly blew
My horn, "Stand to! Stand to!
Wake up, sir! Here's a new
Attack! Stand to! Stand to!"

A Dead Boche:

TO you who'd read my songs of War
And only hear of blood and fame,
I'll say (you've heard it said before)
"War's Hell!" and if you doubt the same,
Today I found in Mametz Wood
A certain cure for lust of blood:
Where, propped against a shattered trunk,
In a great mess of things unclean,
Sat a dead Boche; he scowled and stunk
With clothes and face a sodden green,
Big-bellied, spectacled, crop-haired,
Dribbling black blood from nose and beard.

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