Friday, 31 July 2009

Jaw, Jaw, Jaw!

Churchill's famous saying - "Jaw, jaw, jaw is better than war, war war" clever juxtaposition of words - he was always good at that - and he certainly knew what he was talking about regarding war. In fact it does seem that war, killing, death, and allied subjects, brings out the best in our poets. I think of Auden's "Stop the clocks", Dylan Thomas's "Do not go gently", John Donne's "Death be not proud" - and a host of war poets who's words strike deep into our hearts.
Well I think there is another one we can add to our list of heart-rending poetry regarding the terrible suffering of war.
Yesterday Henry Allingham, aged 113, with Harry Patch (who also died this week) probably the only surviving soldiers from the first World War (1914-1918), was buried with full military honours in a fourteenth century Brighton church. His coffin was carried by pall bearers from the armed forces and the American side of his family (his daughter, now dead, was a GI bride) follwed carrying his medals and decorations. And for the occasion, Carol Ann Duffy, our new Poet Laureate, composed a poem "Last Post". I think it is brilliant. So many poems penned by our Poets Laureate for special occasions are laboured and turgid. Duffy takes the idea of running time backwards "If poetry could truly tell it backwards, then it would." I find it a very moving poem.
Some may see the whole thing as a glorification of war. We have recently had a 1940's week end here in our little market town - all tied in with the Wensleydale Railway. Men and women dressed up in 40's uniforms, costumes, turbans and aprons went about the town all weekend and local cafes served wartime menus (spam fritters and chips). Yet some in the town felt it was wrong - that it glorified war and we should put it behind us not shout about it.
It is this awful dilemma isn't it? I wrote about it a few blogs ago - fighting for territory, regardless of the loss of life, seems to be inherent in us. And re-enacting those days is, in one way, glorifying war but in another way it is celebrating how we all pulled together in spite of the war. I think I shall sit in the middle on this one as I can see both points of view.
Erica Wagner in The Times gives a good criticism of Duffy's poem - saying "the mud of Flanders Fields clings still" and that Duffy's poem aspires to "a kind of salvation."
I find it sad that Henry Allingham's other daughter, aged 89, to whom he hadn't spoken for forty years, paid her respects at his funeral. We have not taken Churchill's words to heart, have we - not even in small family feuds, let alone in the big ones.
Do try to read Duffy's poem. I'm sure you will be moved by it.


Heather said...

I will look out for that poem Weaver and oh how I agree with Churchill's words. Harry Patch has been quoted as saying that the appalling sacrifices made during the First World War were not worth it and he should know. I cannot bring myself to read the war poems but maybe we should all be made to read them. I think I must have a selfish streak as I am so grateful that my son is safely retired from the Army and not serving in Afghanistan. I don't know how I would cope with that - it must be a nightmare for the families.

Elizabeth said...

Sassoon's poem
Does it Matter? (1917)
still packs a punch

Does it matter?-losing your legs?
For people will always be kind,
And you need not show that you mind
When others come in after hunting
To gobble their muffins and eggs.
Does it matter?-losing your sight?
There’s such splendid work for the blind;
And people will always be kind,
As you sit on the terrace remembering
And turning your face to the light.
Do they matter-those dreams in the pit?
You can drink and forget and be gald,
And people won't say that you’re mad;
For they know that you've fought for your country,
And no one will worry a bit.

Bonnie, Original Art Studio said...

Your post and Heather and Elizabeth's comments are heart-rending. The futility of it all - the heartbreak of it all. And we don't seem to learn! We just keep right on warring with our brothers and sisters on this tiny little planet. But we must learn and we won't learn if we forget. Thank you for this post.

Funny, Weaver, I quote Churchill in my post today too - but on a much less serious note.

Rachel Fox said...

The poem is here.

And you're right - such a simple device in a way but it works up some very powerful images...almost on its own. And that is the key to genius quite often - using simple things well and with interesting intention!


Derrick said...

Hello Weaver,

Thank you for drawing this to my attention. The poem is excellent and I'm taking the liberty of pasting it here for your readers. It is taken from the Times Online website. Thanks too, to Elizabeth for the Sassoon poem, which is equally powerful.

Last Post by Carol Ann Duffy – Poet Laureate.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If poetry could tell it backwards, true, begin
that moment shrapnel scythed you to the stinking mud . . .
but you get up, amazed, watch bled bad blood
run upwards from the slime into its wounds;
see lines and lines of British boys rewind
back to their trenches, kiss the photographs from home —
mothers, sweethearts, sisters, younger brothers
not entering the story now
to die and die and die.
Dulce — No — Decorum — No — Pro patria mori.
You walk away.
You walk away; drop your gun (fixed bayonet)
like all your mates do too —
Harry, Tommy, Wilfred, Edward, Bert —
and light a cigarette.
There’s coffee in the square,
warm French bread
and all those thousands dead
are shaking dried mud from their hair
and queuing up for home. Freshly alive,
a lad plays Tipperary to the crowd, released
from History; the glistening, healthy horses fit for heroes, kings.
You lean against a wall,
your several million lives still possible
and crammed with love, work, children, talent, English beer, good food.
You see the poet tuck away his pocket-book and smile.
If poetry could truly tell it backwards,
then it would.

Arija said...

After both world wars Europe was subdivided by the victors causing even more heartache and problems than the wars themselves.
Wars are a totally futile expression of greed.

steven said...

hello weaver, i was drawn to your observations about the little controversy over the "40's weekend". i wasn't around in the fourties and so i am speaking as a child of the fifties/sixties. i have been opposed to war for my entire life. sometimes actively, more often passively. my own sense is that the only positive about war is that for whatever reasons it brings people together on the homefront in a way that very few other causes do. people treasure that feeling of a common purpose, of community, of setting aside most of their differences. i believe that that is what draws people to weekends like that. i don't blame them. have a lovely day. steven

Golden West said...

I've known many service members, all of whom dislike war as much as anyone. I honor their courage and sacrifice and am thankful to sleep safely, thanks to them.

Jane Moxey said...

What moving and eloquent poems. Marking the end these mens lives with ceremony and hono(u)r gives us an opportunity for reflection and gratitude.

HelenMHunt said...

I think the words that always get me are, 'They shall not grow old as we that are left grow old.' So heart rending.

Hilary said...

Well, my mum grew up in Newbury, and joined the ATS during WWII. My dad was in the US Navy, they met and married, and she was the first GI bride to step off the first ship in NYC after the war ended.
There is a video out there, and even though it is grainy, you can see her smiling face.
I have heard stories of Churchill and the war, and the hard times ever since I was a little girl.
I never felt that she was glorifying war, telling me about it. Instead, she was instilling in me a faith in humanity, and giving me an understanding and admiration of what people in hard times are capable of.
Loved your post.
Going to let my mum read it.
She is 84.

Cloudia said...

Thank you for taking me to an event that I've mused on. Thanks, Sir.

Joyce Kilmer: "I think that I shall never see- a poem lovely as a tree." Another WWI casualty and so many other poets, fathers, children. . .

I'm gazing at my Dad's WWII "Dog" tag. He's been gone 2 months.....

A fine post - as usual, Weaver.


Comfort Spiral

Jenn Jilks said...

I echo Cloudia's comments.
Also, family feuds are really bad. I am amazed at how much family does this.

Eryl Shields said...

I often wonder what people mean when they talk about 'glorifying war', it tends to sound like a platitude spouted thoughtlessly. And really, do some people believe that dressing up and eating spam fritters for a weekend is so thrilling that it could cause one nation to invade another?

There was a whole section in (I think last) Saturday's Guardian Review of new war poetry commissioned by Ms Duffy, including the one you mention by the lady herself, some of it very good indeed. If I could find the damn thing I'd give you a taste, it's here somewhere...

Amy said...

oh how wonderful! and the 1940's week sounds fabulous! I read that quote and could understand what he meant.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

I shall indeed look up that poem. I had heard of Mr. Allingham's passing. He saw so much in his lifetime, didn't he?

It is always a conundrum to try and separate the hatred of war from the admiration for the brave ones who fight it. While there is no doubt in my mind for the necessity for the war in the 40's, so many wars since have seemed the follies of misguided men. At least to me.

And, as I said to my husband the other night as I was reading many poets write about death. Even if the poem seems to start out in a different direction it so often wheels around to that subject. Perhaps because it is the one universal experience?

Wishing you a lovely weekend. I am still going through all the inspiration posts and enjoying myself so much!!! Thanks!

deb said...

My hair is standing on end. there are tears in my eyes, the poem id deeply moving in the way only poetry can be, because of that echo and resonance that make it so personal. All we can do is to keep talking, about the past, lest we forget the cost, and the futility. Thanks for a deeply touching and thought provoking post. That's twice this week you've stopped me dead in my tracks.

Cathy said...

I found your post very interesting and the poem is very moving. I am amazed that those two gentlemen had survived so long after their friends were killed. I have read quite a lot about the First World War and it was such a terrible waste of human life. Surely after all these centuries, the intelligent person must know that war is pointless and no one ever wins. Churchill was a man of his time. He fits the saying well "come the hour, come the man.