The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

In Flanders Field, 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


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  1. John

    Wilfred Owen, who is buried in Flanders F##king Field after having been killed on Nov 4, 1918 won the WW1 poetry contest for me with his poem Dulce et Dulcorum Est. Not an invocation to hold the torch high against the foe, but a warning about an ancient lie.

  2. gnokgnoh

    Dulce et Decorum Est
    By Wilfred Owen

    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 gas-shells dropping softly 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.

  3. Stephen

    For me, the poem is “Disabled”. Neither exhortation nor condemnation, nor even about the dead, the poem brings tears for the wounded survivors, who must live with the horror and its effects.

    The last three lines, I think, of the second stanza are the saddest to me. The saddest loss in a loved one’s death is the loss of touch, never to hug, embrace, kiss. Sadder yet the loss while still young and alive.

  4. Synoia

    Rupert Brooke, another poet, also died in WW I, on the Gallpoli Expedition.

    The average life expectancy of a UK subaltern was 2 weeks on the Flanders fronts, until the uniform identifying the officer was changed.

    After WW I there was a shortage of “eligible men” and many women remained unmarried.

    Everybody at my school had family members killed in WW I and WW II.

    The RFC (Royal Flying Corps) provided no parachutes, to encourage their pilots to fight and not jump.

    When I asked my father if Douglas Haig was a famous WW I general, he though for a while and answered, “Yes, he killed as many men as the others.”

    WW I ended at least four empires: German, Russian, Austro-Hungarian, and Ottoman. The Japanese ended in WW II, the French and British Empires limped on until the ’50s.

    The US, as an Empire, became the successor to the imperial period.

  5. Ian Welsh

    Yes, I don’t actually like the politics of “In Flanders Field”. But I like the poem.

  6. Hugh

    Jan Gotlib Bloch wrote a book Is War Now Impossible? published in 1898 in which he went into great technical detail: economics, industrial capacity, food, population, military weaponry. His conclusion was that a great war was impossible because it was unsustainable. Its costs would destroy the participants. He was right about the consequences, but he didn’t factor in human gullibility and stupidity. So it happened anyway.

    I would also note that WWI did not creep up on people unawares. There was a whole turn of the century genre of popular literature dedicated to it. In the English versions, Britain was attacked and/or invaded variously by the French, Germans, and Russians. I see this as analogous to our present situation. We discuss here many of the grave threats we are faced with: overpopulation, climate change, environmental destruction, animal loss, pollution, wealth inequality, kleptocracy, class war, and the proliferation of failed and failing states (my incomplete list). But like people of 100 years ago, knowing didn’t save them, and it won’t save us.

  7. Synoia

    “Britain was attacked and/or invaded variously by the French, Germans, and Russians. ”

    Yes, all of whom had mastered the act of walking on water.

  8. highrpm

    In the English versions,… ah, don’t you just love the study of history. like religions, it’s embedded with narratives. choose a side first. and no way to avoid crushing the tulips as one attempts to tiptoe over the circuitous/ littered/ eroded paths of time. but hey, the easy out, at least for hollywood? blame the germans.

  9. steeleweed

    Final verse of Nightmare with Angels
    – Stephen Vincent Benet – 1935

    …. another angel approached me.
    This one was quietly but appropriately dressed in cellophane, synthetic rubber and stainless steel,
    But his mask was the blind mask of Ares, snouted for gas-masks.
    He was neither soldier, sailor, farmer, dictator nor munitions-manufacturer.
    Nor did he have much conversation, except to say,
    “You will not be saved by General Motors or the pre-fabricated house.
    You will not be saved by dialectic materialism or the Lambeth Conference.
    You will not be saved by Vitamin D or the expanding universe.
    In fact, you will not be saved.”
    Then he showed his hand:
    In his hand was a woven, wire basket, full of seeds, small metallic and shining like the seeds of portulaca;
    Where he sowed them, the green vine withered, and the smoke and the armies sprang up.

  10. Hugh

    It’s called invasion literature:

    Classic invasion literature begins with the “Battle of Dorking” in 1871 and goes through to the beginning of WWI in 1914. I know about this stuff because I started collecting digital editions of this stuff a few years ago. Popular literature often gives insights into the hopes and anxieties of a period.

  11. Hugh

    Precursors to invasion literature include the Napoleonic examples: Jean-Corisandre Mittié’s La descente en Angleterre (1797) and the anonymous Invasion of England (1803). The German August Niemann wrote The Coming Conquest of England at the turn of century in which Germany (and France and Russia) take out the perfidious English.

  12. Dan

    Bad poem, bad war, bad ideas all around. Canada should quit rooting around the old imperial sty looking for a Westphalian identity that fortunately never stuck.

  13. Stirling Newberry

    Before The War
    (Penny Rock )

    I wonder what’s the matter with him.
    He’s not the way he was before.
    He’s not the way he used to be.
    The way he was before the war.

    He had no way of knowing
    What horrors were in store.
    Then communication ceased
    When he went off to war.

    He left while only in his teens.
    Now he’s so much older.
    The warmth of his youth is gone.
    His spirit’s so much colder.

    His eyes look deeply haunted.
    He has no joy anymore.
    He doesn’t laugh and rarely smiles.
    He stares down at the floor.

    He speaks in cryptic code.
    He talks of blood and gore.
    Then lapses into silence
    Since he came back from war.

    I wonder what he saw there
    That fills his eyes with fright.
    All those unknown terrors
    Keep him awake at night.

    Certain sounds will startle him
    And send him out the door.
    Will he ever have peace again,
    As he had before the war?

    He turns away from mirrors.
    Who he sees must frighten him.
    There’s no respite in his mind
    Because all his thoughts are grim.

    I don’t know what to say to him.
    I can’t talk as I did before.
    He’s not the person that I knew
    Before he went to war.

    He doesn’t even look the same,
    So pale and so thin.
    It’s like another person
    Came back inside his skin.

    He used to be such fun,
    So easy to adore.
    It’s like he disappeared
    When he returned from war.

    I wonder what became of him.
    I never see him anymore.
    He’s not the person he once was.
    I mean, before the war.

    Copyright 2003 Penny Rock All Rights Reserved.

  14. Hugh

    It’s from a different war but pretty sums up my attitude.

    “Fortunate Son”
    John Fogerty

    Some folks are born made to wave the flag
    Ooh, they’re red, white and blue
    And when the band plays “Hail to the chief”
    Ooh, they point the cannon at you, Lord
    It ain’t me, it ain’t me, I ain’t no senator’s son, son
    It ain’t me, it ain’t me; I ain’t no fortunate one, no

    Some folks are born silver spoon in hand
    Lord, don’t they help themselves, oh
    But when the taxman comes to the door
    Lord, the house looks like a rummage sale, yes

    It ain’t me, it ain’t me, I ain’t no millionaire’s son, no
    It ain’t me, it ain’t me; I ain’t no fortunate one, no

    Some folks inherit star spangled eyes
    Ooh, they send you down to war, Lord
    And when you ask them, “How much should we give?”
    Ooh, they only answer More! more! more! Yo

    It ain’t me, it ain’t me, I ain’t no military son, son
    It ain’t me, it ain’t me; I ain’t no fortunate one, one

    It ain’t me, it ain’t me, I ain’t no fortunate one, no no no
    It ain’t me, it ain’t me, I ain’t no fortunate son, no no no

  15. Andaréapié

    The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner.

  16. Andaréapié

    The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner. Randall Jarrell.

  17. Tom W Harris

    After the Goldrush – Prelude

    Well, I dreamed I saw the knights in armour comin’
    Sayin’ something about a queen
    There were peasants singin’, drummers drummin’
    And the archers split the tree
    There was a fanfare blowin’ to the sun
    That was floating on the breeze
    Look at Mother Nature on the run
    In the 1917

    I was lyin’ in a burned-out basement
    With a full moon in my eyes
    I was hopin’ for a replacement
    When the sun burst through the skies
    There was a band playin’ in my head
    And I felt like getting high
    Thinkin’ about what a friend had said
    I was hopin’ it was a lie

    Well, I dreamed i saw the silver spaceships flyin’
    In the yellow haze of the sun
    There were children cryin’ and colors flyin’
    All around the chosen one
    All in a dream, all in a dream
    The loading had begun
    Flyin’ Mother Nature’s silver seed
    To a new home in the sun
    Flyin’ Mother Nature’s silver seed
    To a new home in the sun

  18. Stirling Newberry

    Goodnight Saigon
    (Billy Joel)

    We met as soulmates
    On Parris Inland
    We left as inmates
    From an asylum
    And we were sharp
    As sharp as knives
    And we were so gung
    ho to lay down our lives
    We came in spastic
    Like tameless horses
    We left in plastic
    As numbered corpses
    And we learned fast
    To travel light
    Our arms were heavy
    but our bellies were tight
    We had no homefront
    We had no soft soap
    They sent us playboy
    They gave us bob hope
    We dug in deep
    And shot on sight
    And prayed to Jesus Christ
    with all of our might
    We had no cameras
    To shoot the landscape
    We passed the hash pipe
    And played our Doors tapes
    And it was dark
    So dark at night
    And we held onto each other
    Like brother to brother
    We promised our mothers we’d write
    And we would all go down together
    We said we’d all go down together
    Yes we would all go down together
    Remember Charlie
    Remember Baker
    They left their childhood
    On every acre
    And who was wrong
    And who was right
    It didn’t matter
    in the thick of the fight
    We, held the day
    In the palm of our hands
    They, ruled the night
    And the night, seemed to last
    as long as six weeks
    On Parris Island
    We held the coastline
    They held the highland
    And they were sharp
    As sharp as knives
    They heard the hum of the mortars
    They counted the rotors
    And waited for us to arrive
    And we would all go down together
    We said we’d all go down together
    Yes we would all go down together

  19. dbk

    I found this song a few years ago. The group (Great Big Sea) became one of my favorites.

    “Recruiting Sargeant”

    Two recruiting sergeants came to the CLB,
    for the sons of the merchants, to join the Blue Puttees
    So all the hands enlisted, five hundred young men
    Enlist you Newfoundlanders and come follow me

    They crossed the broad Atlantic in the brave Florizel,
    And on the sands of Suvla, they entered into hell
    And on those bloody beaches, the first of them fell

    So it’s over the mountains, and over the sea
    Come brave Newfoundlanders and join the Blue Puttees
    You’ll fight the Hun in Flanders, and at Galipoli
    Enlist you Newfoundlanders and come follow me

    Then the call came from London, for the last July drive
    To the trenches with the regiment, prepare yourselves to die
    The roll call next morning, just a handful survived.
    Enlist you Newfoundlanders and come follow me


    The stone men on Water Street still cry for the day
    When the pride of the city went marching away
    A thousand men slaughtered, to hear the King say
    Enlist you Newfoundlanders and come follow me

    [Chorus x3]

  20. Willy

    Yours Is No Disgrace, too cryptic. Generals and Majors, too upbeat. And of course War Pigs, but far too Ozzie. Too Many Puppies?

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