Friday, November 17, 2006

Poetry Friday 24: Remembrance 3



I am continuing my theme for November of poems for Remembrance and would like to offer you the following poems.

Battalion-Relief

(from Counter-Attack and other Poems)

'Fall in! Now get a move on.' (Curse the rain.)
We splash away along the straggling village,
Out to the flat rich country, green with June...
And sunset flares across wet crops and tillage,
Blazing with splendour-patches. (Harvest soon,
Up in the Line.) 'Perhaps the War'll be done
'By Christmas-Day. Keep smiling then, old son.'

Here's the Canal: it's dusk; we cross the bridge.
'Lead on there, by platoons.' (The Line's a-glare
With shell-fire through the poplars; distant rattle
Of rifles and machine-guns.) 'Fritz is there!
'Christ, ain't it lively, Sergeant? Is't a battle?'
More rain: the lightning blinks, and thunder rumbles.
'There's over-head artillery!' some chap grumbles.

What's all this mob at the cross-roads? Where are the guides?...
'Lead on with number One.' And off they go.
'Three minute intervals.' (Poor blundering files,
Sweating and blindly burdened; who's to know
If death will catch them in those two dark miles?)
More rain. 'Lead on, Head-quarters.' (That's the lot.)
'Who's that?... Oh, Sergeant-Major, don't get shot!
'And tell me, have we won this war or not?'


Siegfried Sassoon


The next two poems are by one of the women poets of the First World War, Helen Hamilton. Her poems have much in common with Sassoon's, for all she did not experience life in the Front Lines. Little appears to be known about Helen Hamilton, beyond the fact that she was a school teacher. Her poetry, wryly observed and sharply satirical, may be compared without detriment to that of Sassoon - most of her poems are about the hypocrisy of those At Home, who were one of Sassoon's targets in his satirical poems. Her poem 'The Ghouls' is reminiscent of many poems by trench poets in its condemnation of the old men left At Home, but it also has a strong, anti-patriarchal note. The other civilians whom Hamilton attacks ferociously are the women who organised mass recruitment meetings prior to the introduction of conscription in May 1916 and who also handed out white feathers to young men who were not in uniform. In 'The Jingo-Woman', Hamilton not only attacks these women, but defends the young men, pointing out that it is easy for women to attack men for not enlisting when women are not called on to fight themselves.


The Ghouls

You strange old ghouls,
Who gloat with dulled old eyes,
                  Over those lists,
                  Those dreadful lists,
                  To see what name
                  Of friend, relation,
                  However distant,
                  May be appended
To your private Roll of Honour.
Unknowingly you draw, it seems,
                  From their young bodies,
                  Dead young bodies,
                  Fresh life,
                  New value,
Now that yours are ebbing.
                  You strange old ghouls,
Who gloat with dulled old eyes,
                  Over those lists,
                  Those dreadful lists,
                  Of young men dead.


The Jingo-Woman

Jingo-woman
(How I dislike you !)
Dealer in white feather,
Insulter, self-appointed,
Of all the men you meet,
Not dressed in uniform,
When to your mind,
                  (A sorry mind),
                  They should be,
                  The test ?
The judgement of your eye,
That wild, infuriate eye,
Whose glance, so you declare,
                  Reveals unerringly,
Who's good for military service.
Oh ! exasperating woman,
I'd like to wring your neck,
                  I really would !
                  You make all women seem such duffers !
                  Besides exemptions,
                  Enforced and held reluctantly,
                  -Not that you'll believe it -
                  You must know surely
Men there are, and young men too,
Physically not fit to serve,
Who look in their civilian garb
                  Quite stout and hearty.
And most of whom, I'll wager,
Have been rejected several times.
How keen, though, your delight,
                  Keen and malignant,
Should one offer you his seat,
                  In crowded bus or train,
Thus giving you the chance to say,
In cold, incisive tones of scorn:
                  'No I much prefer to stand
                  As you, young man, are not in khaki !'
Heavens ! I wonder you're alive !
                  Oh, these men,
These twice-insulted men,
                  What iron self-control they show,
                  What wonderful forbearance !

But still the day may come
For you to prove yourself
As sacrificial as upbraiding.
So far they are not taking us
But if the war goes on much longer
                  They might,
                  Nay more,
                  They must,
When the last man has gone.
And if and when that dark day dawns,
You'll join up first, of course,
Without waiting to be fetched.
But in the meantime,
Do hold your tongue !
You shame us women.
Can't you see it isn't decent,
To flout and goad men into doing,
                  What is not asked of you ?


Both of these poems appear in Catherine Reilly's excellent collection of WW1 poetry by women poets, Scars Upon My Heart. You will find the poems by Sassoon which I have quoted in his collected War Poems.

6 comments:

Nancy said...

Nice selection Michele. Thanks!

Michele said...

Thanks Nancy!

Camille said...

A dear friend here just gifted me with a cover of the Royal Mail Remembrance Day stamp with poppies in honor of the lessons I usded to do with my students on Nov. 11. Seems unbelievable that we have to "teach" Remembrance Day or Veterans Day as we call it here. The stamp is exquisite. Thanks to you for keeping this day in our hearts.

Michele said...

You're very welcome. Do you know where I can see a picture of the stamp online ?

kyra said...

thank u so much for the 'jingo women'
i couldnt find the whole version anywhere!!!
thank u

Michele said...

Welcome