The poets will remember…

imagesIt’s nearly one hundred years since the end of the First World War, Armistice Day 2013. One of the things that I cherish most on Remembrance Day here in Canada, is the reading of In Flanders Fields. It was written by a Canadian doctor, John McCrae, and has become of the most famous war poems. What I wasn’t aware of, however, was the fact that the poem actually ended up being used in Canadian recruitment efforts .

The less kind words from Wikipedia, are that it was used in recruitment propaganda at the time. I found this particularly interesting given an article I just came across detailing journalism from the war, one hundred years on. Thanks to the movies, we typically have a very romanticized view of the brave war correspondence, sticking it out in the trenches, risking life and limb to bring the truth to those back home. But it appears that that wasn’t exactly what was going on during the war. You can read the article yourself and see whether you agree with the assessment, but what I thought was most interesting about it was this quote:

 “Now, as the centenary of the start of the war draws near, it is the war’s poets, and not its reporters, whose writing is remembered.”

What an amazing thing that is. It wasn’t the journalists who were best able to evoke an emotional reaction in people about the horrors of war—it was wordsmiths of another kind entirely. It’s an incredible reminder of the power of words and how great beauty can come from great sorrow. So in that vein, as we all stop to remember those who gave their lives in service of peace, I would like us also to take a moment to thank the War Poets who allowed us their insights as well, at no less risk to their lives.

Exposure by Wilfred Owen
   IOur brains ache, in the merciless iced east winds that knife us…
Wearied we keep awake because the night is silent…
Low drooping flares confuse our memory of the salient…
Worried by silence, sentries whisper, curious, nervous,
But nothing happens.Watching, we hear the mad gusts tugging on the wire.
Like twitching agonies of men among its brambles.
Northward incessantly, the flickering gunnery rumbles,
Far off, like a dull rumour of some other war.
What are we doing here?

The poignant misery of dawn begins to grow…
We only know war lasts, rain soaks, and clouds sag stormy.
Dawn massing in the east her melancholy army
Attacks once more in ranks on shivering ranks of gray,
But nothing happens.

Sudden successive flights of bullets streak the silence.
Less deadly than the air that shudders black with snow,
With sidelong flowing flakes that flock, pause and renew,
We watch them wandering up and down the wind’s nonchalance,
But nothing happens.

II

Pale flakes with lingering stealth come feeling for our faces –
We cringe in holes, back on forgotten dreams, and stare, snow-dazed,
Deep into grassier ditches. So we drowse, sun-dozed,
Littered with blossoms trickling where the blackbird fusses.
Is it that we are dying?

Slowly our ghosts drag home: glimpsing the sunk fires glozed
With crusted dark-red jewels; crickets jingle there;
For hours the innocent mice rejoice: the house is theirs;
Shutters and doors all closed: on us the doors are closed –
We turn back to our dying.

Since we believe not otherwise can kind fires burn;
Now ever suns smile true on child, or field, or fruit.
For God’s invincible spring our love is made afraid;
Therefore, not loath, we lie out here; therefore were born,
For love of God seems dying.

To-night, His frost will fasten on this mud and us,
Shrivelling many hands and puckering foreheads crisp.
The burying-party, picks and shovels in their shaking grasp,
Pause over half-known faces. All their eyes are ice,
But nothing happens.

Wilfred Owen

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