War Poetry

220px-ThomasportraitI love what is popularly called “war poetry,” and I love those war poets as well. This piece came across my screen a day or so ago. It is British-Welsh poet Edward Thomas, who began writing poetry in 1914, although he was already an accomplished writer at that time.He enlisted in the Artists Rifles in June, 1915,, due to the sentiments in fellow poet Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken,” even though he was a husband and father. He was quickly commissioned a second lieutenant. He was killed soon after he arrived in France at Arras on Easter Monday, April 9, 1917, by a concussive blast wave. He was standing near the top of a trench, lighting his pipe, when it happened.

The December 30, 1917  Weslh Ridge counter attack, 1st Battalion, the Artists Rifles, push toward Marcoing.
The December 30, 1917 Weslh Ridge counter attack, 1st Battalion, the Artists Rifles, push toward Marcoing.

I know–wrong war, but so many have fought and died for elusive concepts, and all soldiers stand “dark within the door” at some point, half in love with pain and with what is imperfect.






The last light has gone out of the world, except

This moonlight lying on the grass like frost

Beyond the brink of the tall elm’s shadow.

It is as if everything else had slept

Many an age, unforgotten and lost

The men that were, the things done, long ago,

All I have thought; and but the moon and I

Live yet and here stand idle over the grave

Where all is buried. Both have liberty

To dream what we could do if we were free

To do something we had desired long,

The moon and I. There’s none less free than who

Does nothing and has nothing else to do,

Being free only for what is not to his mind,

And nothing is to his mind. If every hour

Like this one passing that I have spent among

The wiser others when I have forgot

To wonder whether I was free or not,

Were piled behind me, and not lost behind,

And I could take and carry them away

I should be rich; or if I had the power

To wipe out everyone and not again

Regret, I should be rich to be so poor.

And yet I am still half in love with pain,

With what is imperfect, with both tears and mirth,

With things that have an end, with life, and earth,

And this moon leaves me dark within the door.

           by  Phillip Edward Thomas, who died in WWI at Arras, April 9, 1917

2 Responses to War Poetry

  1. I made a copy of Alan Seeger’s poem from the same era – a similar backstory as well – killed in action before the armistice.

    “I Have a Rendezvous with Death”
    poem by Alan Seeger

    I have a rendezvous with Death
    At some disputed barricade,
    When Spring comes back with rustling shade
    And apple-blossoms fill the air-
    I have a rendezvous with Death
    When Spring brings back blue days and fair.

    It may be he shall take my hand
    And lead me into his dark land
    And close my eyes and quench my breath-
    It may be I shall pass him still.
    I have a rendezvous with Death
    On some scarred slope of battered hill,
    When Spring comes round again this year
    And the first meadow-flowers appear.

    God knows ’twere better to be deep
    Pillowed in silk and scented down,
    Where love throbs out in blissful sleep,
    Pulse nigh to pulse, and breath to breath,
    Where hushed awakenings are dear…
    But I’ve a rendezvous with Death
    At midnight in some flaming town,
    When Spring trips north again this year,
    And I to my pledged word am true,
    I shall not fail that rendezvous.

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