Canto 37: Wings of War

Floating on the surface of the flooded trench was the mask of a human face which had detachd itself from the skull.

Siegried Sassoon


 

American Incunabula

“Deutschland ganzlich einzukeisen!” throats wail,
Submerging terror reversing blockade,
A liner spans the Old Head of Kinsale –
Torpedoes hopes of peace noyantly fade;
Lone explosion
Echoes back to New York –
Ship lists, undocks & gone: the world’s press flock to Cork.

To Jerkwater the news hard spread,
Hank hock’d a hooch with Harry,
Those shocking columns shaking read,
“I have German ancestry,
But those poor American dead
Have rais’d the beast in me!”
“It is was it is, Hank, don’t get involv’d!”
“But Buddy, how else could this be resolv’d?”

“Call off your wolves!” Kaiserwards went
Wise by Woodrow Wilson,
Threat keenly meant, the President
Frets at word from London…
“Zepp’lins have bomb’d our capital…” prophesizing fusion.

Washington
May 10th
1915


 

The Last Grenadier

An old man hobbl’d with his great-grandsons,
Breath’d in the dust of a past century,
The distant growl of the Hun’s howling guns
Awaken in his vivid memory;
Tho’ barely sane,
Driven half-blind with age,
He shuffl’d his frail frame onto that famous stage.

Tween Hougoumont & La Haye-Saint
His raging nostalgia veer’d,
Tward that panoramic lion
All his stumbling footsteps veer’d,
Fifty thousand phantoms upon
Hades ‘rison appear’d,
Dogs braying fearful from the nearby farms,
All round resounds the mighty clash of arms.

He saw his father hard impal’d
Upon the scarlet square,
& as he wail’d the Gaurdsmen fail’d,
His Grand Pa-Pa led there,
Shielding his cowering grand-child whilst bayoneted bare.

Waterloo
June 18th
1915


 

Gallipoli

Kitchener’s Churchillian conjecture
Brings battle before Constantinople,
Champagne thrill of Achaean adventure,
The gentle savage, the savage gentle;
“Where are you from?”
“Melbourne…” “Why are you here?”
Senses of soldiers numb led captive to the rear.

The soul of Rupert Brooke releas’d,
Packs poetry for the trip,
Byronic sortie to the East
& mosquito-punctured lip,
By volumes his visions increas’d,
Death climb’d aboard the ship,
For what seem’d a tayle, epic & Trojan,
Now slowly sluiced with tragical poison.

From sandy cliffs to hills jagged
Sloping from Chunuk Blair,
Up ridge ragged, long trail hagger’d,
Thro hot, wilderness air,
Bluce Slater from Australia spat bullets ev’rywhere.

Turkey
August
1915


 

Rommel

With the French assault driven from Alsace
Initiative is passing from the blues
Unto the german greys, pushing en masse
In fire-fight sporadic to the Meuse;
Beside whose swell
Midst the Foret d’Argonne,
Bestrode Erwin Rommel, swooping as the falcon

Upon these five young sons of France
Vigorous & rapidly,
Three were shot in a keen instance,
Now his magazine empty,
Fixed bayonet, a hawkish glance
But native bravery
Is quelled by bullets brushing past his eye,
Now the foe flee, “Come back & fight!” he cry.

Tho receiving the Iron Cross
His contreemen bogged down.
Held at a loss before the schloss
Defending Verdun town,
A sunken vauban rampart, the tricolour on its crown.

Fort Douamant
September 24th
1915


 

East Lancashire’s War

“Give some fella a gun, ‘ees an ‘ero,
Give ‘im a conscience, ‘ee gets thrown in jail!”
“Charlie,” said Rose, “I wunt want yer to go!”
“Now why would I wanna leave you?” a wail
Strays down the street
With his next door neighbour,
“Put summat on yer feet & go get yer mother!”

Beneath the rugged Hamildon
Marching by a brown canal,
They pass’d morosely thro’ Hapton
As at some dour funeral,
To reel, at length, thro’ Accrington,
To hear of their own Pal…
Where, on the Town Hall notice boards, they see
‘Patrick Sumner has died for his country.’

Freda broke down & in her heart
An ache to never die,
Charlie’s thoughts dart, world wrench’d apart,
“Revenge! Revenge!” he cry
& raced to add his signature to Gen’ral Haig’s supply.

Lancashire
October
1915


 

Verdun’s Vernality

Der Kasier’s son goes tripping off to war,
Finding marches harsh & melancholy,
Reaching the rock-face of ancyent shore
He casts his gaze oer wide-wooded country;
From leafy shades
Vast lines of flames upvent,
About the barricades of Gallic salient.

“Mon Dieu!” “Mon Dieu!” “Mon Dieu!” again,
Men plunder’d from their dreaming,
A four-hour seastorm raged, & then
The silence wades thro’ screaming,
“To arms!” a gas-mask’d tide of men,
Spliced the em’rald streaming,
On every side there hung a fatal threat,
A bullet, bomb-blast, brick or bayonet.

These viscious frays even apall
The harden’d legionairres,
At fortress-fall, from such thick wall,
Verdun shall soon be theirs,
Or say pin-headed generals sate safely in their chairs.

Fort Douamont
February 25th
1916


 

Deserter

There is a madness in the mind of man,
The water torture of a constant war,
Always up fighting, always in the van,
Frank phantasizes of his native shore
& left the trench,
For him the war over,
Pretending to be French all the way to Dover.

He ran home to his early life
From man’s terrors travell’d far
& fell upon his pretty wife,
Trousers mingled with her bra,
But then there came the cruel knife
To open up the scar,
Cold knock at the door, two stone-faced Sergeants
Are come to fetch this white feather to France.

His family’s tearful farewell
Still haunting all the while
He paced the cell, a living hell
& barely legal trial,
Shot at the wall… some sprawl’d deserter sports an insane smile..

France
March
1916


 

All Quiet on the Western Front

Twas just another day in the trenches,
The ‘stand to’ bugler blew before the dawn,
A man from heatless zee-catching wrenches;
Slugs, frogs, bats, rats & beetles flee his yawn;
Breakfast before
Shelling begins at eight,
Less murder, more the bore men call the ‘Morning Hate.’

Those walking with the Lord worship’d,
Others played or talk’d instead,
The gaunt are by despair oft gripp’d,
Some stand up & lost their head,
The ‘stand-to’ call’d as sunshine slipp’d
In bed of rosy red;
The ‘Evening Hate’ has cool’d as fades the light,
Both sides prepare patrols to pass the night.

Some flick thro’ books, some capture mice,
Some requisition rest,
Some pick at lice, some lose at dice,
Some gaze out to the West,
Watching a crimson streak that might have issued from Christ’s breast.

France
April
1916


 

Jutland

As decisive action draws ever near
Britain’s grand fleet given to Jellicoe,
Ready to greet the gaze of Adm’ral Scheer
From the Firth of Forth to the Scapa Flow;
Collision course
All thro’ a nervous night
The day ready for force, the ocean kimberlite.

Alarm bells rung by sharp lookouts,
Smooth seas grey & foreboding
Aburst in mighty water spouts
Range gauged, a swift reloading,
Drowning the frantic sounds of shouts
Are great ships exploding,
Superdreadnaughts & Battle Cruisers,
Into what monstrous clash this day fuses.

Both fog & smoke shall swathe the foam
Trafalgar’s broken spell
Thro thick’ning gloam the fleets limp home,
Bodies drift in the swell,
The sea still loves his mistress, but the victor who can tell?

The North Sea
May
1916

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