Canto 38: Boiling Points

There will be wars such as there have never been on earth… an eclipse of the sun such as there has probably never yet been on earth… I greet all the signs that a more manly, warlike age is coming, which will, above all, bring valour again into honour.

Frederick Nietzsche


 

Verdun

There is a glory in the call to arms,
Marshall Petain bestrode the sacred route,
All galvanised by strong & simple charms,
“The city must be held here coute que coute!”
Firm-fisted hands
Charcoal maps with action.
“Monsieurs, les Allemands sont toujours a Noyon!”

“The nation’s first emergency,
France with faith & fire… ATTAQUE!”
Jean Francois treads the Route Sacree,
Two columns pass on the track,
His marching up to Calvary,
The other slouching back…
& heeding an old soldiers wise advice
Fought well & waiv’d the supreme sacrifice.

With Douamont another Metz,
The war within a war,
Recalling debts the Marshall nets
The ruin’d Fort de Vaux,
Scanty reward for days idled away in blood & gore.

France
June 7th
1916


 

Battle of the Somme

The Top Brass dined in rich bigwigerie,
“An effort must be made to win the war!
For now we face a weaker Germany,
The hell pits at Verdun her running sore!”
Over the top,
Footballs leading the way,
Thinking nothing could stop them on the Berlin way.

Brave captains, blades melded to hand,
Lead the calm, steel-hatted rows
Cross tangl’d miles of No Mans Land…
“Here they come!” squawk sentry crows,
From deep redoubts singed soldiers stand
Tingling from heads to toes;
‘Das Trommelfeur’ offers a rare respite,
“At last der bastards have come out to fight…”

The chatter of the Maxim gun
Some violent thunderclap,
“No man shall run toward the Hun!”
(Thought absent from the map),
Officers thinning on the field, “Well cheerio old chap!”

Blighty Valley
July 1st
1916


 

The English at the Somme

The Magpies have abandon’d Picardie,
There mortal combat carried with aplomb,
Pig-tail’d pickets inching forward grimly,
The slow, slogging slaughter of the Somme;
Bligh’s virgin flight
Skim’s carnage far & wide,
When great elephants fight suffers the countryside.

Graves met his friend by candlelight
In a cellar of Fricourt,
“God, Sass, what poetry we’ll write
When the battle shall be oer!”
To them the muses in their flight
Sole tonic of a war
Throwing like-minded jongleurs together,
Ah! lasciate ogni speranza.

Pat join’d the brave Lancastrians
For Moo-Cow Farm to fall,
Australians, Canadians,
A wretched three-month crawl
& at the last, the action past, heart pierc’d by shrapnel ball.

Mouquet Farm
October
1916


 

Victory at Verdun

Somehow could Jean Francois still offer fight,
Despite facing death’s gaze ten thousand times,
In ev’ry shell-hole slept a hellish sight,
At ev’ry turn the clamour of man’s crimes;
Once more Petain
Has order’d the advance,
Thou messianic man, thou saviour of all France.

Perch’d behind the barrage roulant
March’d many a division;
Rough Provencal, bold Morrocon,
Sweet-scented Parisian,
Clear-eye’d Vosges, hardy Gascon
& bulldog-toned Breton,
The poilus of a nation unified,
Praising their precious Charlemagne they died,

As now some new triumphant urge
Pull’s war’s grey grimace taut
One final surge up to the verge
Of that hard fought for fort,
Jean Francois plants the Tricolor, “Victoire!” screams from his throat.

Fort Douamont
October 29th
1916


 

Russian Revolution

The tide has turn’d against an emperor,
His soldiery is voting with its feet,
The bread queues are erupting in anger,
Strikes everywhere as riots run the street;
The police, too, turn,
Sat awkwardly alone
The world jolts up to learn the Tsar has lost his throne.

As moles have brought the fall of kings,
Or goats choke for praetors,
As one the citizenrie flings
Up bones of their forefathers,
& to the lord of Russia brings
Vengeance on his errors,
Urging his Royal Highness, “Abdicate!”
He does & begs the mercies for his fate.

A council forms of common men
They call the ‘Soviet,’
A certain zen flows from the pen
& while the ink still wet,
The call for peace spreads far & wide, a gliding pirouette.

Petrograd
March 16th
1917


 

Catalytic Conversion

As his Siegessauler soldiers faded
Der Kaiser holds his head in heavy hands,
His empire grown hungry, as blockaded
The curse of scurvy scourges thro’ his lands;
& there remains
One way to win the War,
To sink the shipping lanes that touch the western shore.

There was enough sunk to impress
A modicum of urgency
Upon America’s congress,
Their precious democracy
Should Europe’s problems readdress,
& forge that Europe free,
No longer parley to that stark charade
The president calls for a great crusade,

Then took tea at the Pentagon,
“How do our forces bear?”
“The fleet rusts on, arms next to none,
A few planes in the air!”
“We’d better get a move on, then, we’re needed over there.”

Washington
April 6th
1917


 

Of War & Men

There is a scented season men name Spring,
Air slowly perfumed by a floral spray,
Laburnam, Rhododendrum, blossoming
By little lambs so sylph like in their play;
O pleasant clime,
Days of the Daffodil,
But also times of crime, the urge returns to kill.

Death comes in droves, in droves I say,
Imagine the Bernabau
When Barcelona come to play
& each fan slain… tell me how
Men can allow mankind to slay
His own as tho some cow…
Now to the stadia the Yanks advance,
Their targets are the painted dames of France,

Where Dillinger don’t give a damn
For his young wife Rita,
A quick wham-bam, a ‘Thank ye mam!”
Five francs ring the meter,
Despite his son was born at home that morn in Jerkwater.

Paris
May
1917


 

Poetry of War

Seigfreid heard soften’d knocking at the door,
Young Wilfred Owen stood there rather shy,
Clutching his poems, not one book but four!
Sass caught a special ‘something’ in his eye;
How they show it,
That special sympathy,
“I-I am a poet…” “Why, would you care for tea?”

With Graves they form’d a company
Of literary lions,
Baring the torch of Poetry
Thro this dark day’s dalliance,
Channelling sacred energy
Thro most artful science,
Rose milk & honey springing from within,
“These terrible times, times worth living in!”

Lost on a stroll thro the garden,
Life seem’d a better age,
Brave deeds now done how Keatsian
Men carved marvellous page,
Ants, players, friends & stars performing on the greatest stage.

Craiglockhart
September
1917


 

Passcheandale

ulcers of mustard gas, a rivet in the lung
from scrappy shrapnel,
frostbite, trench-fever, shell-shock
Basil Bunting

Sallow soldiers splash thro’ boot-sucking mud,
Clinging like poor relations, twice as fast
It breeds, each shell-hole nauseate with blood,
Swollen black lads bolt upright in repast;
Still falls the rain –
An English Pioneer,
Slow-walks the wooden vein, two German scouts appear…

…One blasted dead, aim switch’d sharp right,
Max dodg’d the angry bullet,
Thick slipping into slime & shite,
Duckboard tilts Charlie in it,
Both surging in a mucky fight,
Gasps, grappling, grasping, grit;
KARMA appears, the convertite goddess,
To part the duel, men break in weariness,

Two warriors from fight withdrew,
Exhausted breaths extrude,
Soak’d thro’ & thro’ & filthy too,
Both stalk’d off unpursued,
Waking from death’s dalliances wrack’d with disquietude.

Flanders
November
1917

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