Canto 45: Rubicon

Before him ran a miserable confusion
Ruin & battle & a grievous end
On struggle, blood & struggle, on terror, dire terror

Gwalchmai Ap Meilyr


 

War’s Promise

And so, Good-bye, grim ‘Thirties. These your closing days
Have shown a new light, motionless & far
And clear as ice, to our sore riddled eyes:
David Gascoyne

While Britain rode the slow boat to Russia,
Von Ribbentrop touch’d down in his Condor,
Playing at the perfect ambassador,
Keeping The Boss out of Der Fuhrer’s war,
The Great Bear rose
Full ready to release,
From its ferocious claws, the keys to War & Peace.

“I reckon world needs sortin out!”
Says good ol’ Charlie Sumner,
Sipping a thick, black pint of stout,
Sat in ‘tat room o’ Mitre,
“Gerrys fer feyting, ‘ave no doubt,
It sez so in paper…”
We must finish off Nazis fer them Jews.”
“Aye!” sniff’d the barman, “& we’d best not lose!”

Pierre embraced his sweetheart’s glow,
Kissing her salty cheek,
“Alas, I go to Maginot,
Shed no tears Veronique,
Ah! Partir c’est mourir un peu…” she wept but would not speak.

Paris
August 24th
1939


 

Rubicon

Flinging his breath beyond the reach of Fate,
Herr Hitler signs Directive Number One,
Admonish’d Peace, her wranglings far too late,
The time for one last summit been & gone;
This is the day,
All that he lives for come,
To lead them in the fray, to beat Tuisto’s drum.

Outside in the Wilhelmstrasse
Xaver lingers on the street,
Watching coloumns of stormtrooper
Sweating in the sultry heat,
Nonchalantly lacking fervour
He grabs a bite to eat,
When chomping hard into that bland bratwurst
He could net help imagining the worst.

Jack Foley burnt old documents,
Then fled the embassy,
Cursing the sense of governments
How could they let this be,
A second major war within the same half century.

Berlin
August 30th
1939


 

& Wars Begin

Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth
WH Auden

Dawn’s grey warning creeps cross the Baltic Sea,
A silhouette slow forming on the line,
Rough broadsides disturb the serenity,
Belching from Krupps of the Schleswig-Holstein;
Each solemn thud,
Peppers the Polish shore,
Earth shatters, scatters mud – the first shots of the war!

The Reichstag sit, silent, subdued,
Observing their leader jeer,
“The Polish race, backward & crude,
Violates our dear frontier!
Bombs shall meet bombs in bitter feud,
Your first captain stands here –
In ‘fourteen I offer’d my dying breath,
I don my coat ‘til victory or death!

If England dares to test our might
In battle once again,
Then let us fight, our Eagle’s flight
Surpasses her fat hen,
We all the way shall war, be it a single year or ten!”

Berlin
Sept 1st
1939


 

Diplomatic Formalities

A telegram left the lap of London,
Bound for a distant British embassy,
Whose ambassador, thou suave Henderson,
Delivers to the Reich-chancellery;
At daggers drawn
With sly Von Ribbentrop,
Voice rugged as the stone found on the Spion Kop,

“I have the honour to relate
A note from his Majesty’s
Court… if Germany acts too late
In giving assurances
To withdraw from Poland, War’s state
Exists twixt our contrees…
You have until eleven to decide!”
Von Ribbentrop slithers to Hitler’s side,

There transfers the ultimatum
(His hands had dug the hole),
Hitler struck dumb, “Then war hast come,
England has serv’d the ball!”
Goering whispers, “If we lose this War, Lord God help us all!”

Berlin
September 3rd
1939


 

England Expects

As Chamberlain gulp’d down a nervous wine
Around his rosy garden footsteps pace,
Passing leaden seconds to the deadline,
When silence from Berlin settles the case;
With patience spent,
His politics outclass’d,
Dripping disappointment he starts his heart’s broadcast,

‘I am this land’s Prime Minister,
We are, already, at war,’
Stern words whipping from his chamber
To the trannies on the shore,
‘Let us once more stand together,
Yes, let our Lion roar!’
Winston Churchill stood lonely & aloof
Above the city on his little roof,

Watching those silver elephants
Arise amidst the spires,
This day presents benevolence
Inspires his warring fires,
Burning for Britain’s glory & the fates of old empires.

London
September 3rd
1939


 

A New War

I have seen much to hate here – much to forgive,
But in a world where England is finished & dead,
I do not whish to live
Alice Duer Miller

The Sumner clan gathers round a wireless,
Rose fiddles nervous with ‘er wedding ring,
“Kids shhhhh!” sez Charlie, “This is serious!”
The crackling voice of their stammering king
Grave parley spoke,
An old sensation grew,
The bane of common folk, their worst fears turning true.

Freda strokes Gem, her jet black cat,
Gazed up at Hargher Chimney,
Saw ‘er grandson in an ‘ard hat
Motoring across the sea,
“Y’know ah Pat’ll be in that…”
“Don’t bi daft!” sez Charlie,
“It’ll all bi over bi Christmas grub!”
He took ‘is eldest down ter Rosegrove Club;

As cue-ball crack sank winning black,
Well son, what will it be?”
“I think…” voice slack, “Speak up our Jack.”
“…Mebbe Merchant Navy.”
“Good choice lad, nah sup up, gotta get gas mask
fer baby.”

Burnley
September 3rd
1939


 

Beyond the Brink

No singing crowds cheer’d on his cavalcade,
‘Quite unlike Nineteen Hundred & Fourteen,’
Thinks Hitler, lying in the bed he made,
Quite downcast in his classic limosine;
His gamble fails,
Finding himself at war,
For those who play the scales oft tip the weight too far.

Upon his train ‘Amerika,’
Disgrace replac’d elation,
‘My treaty with Stalin’s Russia
Seems gross miscalculation,
War’s darkling wastes we all enter –
England! What a nation!
Why does she fight? Naught has she here to gain?’
Swirl’d round his thoughts as eastwards plough’d the train.

A little message made him freeze,
Morell prescribes a pill,
In icy seas by Hebrides
A U-Boat claims a kill,
This war turns real, a taste of highest fruits of human thrill.

Germany
September 4th
1939


 

The Agony of Poland

Most monstrously mechanized juggernaut,
Pouring in endless torrents from the West,
Seizes maladroit forces by the throat –
The Blitzkreig theorum passes first test;
All Warsaw prays,
Surrounded by the foe,
Still proud her anthem plays on ev’ry radio.

Hitler steers his half-track rumble
Thro’ the war-torn countryside,
Brandishing a single pistol,
& whip of harden’d oxhide,
His finest aide-de-camp, Rommel,
Makes studies by his side –
But coming on that first hospital train,
Refused to see his soldiers suff’ring pain.

They drove on thro’ the ghostly fog
Raking that rathole town,
A pining dog, a synagogue
Charr’d black from burning down,
Where perch’d a crow, it’s beady, yellow eyes now fleck’d with brown.

Sosnowiec
September 8th
1939


 

Evacuees

Sue caught the child-pack’d coach out of Poplar,
Such sadnesses sends tear-trachts swelling up,
Now the high-pitch’ d crowds at Victoria
Heaving like when the Arsenal won the cup;
She joined the rest,
Sobbing sweet maternals,
Prised from the suckling breast, both her little angels.

Onto a squealing train they hop,
Press noses to the windows,
Bursting young lungs at every stop,
Giggles as the whistle blows,
Down gulping sandwiches & pop,
Come Buxton’s fun repose
They saw a fresian real the first fun time,
Moo-moo?” Mavis cuts short her nurs’ry rhyme.

As tall tower lights up faces,
As sea-gulls sqawk thro’ air,
Wee suitcases claimed by strangers,
We’ll take the young lass there,”
Yelps Kenny; “No, mi mummy meant us two come as a pair!”

Blackpool
September 5th
1939

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