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Remembrance Day (2)

by Zettel 

Posted: 18 November 2006
Word Count: 370

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Remembrance Day

Etched in unforgiving stone
The Glorious Dead
implacable stands alone
washed in rain and bitter tears
blood red poppies do not atone
across the bitter years
the sadness and the loss
as each November nears
we mourn our honoured dead
with military pomp and facile prayers
power privilege and marching bands
through blood-strewn leaves are led

His rheum-filled distant eyes
struggle with the tears
dutiful remembrance
of guilty stolen years
In the dank November air
his question hangs unsaid
why you? why you, not me?
troubling the time-lined face
Beneath his shine-shod feet
the present fallen leaves
conjure tragic fallen friends
of another time and place

This once-reluctant hero
learnt the lies of manly war
the glory of the rat-filled trench
the honour of the bloodstained mud
and the patriotic stench
yet now as then his feet keep time
failing heart and troubled mind still stirred
by the self-less uniformity
of a military band
He killed, they died for our country
sacrificed their trusting youth
for a scrap of another land

This Universal Soldier
deep down feels some blame
for his blind abused obedience
to fear of cowardice and shame
trapped by war the lethal custom
forced to play the lethal game
heís always followed orders
his fallen friends the same
they gave their lives and lost their voice
as they marched to death in dutyís name
but the old manís eyes remember
they simply had no choice.

Expressionless he sees
ambitious men of power pretend
they know what war is really like
and are the soldierís friend
but till they stand where he once stood
he knows the slaughter will not end
He thinks of inadvertent death
by euphemistic friendly fire.
uncounted unknown innocence
mere collateral to men
who will place all but their ambition
upon an obscene funeral pyre

The old but upright man now stands
impassively alone
his pride-held tears now flow
he takes his medals from his chest
places them upon the wreath below
three faltering steps back
salutes then turns to go
Soon he will rejoin his long-lost friends
from all those years ago
the medals left unburden him
from a sense of undeserving life
and a debt no one else can know

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Comments by other Members

James Graham at 19:22 on 20 November 2006  Report this post
Yes, for me this works a lot better by building the ideas around the figure (and imagined inner life) of a veteran who is present at a Remembrance Day ceremony. The undercurrent of anger seems stronger in this version, even though anger against war isn't the veteran's dominant feeling, or is only one of a bunch of mixed feelings that he has.

The ideas aren't lost - far from it, there's more range of ideas and they're more alive. Those that come across strongly to me are:

1. Survivor's guilt. For anyone who has never been in combat it takes a huge effort of imagination to understand the effect it must have on a young man to see his best friend die. I find it easy enough to understand how that could make a man hate the enemy more and want to kill, if not the actual one who killed his friend, then at least some of the others dressed in the same enemy uniform. Survivor's guilt I find harder, but 'Why you, not me?' must be a very real feeling, one that can last a lifetime.

2. The pressure to conform represented by the military band - in the midst of the old man's turbulent feelings, 'his feet keep time'.

3. The idea that they 'simply had no choice'. It's too easy to say that in fact they did have a choice, to be conscientious objectors, forgetting how difficult that choice really was, and the powerful pressures against making it.

4. The idea that men of power use the lives of others to satisfy their ambitions. These lines are especially telling on that theme, I think:

uncounted unknown innocence
mere collateral to men
who will place all but their ambition
upon an obscene funeral pyre

All these thoughts about war are focused on an individual who is one of the most important persons present, one who has a right to be there in a sense that the personages solemnly laying wreaths do not. I have the impression as I read, that some of the ideas are pretty much fully formed in the old man's mind - especially survivor's guilt - while others are in his consciousness but perhaps not so fully articulated. The poem articulates them on his behalf. This may be just my eccentric way of reading it, but the poem seems to work that way.

It didn't take you long to come up with this new version - new stanzas, new rhymes, new ideas, the lot. It would have taken me a month!


Zettel at 21:27 on 20 November 2006  Report this post

So pleased this works to some extent at least. And it proves to me the great value of this group. Though I am sure still with its imperfections, this was the poem that was trying to get out. The original needed constructive challenge to bring it out. Curious that poetry can be collaborative. Curious and satisfying. It is the idea not the author that matters most. Conduits not owners. Thanks for the help. As always.

While not satisfied, I am much happier with this one than the first.



James Graham at 15:48 on 21 November 2006  Report this post
You turned an idea that didn't quite work into one that does. Of course (you don't need me to tell you this) if you revise any further (or 'polish' is maybe all that's required) you should keep the focus on the old man - even enhance it if possible.


Zettel at 20:06 on 24 November 2006  Report this post
Thanks James.

It may be a weakness that one does need someone whose opinion you respect, to validate, to some degree at least a piece of work. I still don't really feel as if what I write is 'real' poetry. And I know that shouldn't matter. But the desire to do something good, something with merit, is a strong motivation.

Thanks literally for the help. It is certainly a better poem for your generous contribution.



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