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12th of November

by Zettel 

Posted: 15 November 2012
Word Count: 160
Summary: Next Day thoughts on Remembrance Day which always moves and troubles me in equal measure

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12th of November

Too many flags
Too many wreaths
flying and furled
circles and sheaths
symbols of power
and Babel’s tower
Too many widows
Too much unsolaced grief

Too many pipes
Too many drums
militant skirl
bellicose beat
marching in lines
laying down mines
Too wedded to war
To demand that peace comes

Too many guns
Too many bayonettes
aimed and fired
jabbed and thrust
with iron will
and practiced skill
Too many victims
Too few regrets

Too many elegies
Too much lament
plangent with pain
and bitter regret
victims of war
cry what was it for
Too many leaders
Too proud to relent

Too many lands know the tread
of too many Great British boots
annexed or invaded
subjected subdued
pink-mapped empire
tempered in fire
Too many viceroys
Too few native roots

Too much religion
Too much God saves
Priests blessing battles
Divine self-deceit
this life alone sacred
no reverence in dead
Too many crosses
atop too many graves

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Comments by other Members

James Graham at 11:03 on 19 November 2012  Report this post
There are several good things to point out here. I like the title: after reading the poem we go back to the title and realise the thoughts expressed are the product of a day’s reflection. The poet has ‘slept on it’, as it were. So we look at everything the poem says in that light.

Different stanzas deal with different aspects, one or two of which might occur - or be fully thought through - only after that twenty-four-hour reflection. The empire theme, for instance. At Remembrance we think - we’re encouraged to think - mainly of the two world wars, but the Empire ‘tempered in fire’ must not be forgotten. Other stanzas deal with militarism, mourning and regret (rather than pride and glory), and religion.

I very much like the plain, direct language. You put ideas in simple terms but they have substance. There are examples throughout, but the one that most struck me is

Too many leaders
Too proud to relent

It’s maybe because I’ve been reading about Nixon and Vietnam. Nixon’s truculence, often irrational refusal to relent, and obsession with showing ‘them’ who was boss, are appalling. 'Too proud to relent' is perhaps understating Nixon's mentality, but essentially it does sum it up, as well as the mind-set of so many leaders.

One more good point: the pattern of rhyme. You rhyme the second and last lines of each stanza, and also the fifth and sixth. Unusual - and it has a particular effect. The presence of rhyme (as well as the repetitions) reflects the ritual of Remembrance, while the fact that the stanzas aren’t completely formal reflects the doubting, questioning tone of the poem.

For me - and I’m sure many other people at this time - what you say in this poem hits just the right note.


Zettel at 23:57 on 19 November 2012  Report this post
Thanks James

I try to use the resonance of rhyme but avoid a fixed pattern for it. That's in an effort to avoid what we might call the tum-te-tum-te-tum-tum effect.

So I like half rhymes and even slightly irregular rhymes - that way confounds expectations and retains I think an element of surprise, therefore freshness. I do like to end on a line that echoes a sound higher up. For a short poem I'm very tempted to only rhyme two lines - the 1st and the last.

Anti-war stuff doesn't 'play' the way it did in the 60s - too many appalling events in the intervening years where physical intervention was the only way to save lives. To detach pacifism from saving life is to steal its soul. But then I bring my doubts on Remembrance Days to the evening news from Gaza (this week) and suddenly realize as I casually watch the graphical 'fireworks' I am probably watching as people die. Then: "and now for the Sports news....or the weather.... or the latest 'casualty' in Strictly Come Dancing" Bizarre. Chilling.

Thanks as ever for the comments.


Dave Morehouse at 12:37 on 20 November 2012  Report this post
Hi Zettel. I remember reading, though I don't remember where, that so many great poets have written about the horrors/aftermaths of war that a person is foolish to try. You certainly disprove that line of thought with this poem. Your use of rhyme is wonderful and not forced at all. I suspect you spent a great deal of time on this one.
[quoteToo many elegies
Too much lament
plangent with pain
and bitter regret
victims of war
cry what was it for
Too many leaders
Too proud to relent
This stanza is wonderfully written and speaks to the dysfunction of warring political systems; certainly not light reading. Well done, Dave.

Zettel at 13:41 on 20 November 2012  Report this post
Thanks Dave - encouragement always valued. As James knows - my stuff good, bad or indifferent tends to come quickly. I sometimes think I should polish more but when I do I focus on the wrong thing ie. the thinking and the writing, rather than the feeling and its expression. As a 'philosopher' I have beware of that more than most.



James Graham at 14:57 on 22 November 2012  Report this post
I try to use the resonance of rhyme but avoid a fixed pattern for it

I'm adding another comment here because this is something that other WW poets could consider. Being able to handle flexible rhyme/ non-rhyme successfully - as you do in this poem - has tremendous potential and can work in so many different ways. You could almost say it has a subliminal effect. The way this poem shifts from rhyme to no rhyme and back produces an underlying sense of a ritual being broken or disrupted. Of course the Remembrance ceremony isn't actually disrupted, but the doubts expressed by the poem's voice disrupt the reassurance and 'enduring values' the ceremony is supposed to convey.

WW poets should note especially your use of couplets in stanzas where some lines are unrhymed. Maybe this device will find a place in our future poems on a variety of themes?


Zettel at 14:02 on 23 November 2012  Report this post
Interesting thought James

I'm not sure whether I wish the effects you mention, which were part of my feeling as I tried to 'let the poem out' were 'intentional' or instinctive. It never stops feeling a bit weird that a poem which starts with a single idea, line or phrase seems to take on a life of its own. I've heard novelists speak of this with characters but til now I never quite knew what they meant.

It is a rhythmic/rhyming pattern one commonly finds in popular songs though they can get away with a more fixed pattern of rhyme because it provides the recurring 'grammar' of the melody. I suppose one of the reasons why professional actors rather than poets reading poems is so satisfying is because they manage to bring the rhythms within the poem to life in a way that is analogous to a melody.

This is especially striking with a free verse poem.

It can work in reverse: Moonlight In Vermont is a beautiful song - with no rhymes.

Interesting subject - thanks for raising it.

Dave Morehouse at 14:31 on 23 November 2012  Report this post
Two VERY useful comments for WW members and many thanks to both of you!

Moonlight in Vermnont was a song I remember my mother playing at the piano...she was a huge Sinatra fan. Years later I played it in a jazz quartet. I still remember singing as a kid...

Pennies in a stream
Falling leaves, a sycamore
Moonlight in Vermont

Icy finger-waves
Ski trails on a mountainside
Snowlight in Vermont

Thanks, Zettel, for that memory. Dave

TessaF at 16:39 on 23 November 2012  Report this post
Hi Zettel

I meant to comment on this a few days ago but time got away from me again.

I think the rhyme (cleverly done as others have pointed out) gives the poem a very fast pace and what comes through to me by the end is the absolute weariness of war - I do like how you did that, as if you've really put us through our paces.

Also, on reading the poem, it's as though I've had all these thoughts and images flashing in front of me (like a dying person perhaps?) and the sense of desperation really hits me.

I absolutely love the phrase: [quote]plangent with pain
and bitter regret[/quote

Certainly not a light read but I do very much agree with your sentiments.

Midnight_Sun at 20:47 on 24 November 2012  Report this post
the lines that stand out for me are

Too much religion
Too much God saves
Priests blessing battles
Divine self-deceit

Great poem, thanks for sharing it.


Zettel at 01:44 on 28 November 2012  Report this post
Thanks for the comments. So glad you like the poem.



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