Login   Sign Up 



 

Heroes

by James Graham 

Posted: 27 July 2019
Word Count: 211
Summary: Whether you liked them or not, youíve had Hypatia of Alexandria and the Peasantsí Revolt. Now another poem on a historical theme. I hope itís at least clear. Itís a long way from perfect, though, and I welcome your criticisms and suggestions. James.


Font Size
 


Printable Version
Print Double spaced


Heroes
 
Heroes are not men
with inverted triangles for upper bodies,
muscles like sea-serpents writhing beneath the miniscus of the skin,
a pair of fancy briefs, and a cape.
 
Nor are they those who walk to the South Pole,
or carry out rescues in rough seas.
Though they are far superior.
 
The greatest and best are like the men who read
of the murderous fascists in Spain, and did not shrug. Such as
a young man from Coventry, or Paisley, a miner or bricklayer,
who took the train to London, paying his way; to Newhaven, Dieppe,
and on the ‘red bus’ to the Pyrenees. At last, with passing thoughts
of turning back, on foot across the reproachful mountains
 
to the rallying place. Stirred by speeches, they had
no weapons. Then guns that did not work. Then finally
Soviet arms, benevolently furnished by the murderous
Joseph Stalin. Together they went up
to face the mercenaries. In the world, at all times,
 
There are many more of these best heroes.
 

 






Favourite this work Favourite This Author


Comments by other Members



V`yonne at 13:15 on 28 July 2019  Report this post
I was watching the series on the hiostory of Spain by Simon Seabags Montifiore.

I like this. Suggestions?

I don't think you need

a pair of fancy briefs, and a cape.

to underline the point.
In st2 

Though they are far superior.

doesn't seem quite right either given so few examples. Maybe 
or fly to the moon/perform surgery...
Also I am not sure that walking to the poles is heroic. For me it's just hubris.

Maybe a tweak or two?

But here were men who read
of the murderous fascists in Spain, and did not shrug;
young men from Coventry, or Paisley, a miner or bricklayer
who took the train to London, paying his way; to Newhaven, Dieppe,
and on the ‘red bus’ to the Pyrenees. At last, with passing thoughts
of turning back, on foot across the reproachful mountains

The reason for that change would be that for my money your strongest finish would be

They are the greatest and best of men. 

I don;t think you need

to the rallying place. 

and I'm not sure about

In the world, at all times,

It sort of widened the issue too much for me. Anyway I had read this last night and came back to it this morning so I hope my comments are helpful in giving you some perspeective on how it works.
Happy Sunday.
Oonah

James Graham at 20:52 on 28 July 2019  Report this post
Oonah, thank you for this detailed comment.
 
I may leave out Superman etc’s briefs and cape. Not sure about this, will think about it though as you probably know I’m often quite happy to jettison iffy lines.
 
You’re 100% right about those next best heroes – no Antarctic walkers, but the ones you mention are much better examples. The point is that these heroes are in a real sense heroes, in that the things they do are genuinely admirable. They’re in the poem to make a serious comparison – yes, they are real heroes, but here are even greater ones.
 
I also like your idea of saving ‘They are the greatest and best of men’ to the end and making that the only general statement about them. Correct, ‘to the rallying place’ isn’t necessary because immediately we have the speeches. ‘In the world, at all times’ is an overstatement.
 
Very helpful. I will work on a revision and post it soon.
 
James.

LA at 21:44 on 28 July 2019  Report this post
Just a few thoughts on this very worthy topic James.

Oonah has already mentioned several points that had crossed my mind.
I agree that adventurers of any kind are not true heroes. In fact, they leave me cold. I do however think that anyone who puts themselves at risk to help others is a hero, therefore your inclusion of '...carry out rescues in rough seas' seems very wrong.

Maybe 'to face the mercenaries' also needs to be changed and clarified as there were mercenaries on both sides of the conflict.

Sorry if I've got the wrong end of the stick about any of this.

Finally, as a fully paid up Coventrian, I'm chuffed our city got a mention!!     laugh

Lesley

 

V`yonne at 12:15 on 29 July 2019  Report this post
I do however think that anyone who puts themselves at risk to help others is a hero, therefore your inclusion of '...carry out rescues in rough seas' seems very wrong.

That contradicts itself, Lesley.frown

James Graham at 21:11 on 29 July 2019  Report this post
Heroes (revised)
 
Heroes are not men
with inverted triangles for upper bodies,
muscles like sea-serpents writhing beneath the miniscus of the skin.

Nor are they those who carry out rescues in rough seas,
perform heart surgery more than once a day,
keep after rogue governments until prisoners of conscience are released,
or fly to the moon; though they are far superior.
 
But consider the men who read
of the murderous fascists in Spain, and did not shrug: such as
a young man from Coventry, or Paisley, a miner or bricklayer,
who took the train to London, paying his way; to Newhaven, Dieppe,
and on the ‘red bus’ to the Pyrenees. At last, with passing thoughts
of turning back, on foot across the reproachful mountains.
 
Stirred by speeches, they had
no weapons. Then guns that did not work. Then finally
Soviet arms, benevolently furnished by the murderous
Joseph Stalin. Together they went up
to face the fascist mercenaries.
 
They are the greatest and best of men.


Heroes
 
Heroes are not men
with inverted triangles for upper bodies,
muscles like sea-serpents writhing beneath the miniscus of the skin,
a pair of fancy briefs, and a cape.
 
Nor are they those who walk to the South Pole,
or carry out rescues in rough seas.
Though they are far superior.
 
The greatest and best are like the men who read
of the murderous fascists in Spain, and did not shrug. Such as
a young man from Coventry, or Paisley, a miner or bricklayer,
who took the train to London, paying his way; to Newhaven, Dieppe,
and on the ‘red bus’ to the Pyrenees. At last, with passing thoughts
of turning back, on foot across the reproachful mountains
 
to the rallying place. Stirred by speeches, they had
no weapons. Then guns that did not work. Then finally
Soviet arms, benevolently furnished by the murderous
Joseph Stalin. Together they went up
to face the mercenaries. In the world, at all times,
 
There are many more of these best heroes.

James Graham at 21:16 on 29 July 2019  Report this post
Thank you, Lesley, for your comment. Let me say that even a comment in which you agree with a previous comment is appreciated – it confirms that the advice I was given is good.
 
I’ve revised according to these suggestions. Let me know if you think it works better, or if any other tweaks are needed. I did wonder if there should be a place in the poem for some of the good reasons why I call Franco’s fascists ‘murderous’. During their advance towards Madrid, they would halt in a town or city (such as Merida or Caceres in Estremadura), have mass said in the main church, then send out hit squads to find socialists, liberals and other democrats, drag them from their homes, and shoot them. If in doubt, shoot them anyway – many innocent people died, including children. Another poem, possibly.

So there it is. Any further comments are welcome.
 
James.

Cliff Hanger at 23:11 on 29 July 2019  Report this post
I'm going to throw in an idea here that may or may not work. It's all quite generalised and I wonder how it might read if you contrasted the generally accepted heroic attributes with one real person of whichever gender who risked everything for principle?

I adore the reproachful mountains but find the line about being far superior a little confusing.
​Just quick reactions but I'll give the thread a more detailed reading and comment again.
Jane

FelixBenson at 10:54 on 30 July 2019  Report this post
Good poem, James.

A rich seam for poetry - looking more deeply about what we mean by 'hero' or 'heroism'. In this 'Marvel' world of be-caped superhero obsession, I don't think anyone would quibble with why this questioning is relevant, nor with the aim of your poem: to highlight your version of heroism.

I think the revision definitely improves on the original - I agree with the removal of the capes line. You didn't need it. Nor the other lines you have trimmed. I do have a couple of ideas or questions about the poem though.

I wondered about the 'though they are far superior' line though. On my readings I have found section a bit confusing. Are they superior? If 'they' are the heart surgeons and life savers? I think the poem is supposed to be saying, yes of course these are heroes, but there is this other kind of hero too: the ones who risked everything for someone else's freedom, to fight fascism. I am not sure if the disctinction you are making comes across clearly enough, because it seems to be saying that the heart surgeons etc are superior. Then you say at the end that it is the volunteers who fight who are the greatest and best. The hierarchy wasn't a bit confusing..

And the distinction that confuses me. Others have questioned the examples given here, which your revision takes into account, but thereis a lot of pressure on the examples because you are making a distinction here which should help underline your argument about what is the greatest hero, but the 'though' in this line gives it a tension. 'Though they are far superior' says you're sure we are certain, can agree and its unarguable, that these examples equal heroes. But our feedback suggests that the type of acts we consider acts of heroism are variable. I thought when I read the revision: are astronaunts really examples that need to be in this list of heroes? I wonder if they are more of the cape / muscles / hubris heroes referred to by others? It left me with other questions, like: are heart surgeons heroes in the way that seafaring life savers are heroes?

Hero is a word that contains multitudes, it seems!

So I tried to work out what you were saying about each one. You have the hero that risks their own life to save others' lives (lifeboat hero). The hero that is clever and trains for many years to do something extrememly difficult and complex to save lives (heart surgeon). The hero that risks their life by exploring the unknown to further human knowledge, with no promise it will work (astronaunt). Those who dedicate their life's work to helping others receive justice (campaigners). And then those who are ordinary people, who despite financial vulnerablility leave everything to fight against fascism in a different country because what is happening there is so unconscionable and cruel they cannot stand by and let it happen.

There are many more heroes and you can't list them all. The daily heroes who help in a small way to make lives better for those who are ill or have diability, those who are vulnerable, have disadvatages or are in poverty, many of whom you have written about and celebrated before in your poetry.  

I think maybe it is just about deciding which kind of hero you are pitting against whom. I think you are saying those who are the most heroic are those who despite a lack of personal power step up to fight a huge, evil power elsewhere for everyone's good/for humanity's sake. Because of their conscience, because it is the right thing to do. And perhaps pay with their life. So is the distinction here about morality? And about the courage needed to stand up to an impossibly large threat which might risk everyone, rather than responding to a smaller, immediate threat? And it is about gambling on paying the ultimate price too to save others?  I'm interested in how you define the disctinction. 

The alternative to tweaking this is to consider whether the distinction is necessary at all, i.e. beyond the superhero distinction, do you need to list the other heroes for the reader, or should you just progress to talking about the heroes you want to highlight? 

A further alternative is to personalise it. These are the heroes you consider to be the best - those who fought the Spanish Civil War, and the others you admire the most (heat surgeons, lifeboat men, campaigners, astronaunts). If you say 'to me' then no-one can quibble as you haven't assumed the reader automatically agrees with your take on who constitues a hero.

However, if you do keep the disctinction in then adding a female dimension might be appealing to this reader.  I know the poem says hero not heroine, but I prefer to think of heroes as people (I'd happily ban heroine, actress, poetess et al, which always sound like second best or an alternative the to template whilst spuriously indicating gender.)

I am in absolutely no doubt about the incredible respect I have for the working class men who went to fight though. It blows you over that they did it and just did not stand by, it's a huge sacrifice and risk, and it makes you glad they existed; proud that they existed. I heartily agree that they are the most impressive. And I don't think as many women will have travelled from the UK to fight, but your poem made me read about it and some did go to help at the front lines by nursing etc. They would have been middle class women, as working class women would have had even less freedom, but the barriers to women doing anything in this period were high, so even a couple of women who went would have been fairly amazing, certainly admirable and even heroic. To me, any front line warzone volunteer nurse is up there with the most impressive of humans.

Finally, I wondered about the end, which links to my comments above. The poem seeks to navigate and recalibrate what we mean when we say 'hero', and make a case for a certain kind of hero being 'the greatest and best'. I thought this ending could perhaps link back to the word, and to the definition of hero. Is there space in the poem to make a case for a new word or phrase to express this? Hero seems to be a bit of an all-purpose sack of a word when you really interrogate it. Could the poem look further for a way to differentiate in language the greatest and the best of heroes from the others? I don't know whether simply stating that you think them the best is enough impact at the end for a poem about such uplifting and heroic acts.

I like it when I find words in other languages for very specific things that we don't have an English equivalent. Perhaps we need other ways to say 'a-person-who-gives-up-everything-to-fight-a war-in-another-country-as-a-matter-of-conscience?'

The poem doesnt necessarily have to find the answer, but it could ask should we have a different word for this, because hero is too loose or has been debased by superheroes?

I hope these comments help and don't hinder. I may be way off track with my reading of what is or isn't confusing or what needs further differentiation.

I look forward to hearing what you think about these comments though.

Kirsty 

PS is it meniscus rather than miniscus? If it is then it is somewhat apt!




 

FelixBenson at 10:56 on 30 July 2019  Report this post
After posting, I just read Jane's comment, and she has managed to say in one short line what I have blathered on about for many paragraphs! Oh dear! Haha. I heartily agree with her though as you can see.

Cliff Hanger at 15:05 on 30 July 2019  Report this post
Hi James

I'll put a few bones on my comment in case it helps. In Whithorn village near where I live there's a memorial to Jack Dent (AKA) Geordie Dickie who went off to fight with the international brigades. It was erected in 2006 and is still controversial amongst the worthies of the place (interesting). I did some research on him sometime back and if you look on international-brigades.org.uk you can find out about specific individuals (if I remember correctly, there's also a plaque to someone in Irvine library - your neck of the woods. Then of interest to myself is someone like Felicia Browne sculptor and artists killed on active duty. Of course your poem is not a history lesson but if you inserted a few specific human details, I wonder if it might enliven it even more?

Apols for my extended absence - crises, following crises .... ad infinitum. 

Jane

James Graham at 21:25 on 30 July 2019  Report this post
Jane and Kirsty, your comments are much appreciated. Ths is an exceptionally busy week for me, so I hope you'll be patient and wait for a detailed reply. Just a few days at most!

James.

James Graham at 21:21 on 02 August 2019  Report this post
Kirsty, far from ‘blathering on’ you have written an insightful comment. Length doesn’t bother me at all, and it’s much appreciated. ‘Though they are far superior’ is wrong in the ways you suggest.I wonder if a simple change would be adequate – ‘Though they are admirable’. It’s of course a much milder statement, but at the same time it does recognise these people as heroes of a sort. Then, another possible line, or lines:
 
Though for me they are admirable,
and we should honour them.
 
Here their heroism becomes my opinion, which I hope readers will agree with but they need not. Surely though readers would agree that heart surgeons and human rights campaigners are admirable, even that they should be honoured? The added line again strengthens it a little, without going as far as ‘far superior’. What do you think?
 
I was aware that I should include women International Brigaders. I know several stories of women volunteers who deserve as much acclaim as any man. Maybe even one or more women could be listed with the miner and bricklayer, ‘a young woman from…’
 
You’ll know I said this week has been so busy I can hardly squeeze WW in. I hope this reply will be adequate, but I will have more time in the coming days.
 
James.

James Graham at 21:24 on 02 August 2019  Report this post
Jane, I've visited Whithorn but missed the memorial you mention. I'll post a proper reply tomorrow.

James.

Cliff Hanger at 22:44 on 02 August 2019  Report this post
That's no surprise. It's next to Touchstone Books and so unassuming. My eye only caught it when looking in the shop window.
Jane

FelixBenson at 12:51 on 04 August 2019  Report this post

Though for me they are admirable,
and we should honour them

Here their heroism becomes my opinion, which I hope readers will agree with but they need not. Surely though readers would agree that heart surgeons and human rights campaigners are admirable, even that they should be honoured? The added line again strengthens it a little, without going as far as ‘far superior’. What do you think?


Yes, I agree -  adding 'we should honour them' is better. I can't imagine anyone would argue that heart surgeons and campaigners deserve respect and admiration.

Adding a women International Brigader sounds like a great way to even out the examples too. 

No rush on this, James. I am glad the comments I made were useful though!

James Graham at 21:19 on 04 August 2019  Report this post
Heroes (revision 2)
 
Heroes are not men
with inverted triangles for upper bodies,
muscles like sea-serpents writhing beneath the miniscus of the skin.

Nor are they those who carry out rescues in rough seas,
perform heart surgery more than once a day,
keep after rogue governments until prisoners of conscience are released,
or fly to the moon; though they are admirable
and we should honour them.
 
But consider the men and women who read
of the murderous fascists in Spain, and did not shrug: such as
a young man from Coventry, or Paisley, a miner or bricklayer,
or a young woman from Bradford, a textile worker,
who took the train to London, paying their way; to Newhaven, Dieppe,
and on the ‘red bus’ to the Pyrenees. At last, with passing thoughts
of turning back, on foot across the reproachful mountains.
 
Stirred by speeches, they had
no weapons. Then guns that did not work. Then finally
Soviet arms, benevolently furnished by the murderous
Joseph Stalin. Together they went up
to face the fascist mercenaries.
 
They are the greatest and best of heroes.
 
I’ve added a young woman to the short list of volunteers. I hope it doesn’t look like a token woman being brought in as an afterthought! I had to post this second revision as this benighted website doesn’t let you edit an existing post! I’ve also added the bit about surgeons etc being admirable. In the last line, ‘best of men’ is changed to ‘best of heroes’.
 
James.

Cliff Hanger at 23:09 on 04 August 2019  Report this post
Hi James
I really the drive in this version. Don't find it tokenism at all. I can feel those reproachful mountains - such a great image and completely apt.
Jane

James Graham at 21:17 on 05 August 2019  Report this post
Thanks Jane. You can probably guess why my wife and I once visited Whithorn - to see the Whithorn Dig! We were not over-impressed. Later we noticed a dog ambling alone along the main street, and my wife (using a bit of Scots pronunciation) said, 'Ah! There goes the Whithorn dug!' My favourite Galloway town has always been Kirkcudbright - lovely town.

James.


To post comments you need to become a member. If you are already a member, please log in .