Monday, August 4, 2014

And So It Started, 100 Years Ago Today

August 2, 1914, Germany invaded Luxemborg.  August 3, they declared war on France.  August 4, Germany invaded Belgium.  Great Britain protested, Germany said "So What.",and Great Britain declared war on Germany. The rest of August remained this busy with new events for the history books every day.  A few months later Wilfred Owen penned:

 " War broke: and now the Winter of the world
     With perishing great darkness closes in.
     The foul tornado, centered at Berlin,
     Is over all the width of Europe whirled,..."

And, people went.  Poets went.  Robert Service at the age of forty went, and served two years before he was discharged as an invalid.  He was one of the most prolific of the Great War poets and wrote in his entertaining style of his own experiences, and of others with whom he had contact in France.  From Rhymes Of A Red Cross Man, the first poem of this collection, followed by the introduction by Robert Service:


Far and near, high and clear,
Hark to the call of War!
Over the gorse and the golden dells,
Ringing and swinging of clamorous bells, 
Praying and saying of wild farewells:
War! War! War!

High and low, all must go:
Hark to the shout of War!
Leave to the women the harvest yield;
Gird ye, men, for the sinister field;
A sabre instead of a scythe to wield;
War! Red War!

Rich and poor, lord and boor, 
Hark to the blast of War!
Tinker and tailor and millionaire,
Actor in triumph and priest in prayer,
Comrades now in the hell out there, 
Sweep to the fire of War!

Prince and page, sot and sage, 
Hark to the roar of War!
Poet, professor and circus clown,
Chimney-sweeper and fop o' the town,
Into the pot and be melted down:
Into the pot of War!

Women all, hear the call, 
The pitiless call of War!
Look your last on your dearest ones,
Brothers and husbands, fathers, sons:
Swift they go to the ravenous guns, 
The Gluttonous guns of War.

Everywhere thrill the air
The maniac bells of War.
There will be little of sleeping to-night;
There will be wailing and weeping to-night:
War! War! War!

 (to Rhymes Of A Red Cross Man)

I've tinkerd at my bits of rhymes
In weary, woeful, waiting times;
In doleful hours of battle-din,
Ere yet they brought the wounded in;
Through vigils of the fateful night,
In lousy barns by candle-light;
In dug-outs, sagging and aflood,
On stretchers stiff and bleared with blood;
By ragged grove, by ruined road,
By hearths accurst where Love Abode;
By broken altars, blackened shrines
I've tinkered at my bits of rhymes.

I've solaced me with scraps of song
The desolated ways along:
Through sickly fields all shrapnel-sown,
And meadows reaped by death alone;
By blazing cross and splintered spire,
By headless Virgin in the mire;
By gardens gashed amid their bloom,
By gutted grave, by shattered tomb;
Beside the dying and the dead,
Where rocket green and rocket red,
In trembling pools of poising light,
With flowers of flame festoon the night.
Ah me! by what dark ways of wrong
I've cheered my heart with scraps of song.

So here's my sheaf of war-won verse,
And some is bad, and some is worse.
And if at times I curse a bit, 
You needn't read that part of it;
For through it all like horror runs
The red resentment of the guns.
And you yourself would mutter when
You took the things that once were men
and sped them through that zone of hate
 To where the dripping surgeons wait;
And wonder too if in God's sight
War ever, ever can be right.

Yet may it not be, crime and war
But effort misdirected are?
And if there's good in war and crime,
There may be in my bits of rhyme,
My songs from out the slaughter mill:
So take or leave them as you will.

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