THE ELEVENTH HOUR OF THE ELEVENTH DAY OF THE ELEVENTH MONTH

Poems in remembrance of those sacrificed in The Great War.

Remembrance

Perhaps you could ‘remember us’
Without your fancy threads?
If you had come here yesterday,
You’d find us just as dead
Remember we were torn apart
And one half left behind
Though some came home with broken bones,
And some with broken minds

And our graves, they measure miles
And our graves are dungeons deep
And the speeches of the living
Grate our ears and kill our sleep

For grief needs no occasion
And tears don’t fall on cue,
Though some would have it otherwise;
Yes, we remember you!
Remember that you wasted
What was never yours to take,
So, do not dare to tell us
That we ‘did this for your sake’

And our graves, they measure miles
And our graves are dungeons deep,
And we have no need or want of you:

Be gone, and let us sleep! (1) 


Steffan Balsom


(From ‘The East Wind and the Crow’)



1915: On the Eve of his Departure

Since first we met
– these long years, now –
our love has never been in doubt.
So let us use this night’s hours well –
be glad, while they are ours.
The separate ways that we must walk
in days to come will seem so long
to both of us. Tomorrow we must say goodbye
and neither of us knows
when we shall meet again.
You sigh. Now come, hold tight my hand.
We know, whatever times might lie ahead,
both you and I will shed some tears!
But, look… let’s try to find some pleasure
in every coming week, or month – or year,
remembering our happiest hours.
One day, one carefree, blissful day,
we’ll be, once more, together!
Till then, we know that always we’ll
mean everything to each other.


News

Lashes lie
on cheeks; lips quiver…
and she weeps.


Dafydd Hughes Lewis


From: ‘Journeys in Time’ / ‘Distillations’)




Note on Remembrance:

(1)
I probably ought to include an explanatory note, namely this one, since the poem touches on a sensitive subject. The suggestion of this poem is not that we should not mark the occasion of the many and often most inexplicable wars of history, but rather that I aways feel like there is a certain arrogance in the assumption that the Glorious Dead would welcome our traipsing all over their churchyards and monuments. I can imagine them being a little more territorial than this, and either bored or angered by such ‘celebrations’. (Steffan)

The East Wind and the Crow
is the title of guest poet Steffan Balsom’s 2019 book, published by Austin Macauley. This remarkable collection of poems and essays was previously reviewed, under the book’s title, in The Igam-Ogam Mabinogion. Steffan has appeared as a guest poet on two other occasions, notably with the publication of excerpts from his superb metrical version of the 6th century AD Btythonic/Welsh poem Y Gododdin. It can be found in The Igam-Ogam Mabinogion under the heading Strife on the Borders.


Note on 1915: On the Eve of his Departure:

The poem is adapted from the Chinese of 1st century BCE Su-Wu’s On a Soldier’s Parting from his Wife. My translation of the original poem, rendered in a matching archaic style, is as follows:

Since we took our vows, and wed,
our love has never suffered doubt.
So let us use this night’s hours well;
rejoice, and take delight – while they are ours.
The road that I must tread, I mind myself, is long,
and rising to view the stations of the sky
I see the starry host already fading.
I must away; I cannot tarry.
My place awaits me at the line of battle.
I know not when we’ll meet again.
You sigh. Now come, hold tight my hand.
In the days ahead I know that you will cry.
Yet strive to find, come Spring, some pleasure
         in its flowers;
forget not, then, our joyous hours,
but know that if I live – I will return.
And if I die – I think of you eternally.


General Su-Wu (140-60 BCE) was Deputy Commander of Han Dynasty Emperor Wu-ti’s Imperial Guard. His departure from China was not so much military as diplomatic; he was chosen to lead a mission to the chanyu (ruler) of the Hsiung-nu, the northern steppe nomads, with whom there was at the time a temporary détente in an otherwise constant state of hostilities. (For a fuller discussion on the relations between the Chinese Empire and the Hsiung-nu, see the previous article To the Captain of the Huns in The Igam-Ogam Mabinogion). The mission went drastically wrong, and Su-Wu was kept prisoner, along with the surviving members of his mission, for some nineteen years. He was made to serve – like Patrick while in captivity in Ireland – as a shepherd, in the faraway region of Lake Baikal. (And sorry to spoil the sentiments of the poem – from the evidence of another Chinese general who after defeat in battle had defected to the Hsiung-nu, Su-Wu had taken a Hsiung-nu wife who bore him children, and Su-Wu learned that the wife he had left behind in China had re-married). On the accession of a new Emperor, Su-Wu’s return was negotiated, and he was honoured with a high position at court. His story (worth pursuing in detail)  was afterward used, as a sort of propaganda, as an example of loyalty the the Emperor.


Note on News: 

This features among my ‘Haikuesque’ three-liners which come under the collective title Distillations – a term borrowed from Clark Ashton Smith, who assisted Japanese master Kenneth Yasuda in his superlative study of traditional Japanese Haiku and its development in the West, and which persuaded Smith to experiment further with the form. My ‘distillations’ do not follow the (still very popular in English-language Haiku) syllable-count of the traditional Japanese form, but do conform to some of its more important (and for best effect very necessary) conventions. The purpose of these three-line poems is conciseness – to achieve a condensation of words which express in as minimal terms as possible the basic essence of a subject.


Final note on remembering the fallen:

If we wear a poppy on this day, let us remember that it is not for the over-proud, squabbling monarchies and aristocracies of Europe, nor for their submissive, misguided governments, nor their subservient, incompetent, callous generals, nor for their zealous, onward-goading pulpiteers, nor for their gangs of avaricious profiteers, nor for those of their kind who today offer false homage, and who have in the past continued – and today still continue – to justify, uphold, celebrate and promote war; but for the millions of poor, ill-used young men who were dragooned into slaughter on such a vast scale under the vile pretext that it was ‘for God and country’.



Addendum: Last year’s remembrance poems can be found in The Igam-Ogam Mabinogion under the title The Angels of Mons.

4 thoughts on “THE ELEVENTH HOUR OF THE ELEVENTH DAY OF THE ELEVENTH MONTH

    1. Thanks, Tuskar Rock, for your comment on ‘The Eleventh Hour … ‘ Those three little images tell me a lot. I’ve always loved Steffan’s ‘Remembrance’; it tells us all a lot. So great to hear from Ireland! Thanks again for your comment, and for following The Ig-Og. May the road rise up to meet you.

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    1. Hey, thank you, Viv! Glad they struck the right note. Steffan’s ‘Remembrance’ is superb; I’ve been looking forward to post it for the last year. I’m out of remembrance poems now, though, and don’t like to do repeats. Lovely to hear from you and with such an uplifting comment. Hwyl, Viv!

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