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.

11 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. Really like this blog, and appreciate your remarks.
        In particular, “Final note on remembering the fallen”. Having read it, I turn to the poem “To My Daughter Betty, The Gift of God”, written in his trench by Dublin barrister and Member of Parliament Tom Kettle shortly before he was killed.

        There were no commemorations in the Republic of the slaughter of the Great War until relatively recently – and it’s fair to say they are contentious even yet. Over 30,000 soldiers (the actual number is not known with certainty) from what is now the Republic died, and this does not include a further 20,000 from what is now Northern Ireland. They were, unfairly, regarded as retrospective traitors because they had joined the British Army, which did not behave well (to say the least) during the War of Independence in Ireland in the period 1919 – 1922.
        But things changed gradually, and old animosities have abated, thankfully. The Irish dead of 1914 – 1918 are now regarded as victims, which is what they were, of course, in common with their brothers-in-arms from England, Scotland, and Wales.

        There has been a great deal written about Ireland and its involvement in the Great War; I feel there is still a great deal to be written. Your post is as we say in Irish a welcome “Cloch le Carn”, a Stone Added to the Cairn of Remembrance. 🌹🥀

        😂. A wee note: some day I’ll tell you about the origin of the invented American (i.e., not Irish) phrase “May the road rise up to meet you”.
        Regards,
        Dermot

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Glad you like the blog. It’s been going for about two years, now, and its audience is still only modest, having chalked up around twenty regulars as visitors for each post with around forty views … worldwide! :/ 🙂 Sometimes I get discouraged – but then, out of the blue come odd visitors from places like Martinique or The Gambia, or a thoughtful, appreciative comment such as this, and that’s so heartening.

        Now I’ve never read Tom Kettle’s ‘To my Daughter Betty, the Gift of God’ – but found it straight away, and it’s a fine poem which goes straight to the heart of his feelings for his loved ones, and his sympathies for his fellows, the latter clearly and beautifully stated in the last four lines: ‘Know that we fools, now with the foolish dead,/ Died not for flag, nor King, nor Emperor,/But for a dream, born in a herdsman’s shed./ And for the secret Scripture of the poor’. The first of these four, written on the very threshold to the slaughter of the Somme, suggests that Tom Kettle knew what was coming; the fourth, an encomium to the millions of his fellow men and women who had been used and abused throughout the centuries. (I quote Tom Kettle as I know that other visitors to this blog sometimes read comments which have been posted; if they have not come across his poem before, I’m sure they will read it now).

        Thanks for your summary of how the part Irishmen played in the Great War has been viewed; I knew something, but precious little, of this. Yes, ‘victims’ is the right word for all the countless poor souls delivered up to the hecatomb.

        Looking forward to discovering the origin of what I’ve always imagined to be an Irish blessing (I realized after sending that I’d got the wording a bit wrong!) And thanks for confirming my surmise – I had been wondering – on the identity of ‘Tuskar Rock’!

        Hwyl fawr!

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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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  1. “May the road rise with/to meet you,” it is a mistranslation of the Irish benediction “Go n-éirí an bóthar leat,” meaning “may your journey be successful” (literally, “may the road succeed with you”).
    The error derives from confusing éirigh (to succeed) and éirigh (to rise). Éirigh means either “rise” OR “succeed”, depending on which word follows it:
    “D’éirigh mé” = I rose (e.g. from a bed) or ascended;
    “D’éirigh liom” = I succeeded (in doing something); likewise, “D’éirigh leat” = you succeeded, etc.
    “Bóthar” means “road” or “track” or “path”; it can also mean “route”, or “progress”, or even “journey”, as in the case of “Go n-éirí an bóthar leat”. Here, we have a colloquial and convivial phrase which employs a figure of speech (synecdoche) in which a part of something is made to represent the whole; very much like in the English phrase “hit the road” = “go on a journey”.
    Interestingly, the word “Bóthar” is descended from the Irish word “Bó”, a cow; which itself is related to, and originates from the same source as, the Latin word “bos”, and the Greek “βοῦς”, a cow, bull, or ox; even the English word “cow” also, apparently.
    The Irish good-luck wish “Go n-éirí an bóthar leat” literally means, “May your journey be successful”, and can, synecdochically speaking, also be used to convey the wish, “May you travel safely”. It does not mean anything else – such as “May the road rise..”, no more than the phrase “Hit the road” can be construed as a statement about a collision of some kind.
    The alleged Irish ‘Blessing’, “May the road rise up to meet you” is, bluntly speaking, nonsense; not Irish, not a blessing, and an incompetent translation of the original Irish good-luck wish. Many Irish speakers – not excluding myself – are irritated by this sort of ignorant nonsense, which is up there with “Top of the morning”, leprechauns, and banshees.
    It is generally associated with a rag-bag or mélange of other uunrelated Irish Idioms to create a “poem”, which I daresay appears to the average American as the kind of garrulousness to be expected from the Irish.
    Americans, I often think, would do well to assume that many of the things they are encouraged to believe about other cultures are, so to speak, “Mierda del toro”, as they might (or might not) say in Spanish.
    I’ve extracted the following contribution to a question about the “blessing” on Quora.com by one
    Lambert Katz, who describes himself as “Pastor at Into Thy Word (2001 – present)” , on March 18, 2017:
    “Actually, it was made up by an Episcopal Youth Minister, Rev. Richard Krejcir at All Saints Church, Carmel, California, in 1982 for a youth Irish party and dance, evangelism event in at The Mission Ranch Restaurant and dance barn in Carmel , Ca. There were copies of that poem printed on parchment given out then and for for years since at Christian youth groups by this pastor. He took Numbers 6:24 and merged it with a Celtic blessing…”
    The cheek of him. I haven’t attempted to verify that mind. Or,” look you” as, we are similarly told, is a typical Welsh phrase. 🙄

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    1. Thank you, ‘Tuskar Rock’. That was very interesting, and very revealing. I had no idea of the journey this Irish good-luck wish had taken, and from my own experience can heartily concur with

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    2. Thank you, ‘Tuskar Rock’. I had no idea of the transmogrification to which the original Irish good-luck wish was subjected. I first heard it from an Irish colleague from Meath; we were mainly discussing the ‘curses’ rather than the ‘blessings’ at the time. This one was new to me, and I admit to having made use of it once or twice – but will do no more. Yours was a most thorough explanation and from experience I can sympathize wholeheartedly with what you have to say of the ‘dominant’ cultures’ view of us.

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  2. Panu Höglund, a Finn who writes novels in Irish (can’t think why 🤔) writes – also in Quora –
    “It is not Irish, it is fake Irish English.
    It is based on the Irish expression” Go n-éirí an bóthar leat”…. the underlying idea is
    , simply “bon voyage”.
    This sort of thing is typical “Celtic fakelore”, and it is very irritating to anyone who really knows Irish. It
    is an example of how real Irishness is being smothered by English-language fakery.”

    I particularly admire his neologism “fakelore”.

    Ireland, alas, for historical reasons, had one of the largest relative population losses in Europe; so there is today a massive (40m-strong) Irish-American population, many, irritatingly, claiming to be “Irish” on the strength of an often-distant ancestor, and frequently imbued with a misremembered “history”. We are annually invaded by large numbers of eager and well-meaning Yanks with vagueish notions about the “ould sod” (Ireland) to whom we sell huge volumes of tat, some emblazoned with nonsense of the “Road rise up to meet you” variety.
    It’s embarrassing, but the foreign exchange benefits, and the lessons of our peculiar history, mean that it’s not envenoming.
    Though it is truly tiresome.
    I daresay Wales has some similar issues, though probably on a smaller scale; Scotland certainly does too.
    Enough, I think! Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for this, Tuskar Rock, and apologies for being remiss in replying; I’d wanted to do so fully, and had in mind some relevant items I’d need to look up – and it’s the ‘time-finding’ surrounding these, among other things that have beset me, which have delayed my response.

      I came across Panu Hogland’s name only a few weeks ago in a post, I think it was, in Guto Rhys’ ‘Celtic Linguistics’; it was surprising, and pleasing, to think that a Finn would write in Irish, and novels, to boot. Coincidentally, I’m involved with Finnish verse forms just now. I still, though, haven’t found those items I should have searched for. :/

      ‘Fakelore’ caps what you say nicely, and it all is, indeed, truly tiresome. Yes, we certainly have similar issues in Wales, more, though, in line with your previous set of comments than with seasonal invasions from America. During my college days (I attended an English college, and by that I mean one in England’s deep south-east, i.e., the deep-dyed Saxon counties which are their real insular heartland- the ‘Lloegyr’/’Logris’ of early Welsh literature), ‘Lloegr’ being the Welch name for England to this day) I was amazed that they knew so very little about us. We, of course, had all been well-schooled in the history of their Norman kings, but they knew nothing at all of our history. It can all be put down to ignorance, it’s always seemed to me, tinged through the centuries by some innate, historically ingrained sense of superiority. The invasion Wales has had to contend with for many, many decades now and which has gathered in force to saturation point is a very real and daunting one – ‘permanent tourism’, where entire Welsh-speaking communities are being replaced by English populations which can afford what the native inhabitants cannot. Ancient Welsh place-names are being replaced by English ones, and these are – and this is incredibly annoying – being recognized on Ordinance Survey and Google Maps. Connected with all this are also many lesser encroaching evils, a good many which are, sadly, endorsed by the politics of the spineless devolved government we have to suffer, as well as heavily-infiltrated government activity at the local level. How long, Lord … ?

      Liked by 1 person

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