|LMW Lecture Term 2 Week 1: Writing About Modern War
1. Merveilles de la Guerre
how lovely they are
peaks of coryphées eyes arms hearts
your smile your breathing
daily apotheosis of your comet hair
gilt on these gilt dancers whose belonging
is to bear young with their moments to die
how lovely these rockets
life entire and relative
departing I see them offer conceal selves
moving fingers over fire juggling
festival earth hungry opens long
pale mouth how aroma of toasted
skin becomes not disagreeable
if sky ate with land there
it would only in not nourishing
but I have run with sweetness
how this war all guts’ length
from me has flames crying
that I am here
have ploughed the beds I pour myself in
thousand little rivers at prow of trench
I am still on all sides
I am one beginning this thing for
epochs longer than flight of Icarus
I bequeath this story of Guillaume Apollinaire
who handled war and knew himself
everywhere contented in towns
behind in all remains of universes
in one barbed and trampled
in women cannon horse
top to bottom at all four points
unmistakeable heat of wake
certain it was lovelier
if I could have supposed all things
I am part of might
occupy me but
nothing can in
sense I am
over all only
am in me
Rowe, Jacqui, Apollinaire (Perdika, London: 2009)
[This is a version of Guillaume Apollinaire’s original poem, ‘Merveille de la Guerre’’ you can read the original here (in French): www.toutelapoesie.com/poemes/apollinaire/merveille_de_la_guerre.htm]
2. from Mother of Battles
Lady of the cypress and the cedar
Lady of the land between the rivers
Lady of the silence of the stones
the dusty silence in the olive grove
the dusty silence in the vineyard he
was toiling all the morning all
the afternoon at night he said
you looked like Madonna like Marilyn
Monroe like Greta Garbo like Jean
Harlow he said that your breasts
were like clusters of dates like
clusters of grapes on the vine
like clusters of dumb iron bombs
the voice of the B52 is heard in the land
9-11 February 1991
Hulse, Michael, Empires and Holy Lands: Poems 1976-2000 (Salt, Cambridge: 2002)
3. How to Kill
Under the parabola of a ball,
a child turning into a man,
I looked into the air too long.
The ball fell in my hand, it sang
in the closed fist: Open Open
Behold a gift designed to kill.
Now in my dial of glass appears
the soldier who is going to die.
He smiles, and moves about in ways
his mother knows, habits of his.
The wires touch his face: I cry
NOW. Death, like a familiar, hears
and look, has made a man of dust
of a man of flesh. This sorcery
I do. Being damned, I am amused
to see the centre of love diffused
and the wave of love travel into vacancy.
How easy it is to make a ghost.
The weightless mosquito touches
her tiny shadow on the stone,
and with how like, how infinite
a lightness, man and shadow meet.
They fuse. A shadow is a man
when the mosquito death approaches.
Douglas, Keith, The Complete Poems, ed. Graham, Desmond (Faber, London: 2000)
4. from The Walls do not Fall, (section 38).
This search for historical parallels,
research into psychic affinities,
has been done to death before,
will be done again;
no comment can alter spiritual realities
(you say) or again,
what new light can you possibly
throw upon them?
my mind (yours),
your way of thought (mine),
each has its peculiar intricate map,
threads weave over and under
of biological aptitudes,
the intellectual effort
of the whole race,
its tide and ebb;
but my mind (yours)
has its peculiar ego-centric
to the eternal realities,
and differs from every other
in minute particulars,
as the vein-paths on any leaf
differ from those of every other leaf
in the forest, as every snow-flake
has its particular star, coral or prism shape.
HD (Doolittle , Hilda), Trilogy (Carcanet, Cheshire: 1973)
5. The Body Is Pain
At the outpost now for three years,
by day, on guard. My nights the mandarin plans.
Clearing bamboo, slashing wood stands.
The body is pain. I can't complain.
My food is bamboo shoots and plums.
My fuel and friends are the bamboo.
In the well, one fish swims alone and free.
The Red Cloth
Sad, idle, I think of my dead mother,
her mouth chewing rice, her tongue removing fish bones,
The Red Cloth drapes the mirror frame.
Men of one country should love one another.
The Outpost Soldier
Here are only cliffs and crags,
bird tracks, beasts shuffling, locusts chirring,
and jungle trees rustling their music.
A bird calls out from a gnarled tree.
I've lived in the forest for three years.
Ca Dao Viet Nam: Vietnamese Folk Poetry, trans. John Balaban (Copper Canyon Press, Port Townsend: 2003)
[Audio samples and translations available at his website:
6. Normal Journey
I have not seen any horrors,
I have not seen a dragon in the land,
I have not seen the Kraken in the sea,
nor a witch or a policeman
at the outset of my day.
Pirates have not overtaken my desires,
thieves have not broken down the door of my life,
my absence has not been long,
it only took me one lifetime.
How come you saw scars
on my face, sorrow in my eyes,
and bruises in my bones and in my heart?
These are only illusions.
I have not seen any horrors,
everything was extremely normal.
your son is still in his grave, murdered,
and he’s fine.
Barghouti, Mourid, Midnight and other poems, trans. Radwa Ashour (Arc, Todmorden: 2008)
7. from Heroic and Elegiac Song For the Lost Second Lieutenant
of the Albanian Campaign
Now with a still wind in his quiet hair
A twig of forgetfulness at his left ear
He lies on the scorched cape
Like a garden the birds have suddenly deserted
Like a song gagged in the darkness
Like an angel's watch that has stopped
Eyelashes barely whispered goodbye
And bewilderment became rigid . . .
He lies on the scorched cape
Black ages round him
Bay at the terrible silence with dog's skeletons
And hours that have once more turned into stone pigeons
But laughter is burnt, earth has grown deaf,
No one heard that last, that final cry
The whole world emptied with that very last cry.
Beneath the five cedars
Without other candles
He lies on the scorched cape.
The helmet is empty, the blood full of dirt,
At his side the arm half shot away
And between the eyebrows—
Small bitter spring, fingerprint of fate
Small bitter red-black spring
Spring where memory freezes.
O do not look O do not look at the place where life
Where life has left him. Do not say
Do not say how the smoke of dream has risen
This is the way one moment this is the way
This is the way one moment deserts the other
And this is the way the all-powerful sun suddenly deserts the world.
Elytis, Odysseus, Selected Poems, trans. Keeley, Savidis, Sherrard, et al (Anvil, London: 1991)
8. from The Futurist Manifesto
3. Literature has up to now magnified pensive immobility, ecstasy and slumber. We want to exalt movements of aggression, feverish sleeplessness, the double march, the perilous leap, the slap and the blow with the fist.
9. We want to glorify war — the only cure for the world — militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of the anarchists, the beautiful ideas which kill, and contempt for woman.
F.T. Marinetti, ‘The Futurist Manifesto’, 1909.
Some further reading:
Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy commissioned war poetry from a range of contemporary poets, for the Guardian.
An audio critique of ‘Exit Wounds’ by myself and Simon Turner.
‘Poetry by Brian Turner’
The Times provides a selection of poetry from soldier poet Brian Turner’s recent collection, Here, Bullet (Bloodaxe, Northumberland: 2008).
‘Blood, bombs and bards: poetry from the frontline’
Cathy Galvin on the poetry of contemporary British soldiers, with a link to samples of poetry by them. Worth discussing in terms of aesthetic quality vs. emotional impact.
Other Men’s Flowers, ed. Wavell, Lord A P (Cape, London, 1944).
An anthology first published 1944, but has stayed in print ever since; originally very popular among soldiers, with a section on war poetry, but possibly not indicative of anything more than the idiosyncratic tastes of the editor (like this lecture).
Scanning the Century: The Penguin Book of the Twentieth Century in Verse, ed. Peter Forbes (Penguin, London: 2000) is on the secondary reading list for this module and is a solid mainstream poetry anthology. This is currently out of print but can be obtained from amazon.co.uk or abebooks.com, and the library has several copies.
Any questions about the lecture, please feel free to email.