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Two Poems

Memorial Day Weekend is almost upon us.  Traditionally that's a huge day on the SF convention calendar, and one that usually finds me off at one con or another.  Indeed, Parris flew off this morning, and is now in Kansas City with old friends and new, preparing to enjoy Conquest, one of our very favorite small regional conventions.  (I'm not with her.  I'm at home working.  But don't feel too sorry for me, I get my own con next week, when I travel to Charlotte for ConCarolinas).

Much as I enjoy the holiday aspects of Memorial Day, however, I try not to lose sight of the day's true meaning -- to remember those who have fought and fallen in defense of our country.

I was never a warrior.  I served in VISTA, not the Army or Air Force, and I opposed the Vietnam War.  But I have written a good deal about war and warriors, and read even more about those subjects.  Together with Gardner Dozois (a Vietnam era vet), I edited WARRIORS, a mammoth anthology of stories about war and the men and women who fight them.  The glories and horrors of war lie at the very center of A SONG OF ICE & FIRE.

Way back in grade school, like many other lads of my generation, I was taught to recite one of the classic poems of those subjects: Alfred, Lord Tennyson's CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE.   I don't think they teach that in grade school any more, so maybe some of you younger folks have never heard it.

Stirring stuff, even now.   As a kid, I found it enormously moving.  I can still remember chanting those lines in class, surrounded by the other kids, all of our voices joining as one.  (Do they still recite poems aloud in grade school?  Somehow I doubt it).

It was not until many years later, however -- until college -- that I first encountered the reply to Tennyson's ode, penned a generation later by Rudyard Kipling.  It moved me to tears the first time I read it, and it still does, all these years later.  Some things never change (sadly, sadly)... and with the VA scandal and America's treatment of its own veterans very much in the news, Kipling's poem remains as topical today as it was then.

So here's the second act, the part that comes after the glory.  Kipling's THE LAST OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE.

 So on this Memorial Day, here's to the poets... and to all the warriors.  Let us honor the dead, by all means... but let us remember the living too.


May. 23rd, 2014 06:12 pm (UTC)
from Spain
Dear Mr. Martin,

I come from a military family in Spain, and to me is happy and sad at the same time to see how you greet your veterans. Happy because you do, sad because my fellow citicens do not, or at least far less than worth. Due to the last military dictatorship we had just 40 years ago, spanish society is not very supportive to its military, and therefore there are some forgettings about our heros. But we had truckloads of them.

I know this is not just on veterans, but on praising them with the art you master, writing. Unfortunately I cannot offer you some spanish poetry on them. Our finest poetry is from the time we never lost battles, or from when we were beggining to do so. But I would like to offer you some samples of braveness in the spanish style. You know, riding to death is something crazy, but before the enemy guns begin to shoot you think you have chances, and after that you cannot simply turn your horse around and say "stop, I want to get out of the train". In the (crazy) spanish way, death is something that has to come, that happens only once in life, and that has to be memorable. Something of the like of the "goos death" the daimyo talks about in The Last Samurai.

I want to offer you the Last Stand of Luis de Velasco in Habana, the defense of Cartagena de Indias by Blas de Lezo, The resistance of Moscardó in the Alcazar de Toledo in the Spanish Civil War, the Alcantara Regiment sacrificing themselves for the rest of the army at Annual, the spanish navy at Trafalgar, standing while the french where fleeing, the Tercio Viejo de Nápoles at Castelnuovo, and many others. Read of them, you will understand them even less than the charge of the light brigade. But they will make you say, hey, what are this people made of?

I know I wrote on many defeats up there, but "winners take it all", and are usually well praised for their deeds. Remember Bernardo de Gálvez (Galveston...) who was an spanish officer, and whose descendants are still officers of the spanish army. You can find histories of spanish victories against the odds, specially from the times when "Spain was like a sword, with the hilt in Castille and the point everywhere".

I want to offer you another small tale, of crazy loyalty to mission and King, but from a different kind. I recommend you to read about it more than about the others, because it is one of those cases in which reality is greater than fiction. It is the embassy of Ruy Gonzalez de Clavijo to the great Tamerlan. If the spanish filmmakers where like the hollywood ones, there would be few blockbusters on it.

Finally, one last thing, of course I write this on national pride, but remind one thing. You do not live in "Holly Faith" but in Santa Fé. To some extent, it is yout historical legacy, too. You have given me hours of intelectual pleasure with your prose, this is a gift of gratitude. Enjoy!

Kind regards,


P.S. Sorry for the poor english.


George R.R. Martin
George R. R. Martin

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