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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.


Adam Brock
May. 23rd, 2014 10:00 pm (UTC)
War Poetry
Those are both great poems. I like this one too, written by Owen during the first WW. Vivid, horrific, and dismissive the glory of death.

Wilfred Owen
Dulce Et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of disappointed shells that dropped behind.

GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!-- An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime.--
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.


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

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