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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.


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May. 22nd, 2014 07:47 am (UTC)
Goodness. I've never come across that particular Kipling poem before, although I am a firm believer that Kipling has a lot more to him than being the apologist for imperialism that he's often painted as.

That may not be one of his best in terms of readability but he certainly knows how to kick you in the guts. Thanks for sharing.
May. 22nd, 2014 07:56 am (UTC)
Those are good poems. Perhaps you would also enjoy war_poetry.
Soumik Biswas
May. 22nd, 2014 08:44 am (UTC)
It's a shame that the first one is popularized while the second one, as beautiful as the first, isn't. I guess that mimics reality.
Jose Sarmento
May. 22nd, 2014 10:54 am (UTC)
Kipling's poetry
I am not a very big fan of Kipling's prose... but a lot of his poems read straight to the heart, and stir, and stay.
Jennifer Wolfersberger
May. 22nd, 2014 11:49 am (UTC)
Thank you for posting these poems. I remember studying them in school (in the 80/90s) but studied them well before I understood what war really meant. I read the poems very differently now and appreciate your post for the reminder.
May. 22nd, 2014 11:57 am (UTC)
Operation Enduring Freedom Veteran
Thank you! See you at Con Carolina !
May. 22nd, 2014 12:32 pm (UTC)
Amen to that,
brother. Amen to that.
Eric Ando
May. 22nd, 2014 01:10 pm (UTC)
Thank you
Thanks for your perspective George! I'm a US Army Iraq vet. I served with 2 heroes who gave their life in that pointless conflict. Many of my friends bear the scars of our time there. War is hell. It should ALWAYS be the last resort. I wish our leaders realized this.
Jen Wilson
May. 22nd, 2014 01:17 pm (UTC)
Two memorable and thought provoking pieces here. Cheers George for reminding us what this holiday is all about!
May. 22nd, 2014 01:57 pm (UTC)
Thank you for sharing those. I'd never seen the one by Kipling before and that . . . I can't manage words for how moving it was.

I hope one day it'll stop being so topical.
May. 22nd, 2014 03:43 pm (UTC)
I remembered our Ms Liao Lamco in High school...
..who taught us world history and lit reading the Charge of the Light Brigade (Lord Alfred Tennyson) and Kipling's The Last of the Light Brigade..She was to me, the strongest teacher ever in terms of voice and ways of teaching! A very interesting woman..! In a Catholic private school for girls.

Home alone, George? <3
May. 22nd, 2014 04:32 pm (UTC)
For Johnny
Do not despair
For Johnny-head-in-air;
He sleeps as sound
As Johnny underground.

Fetch out no shroud
For Johnny-in-the-cloud;
And keep your tears
For him in after years.
Better by far

For Johnny-the-bright-star,
To keep your head,
And see his children fed.

John Pudney (Served in the RAF - this poem was written during an air raid in 1941)

Even now, many of the rough sleepers, etc. are ex-services personnel.
Katherine Chambers
May. 22nd, 2014 04:41 pm (UTC)
Thanks for sharing, George!
Beautiful, sad, difficult poems..my husband is in the Navy and returns home today from a long underway, and it's good to know that artists I admire share a similar admiration for those in the service. Thanks for the words and wisdom!
Hardy Krger
May. 22nd, 2014 04:45 pm (UTC)
...of you to show the aftermath of war not only in your novels. Keep on the good work and the keen eye to the reality.

Greetings from Germany, Hardy.
Alexis Martin
May. 22nd, 2014 07:30 pm (UTC)
Thank you, George! Great authors, great poems... Speaking of which, the poet Charles Baudelaire said "Among the men only those are grand : the poet, the priest and the soldier. The man who sings, the man who blesses, the man who sacrifices others and himself. All the rest is ripe for the whip."

A bit harsh, but it tells a great deal about the aesthetic who gave birth to the notion of nobility.

A thought for all soldiers, dead or alive, who sacrifice themselves...
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George R.R. Martin
George R. R. Martin

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