Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Museum of War and Carnage

Here's my own personal WWI memorial. A candle in a shell casing brought back from the front by my husband's Great Uncle Ted and used as a door stop all these decades. Kicked aside. Hardly noticed. Not quite the Poppy Installation at the Tower of London, I know.

  It's hard to believe, but some people don't like the London art installation, but I think it is AMAZING!  A moat-full of beauty and horror, truly making its point, without telling you what to think.

Rex Murphy just wrote a lovely essay about War Poems in the National Post, invoking Homer and the poets of 'modern industrial warfare.'

Canadian TV is airing a spot with a man reading In Flanders Field. 

(Well, that used to be my favorite poem, because in the 1960's the CBC often aired a spot with a man reading In Flanders Field, and I thought it was the best thing ever. That was the first time I had heard a poem recited so well, with a cadence that guided you through the meaning of it.

 I can still hear that haunting 60's version in my head and I still think it is better than the version now airing.)

Today, Highwood by Philip Johnstone is my favorite WWI poem. 

For someone in the trenches to have seen ahead so clearly. 

Well, history does repeat itself so Johnstone knew the score. 

The poem is a caveat: do not get taken in by the PR or propaganda, not on November 11, not on any day. 

So whether you believe WWI was fought for 'freedom', or over Africa, or to thin out the ranks of the unemployable young men in the West caused by Industrialization, or because 3 in-bred European Royals were playing out a family feud, or because of an assassination and treaties..well, here goes... a very prescient poem.

WWI didn't just kill off the unemployable young farming-stock men, it took men of all classes. That's why there are so many great poems about WWI, I guess.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is High Wood, 
Called by the French, Bois des Furneaux, 
The famous spot which in Nineteen-Sixteen, 
July, August and September was the scene 
Of long and bitterly contested strife, 
By reason of its High commanding site. Observe the effect of shell-fire in the trees 
Standing and fallen; here is wire; this trench 
For months inhabited, twelve times changed hands; 
(They soon fall in), used later as a grave. 
It has been said on good authority 
That in the fighting for this patch of wood 
Were killed somewhere above eight thousand men, 
Of whom the greater part were buried here, 
This mound on which you stand being.... Madame, please, 
You are requested kindly not to touch 
Or take away the Company's property 
As souvenirs; you'll find we have on sale 
A large variety, all guaranteed. 
As I was saying, all is as it was, 
This is an unknown British officer, 
The tunic having lately rotted off. 
Please follow me - this way ..... the path, sir, please, 
The ground which was secured at great expense 
The Company keeps absolutely untouched, 
And in that dug-out (genuine) we provide 
Refreshments at a reasonable rate. 
You are requested not to leave about 
Paper, or ginger-beer bottles, or orange peel, 
There are waste-paper baskets at the gate.

If you want to red WWI letters from Quebec, Canada see Not Bonne Over Here: The title comes from a letter from a young Montreal soldier on the Belgian Front to his girlfriend. "You say  you want to come over here to work as a nurse. Take my word for it. Stay as far away from this place as you  can. It is not BONNE over here."