Poets and their legacy

Poets

Joyce Kilmer and Osbert Sitwell

Two war poets were born on this day.  Joyce Kilmer, born 1886, was a well known poet before he shipped for France.  He died in July 1918 at the 2nd battle of the Marne.  Best known for his poem “Trees” he has been widely quoted and as widely ridiculed.  His “War Poems” are paeans of sacrifice where he celebrates death and compares troopers to Christ on the Cross.  Well known but no longer well respected.  If you want to read his poetry you will not find it on this site.

Osbert Sitwell was born in 1892 and joined the war in 1914.  He began his poetry career in the trenches and his poems are anything but a celebration of that hell.  He went on to become a well known and highly respected writer.  Well connected in English society and inheriting a baronetcy himself, he moved in illustrious circles in his lifetime.

Today Kilmer is famous, a household name, although often parodied and mocked.  Sitwell, who has heard of him?  His name has faded.  A solid but unremarkable poet.

Fame is a fickle mistress.

This Generation: by Sir Osbert Sitwell

Their youth was fevered – passionate, quick to drain
the last few pleasures from the cup of life
before they turned to suck the dregs of pain
and end their young-old lives in mortal strife.
They paid the debts of many a hundred year
of foolishness and riches in alloy.
They went to the death; nor did they shed a tear
for all they sacrificed of love and joy.
Their tears ran dry when they were in the womb,
for, entering life – they found it was their tomb.

 

Happy Birthday Thomas Hardy

Yesterday I posted about the hanging of Breaker Morant, one of the first men in history to be convicted of a “War Crime”.  That was in South Africa during the Second Boer War.

Today, on Thomas Hardy’s birthday I am staying in South Africa with this poem.  Written shortly after the commencement of the Second Boer War, to which Hardy was opposed, it is an anti-war poem.  Hardy thought the Boers should be left to their own devices and were entitled to defend their independence from a grasping British Empire.

Hardy selects a Drummer for his subject.  It is worth noting that the drummers were only young boys, innocent mascots of the regiment.  A boy from Wessex, Hardy’s own home, a local lad.

Hardy is well known for using colloquial words to give local colour to his writings.  In this case he adopts many Boer words to describe the fate of a village lad in a foreign land, tossed into an open unmarked grave beneath unfamiliar stars.  Young Hodge died a pointless death.

This poem presages the full flowering of the war poets in the Great War.

 

Drummer Hodge; by Thomas Hardy

They throw in Drummer Hodge, to rest
uncoffined — just as found:
his landmark is a kopje-crest
that breaks the veldt around:
And foreign constellations west
each night above his mound.

Young Hodge the drummer never knew —
fresh from his Wessex home —
the meaning of the broad karoo,
the bush, the dusty loam,
and why uprose to nightly view
strange stars amid the gloam.

Yet portion of that unknown plain
will Hodge for ever be;
his homely northern breast and brain
grow to some southern tree,
and strange-eyed constellations reign
his stars eternally.

Remembering Len

poppy-1

I was all set to post a poem from one of the war poets for Armistice day when I heard on the news of the passing of Leonard Cohen at the relatively young age of 82.

Len was the artist I listened to in my teens when I had the blues real bad.  (To grammar Nazis out there, this syntax is perfectly acceptable when speaking about the blues).  When you felt unloved, down on yourself, miserable, you put on Leonard Cohen and by the third song you were thinking “hey, my life is actually pretty good!”  My favorite song is Suzanne, but this is probably more appropriate for the day that is in it.  Len is now standing before the lord of song with nothing on his lips but………………

 

Hallelujah:  by Leonard Cohen

Now I’ve heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don’t really care for music, do you?
It goes like this, the fourth, the fifth
The minor falls, the major lifts
The baffled king composing Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew her
She tied you to a kitchen chair
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Maybe I’ve been here before
I know this room, I’ve walked this floor
I used to live alone before I knew you
I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch
love is not a victory march
Its a cold and its a broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

You say I took the Name in vain
I don’t even know the Name
But if I did, well really, what’s it to you?
There’s a blaze of light in every word
It doesn’t matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

I did my best, but it wasn’t much
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch
I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah