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Two Poems About the Great War

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I’ll Have No Winding Sheet
Great War 1914

I’ll have no winding sheet. No head stone. This
Mud will be my coffin and my grave. No
Mourners. No funeral wreath. Just some whiz
Bangs, broken duck boards, spattered blood. And so
I sink. My helmet is my pillow. My
Comrades’ bones have made my casket. This place
Is my marker. I didn’t want to die,
But no one does. It is not a disgrace
To die. But this, to be cast in a sea
Of wretched corpses, arms outstretched, legs bent,
Eyes wide open to the dirt. It haunts me
To think of us, all of us, all who went
Down with me when the earth rose up and poured
Our trench back down on us as the world roared.
Passendale Litany

And none of us here will get a casket
Our deaths were too many, and we eclipse
Respectful repose with our stark wretched
Corpses. We don’t even rate a basket
For our troubles: our blood spills, our bone slips
From our flesh and disappears. We can’t stretch

Our hands to claim our selves. We cannot stretch
Who will not move again. So we lie, casket-
Less, heaped upon this blood soaked ground that slips
And turns to blood soaked mud. No eclipse
Could seem so dark as this. No rough basket
Of butchered offal seems quite so wretched

As our poor butchered selves. We lay, wretched
And rotting, here and there in heaps that stretch
Across the dead fields that once filled basket
And barrow with green harvests. A casket,
Or rather caskets, for us would eclipse
The surreal beauty of nature that slips

Almost unnoticed, to edge with cowslips
And clover, where it can, we dead wretched
Men who lie just as we are here. Eclipse
That, funeral wreath and coffin stand. No stretch
Of artificial grief could. Nor casket
Nor hearse, either. Nor black ribboned basket

Of laurel, yew and boxwood. Each basket
Would merely echo what we have here: slips
Of delicate green around a casket
Made for us out of all the world. Wretched
As we are, above us the stars stretch
And the moon shines, the sun has no eclipse

To dim its bright warmth, but rather eclipse
Comes from battle borne shrapnel shards–basket
Weave thin or thick as thieves that fly out, stretch
Across our resting place, and fall. Each slips
Its splintered point down in a wretched
Storm of shattered sharpened steel. No casket,

No grave will eclipse each burst shell that slips,
An egg from hell’s basket, on our wretched
Casket-free heads. We’re buried, stretch by stretch.


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  1. Nick A.
    Posted November 13, 2014 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    Sad and beautiful lines, to be sure. Also in remembrance for all who fell, I invoke the German song, “Argonnerwald” which expresses longing for home and a fatalistic view of how the battle will end for many soldiers. The song reminds us of the horrible, wasteful slaughter of our brothers as perpetrated on each other during the “Great War.”

    What sinister international forces were at work to precipitate such a disaster? I leave that question for others to contemplate here. Here is the song:

    The last verse is particularly fatalistic, but heroic:

    Argonnerwald, Argonnerwald, ein stiller Friedhof wirst du bald. In deinen kühler Erde ruht, so manches tapfere Soldatenblut (repeat.)

    or, roughly translated and rhythm approximately matched:

    Argonner Wood, Argonner Wood, a quiet graveyard you soon will be. In your cool earth, it must be known, rests so much, yes, so much, courageous soldier’s blood (repeat.)

  2. inspector general
    Posted November 11, 2015 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

    “Passchendaele”–or are you simplifying for metric or other reasons?

  3. Thomas Orecchia
    Posted November 11, 2015 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

    On this 98th anniversary of armistice, what a beautiful tribute to the dead of the Great War.

    Juleigh, with her wonderful sense of historic tragedy, captures the touching sentiments of the fallen heroes spirit whose remains lay where they fell amidst battle, buried deep in the unceremonious mass grave.

    The Great War led to even greater conflict to which we still suffer, but to forget it’s fallen would be to abandon our hopes for future revival and deliverance.

    Thank you Juleigh.

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