THE PITY OF IT

I walked in loamy Wessex lanes, afar
From rail-track and from highway, and I heard
In field and farmstead many an ancient word
Of local lineage like “Thu bist,” “Er war”
“Ich woll,” “Er sholl,” and by –talk similar,
Nigh as they speak who in this month’s moon gird
At England’s very loins, thereunto spurred
By gangs whose glory threats and slaughters are.

Then seemed a Heart crying: “Whosoever they be
At root and bottom of this, who flung this flame
Between kin folk kin tongued even as are we,

“Sinister, ugly, lurid, be their fame:
May their familiars grow to shun their name,
And their brood perish everlasting.”

Thomas Hardy
(April 1915,1917)


IN TIME OF “HE BREAKING OF NATIONS” (Jeremiah li, 20) Only a man harrowing clods In a slow silent walk With an old horse that stumbles and nods Half asleep as they stalk. Only thin smoke without flame From the heaps of couch-grass: Yet this will go onward the same Though Dynasties pass. Yonder a maid and her wight Come whispering by: War’s annals will fade into night Ere their story die. Thomas Hardy (1915,1917)
“AND THERE WAS A GREAT CALM” (ON THE SIGNING OF THE ARMISTICE, NOV,11, 1918) There had been years of Passion-scorching, cold, And much Despair, and anger heaving high, Care whitely watching. Sorrow manifold, Among the young, among the weak and old, And the pensive Spirit of Pity whispered, “Why?” Men had not paused to answer. Foes distraught Pierced the thinned peoples in a brute-like blindness, Philosohies that sages long had thought, And Selflessness, were as an unknown thought And “Hell!” and “Shell!” were yapped at Lovingkindness. The feeble folk at home had grown full-used To “dug-outs,” ”snipers,” ”Huns,” from the war-adept In the morning heard, and a evetides perused; To day-dreamt men in millions, when they mused- To nightmare-men in millions when they slept. Walking to wish existence timeless, null, Sirius they watched above where armies fell; He seemed to check his flapping when, in the lull Of night a boom came thence wise, like the dull Plunge of a stone dropped into some deep well. So, when old hopes that earth was bettering slowly Were dear and damned, there sounded “War is done!” On morrow. Said the bereft, and meek, and lowly, “Will men some day be given to grace? yea, wholly, And in good sooth, as our dream used to run?” Breathless they paused. Out there men raised their glance To where had stood those poplars lank and lopped, As they had raised it through the four years’ dance Of Death in the now familiar flats of France: And murmured, “Strange, this! How ? All firing stopped?” Aye; all was husband. The about-to-fire fired not, The aimed – at moved away intrance-lipped song. One checkless regiment slung a clinching shot And turning. The Spirit of Irony smirking out, “What?” Spoiled peradventures woven of Rage and Wrong?” Thenceforth no flying fires inflamed the gray, No hurtling shook the dewdrop from the thorn, No moan perplexed the mute bird on the spray; Worn horse mused: ”We are not whipped to-day”; No weft-winged engines blurred the moon’s thin horn. Calm fell. From Heaven distilled a clemency; There was peace on earth, and silence in the sky; Some could, some could not, shake off misery: The Sinister Spirit sneered: “ It had to be!” And again the Spirit of Pity whispered, “Why?” Thomas Hardy (1922)
[Wake not for the world-heard thunder] Wake not for the world-heard thunder Nor the chime that earthquakes toll. Star may plot in heaven with planet, Lightning rive the rock of granite, Tempest tread the oakwood under: Fear not you for flesh nor soul. Marching, fighting victory past, Stretch y our limbs in peace at last. Stir not for the soldiers drilling Nor the fever nothing cures: Throb of drum and timbal’s rattle Call but man alive to battle, And the fife with death-notes filling Screams for blood but not for yours. Times enough you bled your best; Sleep on now, and take your rest. Sleep, my lad; the French are landed, London’s burning, Windsor’s down; Clasp your cloak of earth about you, We must man the ditch without you, March unled and fight short-handed, Charge to fall and swim to drown. Duty, friendship, bravery o’er, Sleep away, lad; wake no more. A.E. Housman (March 1922,1922)
Epitaph on an army of mercenaries These, in the day when heaven was falling, The hour when earth’s foundations fled, Followed their mercenary calling And took their wages and are dead. Their shoulders held the sky suspended; They stood, and earth’s foundations stay; What God abandoned, these defended, And saved the sum of things for pay. A.E. Housman (March 1922,1922)
The Great Day Hurrah for revolution and more cannon-shot! A beggar upon horseback lashes a beggar on foot. Hurrah for revolution and cannon come again! The beggars have changed places, but the lash goes on. W.B. Yeats (1938)
Politics
“In our time the destiny of man presents its meaning in political terms.” -Thomas Mann
How can I, that girl standing there, My attention fix On Roman or on Russian Or on Spanish politics? Yet here’s a traveled man that knows What he talks about, And there’s a politician That has read and thought, And maybe what they say is true Of war and war’s alarms, But O that I were young again And held her in my arms! W.B. Yeats
The Black Tower Say that the men of the old black tower, Though they but feed as the goatherd feeds, Their money spent, their wine gone sour, Lack nothing that a soldier needs, That all are oath-bound men: Those banners come not in. There in the tomb stand the dead upright, But winds come up from the shore: They shake when the winds roar, Old bones upon the mountain shake. Those banners come to bribe or threaten, Or whisper that a man’s a fool Who, When his own right king’s forgotten, Cares what king sets up his rule. If he died long ago Why do you dread us so? There in the tomb drops the faint moonlight, But wind comes up from the shore: They shake when the winds roar, Old bones upon the mountain shake The tower’s old cook that must climb and clamber Catching small birds in the dew of the morn When we hale men lie stretched in slumber Swears that he hears the king’s great horn. But he’s lying bound: Stand we on guard oath-bound! There in the tomb of the dark grows blacker, But wind comes up from the shore: They shake when the winds roar, Old bones upon the mountain shake. W.B. Yeats (January 21,1939,1940)
The Lemmings Once in a hundred years the Lemmings come Westward, in search of food, over the snow, Westward, until the salt sea drowns them dumb, Westward, till all are drowned, those Lemmings go. Once, it is thought, there was a westward land (Now drowned) where there was food for those starved things, And memory of the place was burnt its brand In the little brains of all the Lemming Kings. Perhaps, long since, there was a land beyond Westward from death, some city, some calm place, Where one could taste God’s quiet and be fond With the little beauty of a human face; But now the land is drowned, yet still we press Westward, in search, to death, to nothingness. John Masefield (1920)
'Bombers' Through the vague morning, the heart preoccupied, A deep in air buried grain of sound Starts and grows, as yet unwarning- The tremor of baited deepsea line. Swells the seed, and now tight sound-buds Vibrate, upholding their paean flowers To the sun. There are bees in sky-bells droning, Flares of crimson at the heart unfold. Children look up, and the elms spring-garlanded Tossing their heads and marked for the axe. Gallant or woebegone, alike unlucky- Earth shakes beneath us: we imagine loss. Black as vermin, crawling in echelon Beneath the cloud-floor, the bombers come: The heavy angels, carrying harm in Their wombs that ache to be rid of death. This is the seed that grows for ruin, The iron-embryo conceived in fear. Soon or late its need must be answered In fear delivered and screeching fire. Choose between your child and this fatal embryo. Shall your guilt bear arms, and the children you want Be condemned to die by the powers you paid for And haunt the houses you never built? C. Day Lewis (1938)
'Sep. 1, 1939' I sit in one of the dives On Fifty-second Street Uncertain and afraid As the clever hopes expire Of a low dishonest decade: Waves of anger and fear Circulate over the bright And darkened lands of the earth, Obsessing our private lives; The unmentionable odour of death Offends the September night. Accurate scholarship can Unearth the whole offense From Luthor until now That has driven a culture mad, Find what occurred at Linz, What huge image made A psychopathic god: I and the public know What all schoolchildren learn, Those to whom evil is done Do evil in return. Exiled Thucydides knew All that a speech can say About Democracy, And what dictators do, The elderly rubbish they talk To an apathetic grave; Analyzed all in his book, The enlightenment driven away, The habit forming pain, Mismanagement and grief: We must suffer them all again. Into the neutral air Where blind skyscrapers use Thier full height to proclaim The strength of Collective Man, Each language pours its vain Competitive excuse: But who can live for long In an euphoric dream: Out of the mirror they stare, Imperialism's face And the international wrong. Faces along the bar Cling to their average day: The lights must never go out, The music must always play, All the conventions conspire To make this fort assume The furniture of home: Lest we should see where we are, Lost in a haunted wood, Children afraid of the night Who have never been happy or good. The windiest militant trash Important Persons shout Is not so crude as our wish: What mad Nijinsky wrote About Diaghilev Is true of the normal heart: For the error bred to the bone Of each woman and each man Craves what it cannot have, Not universal love But to be loved alone. From the conservative dark Into the ethical life The dense of commuters come, Repeating their morning vow: "I will be true to the wife, I'll concentrate more on my work," And helpless governors wake To resume their compulsory game: Who can release them now, Who can reach the deaf, Who can speak for the dumb? All I have is a voice To undo the folded lie, The romantic lie in the brain Of the sensual man-in-the-street And the lie of Authority Whose buildings grope the sky: There is no such thing as the State And no one exists alone: Hunger allows no choice To the citizen or the police; We must love one another or die. Defenseless under the night Our world in stupor lies: Yet dotted everywhere, Ironic points of light Flash out wherever the Just Exchange their messages: May I, composed like them Of Eros and of dust, Beleaguered by the same Negation and despair, Show an affirming flame. W. H. Auden (1940)
The Bloody Sire It is not bad. Let them play. Let the guns bark and the bombing plane Speak his prodigious blasphemies. It is not bad, it is high time, Stark violence is still the sire of all the worlds values. What but the wolf's tooth whittled so fine The fleet limbs of the antelope? What but fear winged the birds, and hunger Jeweled with such eyes the great goosehawks head? Violence has been the sire of all the worlds values. Who would remember Helen's face Lacking the terrible halo of spears? Who formed Christ but Herod and Caesar? Violence, the bloody sire of all the worlds values. Never weep, let them play. Old violence is not too old to beget new values. Robinson Jeffers (1941)
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