Overdosed on April Fool’s Day jocularity (I just love the witheringness of that joc. you find in dictionaries)? In need of an astringent? Read on.
I’ve been researching the subject of military casualties – how we treat the soldiers that come back wounded from Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. Did you know that the term ‘permanent injury’ is not used for categorising injuries sustained in the armed forces? I didn’t, until today. There’s more information here, and you can sign a thoroughly worthwhile petition here.
This Clutterbuck is all poetry from hereon in, so, if you don’t like poetry, stop reading, but at least go back and click on the links above.
The first poem that came to mind on the subject is (inevitably) Siegfried Sassoon. I find it somewhat ambiguous (particularly in the present context), but then that’s what poetry’s for, really, isn’t it? Clarity of expression but ambiguity of meaning.
The One-legged Man
Propped on a stick he viewed the August weald;
Squat orchard trees and oasts with painted cowls;
A homely, tangled hedge, a corn-stalked field,
And sound of barking dogs and farmyard fowls.
And he’d come home again to find it more
Desirable than ever it was before.
How right it seemed that he should reach the span
Of comfortable years allowed to man!
Splendid to eat and sleep and choose a wife,
Safe with his wound, a citizen of life.
He hobbled blithely through the garden gate,
And thought: ‘Thank God they had to amputate!’
That’s from 1916. It’s worth noting that Sassoon and the Great War were almost as close to Waterloo (1815) as we are to Sassoon and the Great War.
This is my favourite (though perhaps ‘favourite’ isn’t quite the right word) war poem that isn’t from the first world war.
The Death Of The Ball Turret Gunner
From my mother’s sleep I fell into the State,
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.
Thast’s from 1945, by Randall Jarrell. Jarrell was a better critic (or at least a better critic of things he liked) than he was a poet – but he was still a hell of a poet.