Saturday, November 7, 2009

poem for today by a soldier of the past

-by Sergeant Thomas N. Wilkes, U.S.A.

The touch and go of the wilderness, the long land
That is my home is whet to my desire.
Massive my vista, and clear as the evening clearness
Resting on the distant grass. The pass, retreat
Of history is mine, as it swings out across
The open future. Stretched as the mind is stretched--
And red as the heart.

Who is there that cannot see the spreading synapse
The woolly mammoth with icebound paws
Is not so distant from the roaring hearts in Gary or in
Nor Nero from the flames of Bethlehem. The hammer
On steel are but an echo of two thousand years.
The men who fall beneath the Production Line
Die simply; death does not change, nor tears.
Time is a plowing of seasons.

The men who charged the China sea
Beneath great canvas are the men
Who came in this afternoon
On the brown barbaric barges from Duluth,
From the iron land of Minnesota. Men
Who float the rich fragmented earth for a handful of
nickels a day.

"Something is wrong with the world."
Something is wrong indeed.
We are too quick with the knife,
Too sudden with the itching palm.
We roll on wheels without bearings.
We need a new grease job!
We are our own glittering foe.
All this is but a tracing of the past.
Is it not so?
Did not St. Francis tread upon the adder
As he planted his little flowers?
And Moses slip upon the serpent in the sand?
The metal monotone of marching men has droned
A dismal cadence through the generations of our
My hand is ever in your pocket, yours in mine.

We need no second Christ, no modern Marx,
No new philosophy . . . no quick injection
Of some stimulus.
There is no need
For several hundred head of martyrs here!
We have our one religion. A certain thing,
The Epic Earth, which balks explosion,
Cannot be destroyed--endless, simple, rich, magnificent,
and holy.
Men, we need no visitation, no miracle to awe the children,
No armored camps, no barren fields!
Hey you! We need a new translation!

-from REVEILLE, War Poems by Members of Our Armed Forces
selected by Daniel Henderson, John Kieran, and Grantlan Rice
copyright 1945

photo via: freedigitalphotos


the watercats said...

It's interesting how a lot of people who actually experiance the sharp end of conflict have a more sensible approach to things and become utterly wanting of peace and unity. There lies the irony, those who fight, want peace, those who want peace can only see a fight to get it... but they are never the ones actually fighting.... and the circle continues... round and round and round....

Friko said...

" something is wrong with the world".

Too few of earth's inhabitants value peace above their own prejudices, greed, fear of "otherness"; young men like your poet will always die and die in vain.

Thank you for being a poetry lover.

Phivos Nicolaides said...

Definitetly, "Something is wrong indeed with the world"... I like this quote: The world is so tragic to those who feel and is so comic to those who think... In fact, our world is so comicotragic!!!

Margaret Pangert said...

Hi Lydia~ This is an amazing poem, so universal and yet so singular. Century after century, we just don't get it. The one thing that is certain is our Mother Earth: "endless, simple, rich, magnificent and holy--and it balks explosion." The legacy is to take care of our planet. (an aside: I can't imagine St. Francis harming any animal!) This is a sad day for the United States.

Lydia said...

@the watercats- Round and round and it could be a great article you write in a newspaper, or a post at your blog!

@Friko- but something is also right with the world with people like you in it!

@Phivos- Our comicotragic world, can be its philosopher king!

@Margaret- The part about Earth convinced me this must be posted here. I think the young sergeant was a man ahead of his time in his thinking.
I can't imagine St. Francis harming any animal either. We have a tiny statue of him guarding our dog's ashes...



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