For The Union Dead

“Relinquunt Omnia Servare Rem Publicam.”

The old South Boston Aquarium stands
in a Sahara of snow now.  Its broken windows are boarded.
The bronze weathervane cod has lost half its scales.
The airy tanks are dry.

Once my nose crawled like a snail on the glass;
my hand tingled
to burst the bubbles
drifting from the noses of the cowed, compliant fish.

My hand draws back.  I often sigh still
for the dark downward and vegetating kingdom
of the fish and reptile.  One morning last March,
I pressed against the new barbed and galvanized

fence on the Boston Common.  Behind their cage,
yellow dinosaur steamshovels were grunting
as they cropped up tons of mush and grass
to gouge their underworld garage.

Parking spaces luxuriate like civic
sandpiles in the heart of Boston.
A girdle of orange, Puritan-pumpkin colored girders
braces the tingling Statehouse, 

shaking over the excavations, as it faces Colonel Shaw
and his bell-cheeked Negro infantry
on St. Gaudens’ shaking Civil War relief,
propped by a plank splint against the garage’s earthquake.

Two months after marching through Boston,
half the regiment was dead;
at the dedication,
William James could almost hear the bronze Negroes breathe.

Their monument sticks like a fishbone
in the city’s throat.
Its Colonel is as lean
as a compass-needle.

He has an angry wrenlike vigilance,
a greyhound’s gentle tautness;
he seems to wince at pleasure,
and suffocate for privacy.

He is out of bounds now.  He rejoices in man’s lovely,
peculiar power to choose life and die--
when he leads his black soldiers to death,
he cannot bend his back.

On a thousand small town New England greens,
the old white churches hold their air
of sparse, sincere rebellion; frayed flags
quilt the graveyards of the Grand Army of the Republic. 

The stone statues of the abstract Union Soldier
grow slimmer and younger each year--
wasp-waisted, they doze over muskets
and muse through their sideburns . . .

Shaw’s father wanted no monument
except the ditch,
where his son’s body was thrown
and lost with his “niggers.”

The ditch is nearer.
There are no statues for the last war here;
on Boylston Street, a commercial photograph
shows Hiroshima boiling

over a Mosler Safe, the “Rock of Ages”
that survived the blast.  Space is nearer.
When I crouch to my television set,
the drained faces of Negro school-children rise like balloons.

Colonel Shaw
is riding on his bubble,
he waits
for the blessèd break.

The Aquarium is gone.  Everywhere,
giant finned cars nose forward like fish;
a savage servility
slides by on grease.

Robert Lowell

 

 

 

Beneath the trees,

 My lifelong friends in this dear spot,

 Sad now for eyes that see them not,

 I hear the autumnal breeze

Wake the dry leaves to sigh for gladness gone,

Whispering vague omens of oblivion,

 Hear, restless as the seas,

Time’s grim feet rustling through the withered grace

Of many a spreading realm and strong-stemmed race,

 Even as my own through these.

 

 Why make we moan

 For loss that doth enrich us yet

 With upward yearning of regret?

 Bleaker than unmossed stone

Our lives were but for this immortal gain

Of unstilled longing and inspiring pain!

 As thrills of long-hushed tone

Live in the viol, so our souls grow fine

With keen vibrations from the touch divine

 Of noble natures gone.

 

 ‘Twere indiscreet

 To vex the shy and sacred grief

 With harsh obtrusions of relief;

 Yet, Verse, with noiseless feet,

Go whisper: ‘_This_ death hath far choicer ends

Than slowly to impearl to hearts of friends;

 These obsequies ’tis meet

Not to seclude in closets of the heart,

But, church-like, with wide doorways, to impart

 Even to the heedless street.’

 

II

 Brave, good, and true,

 I see him stand before me now.

 And read again on that young brow,

 Where every hope was new,

_How sweet were life!_ Yet, by the mouth firm-set,

And look made up for Duty’s utmost debt,

 I could divine he knew

That death within the sulphurous hostile lines,

In the mere wreck of nobly pitched designs,

 Plucks heart’s-ease, and not rue.

 

 Happy their end

 Who vanish down life’s evening stream

 Placid as swans that drift in dream

 Round the next river-bend!

Happy long life, with honor at the close,

Friends’ painless tears, the softened thought of foes!

 And yet, like him, to spend

All at a gush, keeping our first faith sure

From mid-life’s doubt and eld’s contentment poor,

 What more could Fortune send?

 Right in the van,

 On the red rampart’s slippery swell,

With heart that beat a charge, he fell

 Foeward, as fits a man;

But the high soul burns on to light men’s feet

Where death for noble ends makes dying sweet;

 His life her crescent’s span

Orbs full with share in their undarkening days

Who ever climbed the battailous steeps of praise

 Since valor’s praise began.

III

 

 His life’s expense

 Hath won him coeternal youth

 With the immaculate prime of Truth;

 While we, who make pretence

At living on, and wake and eat and sleep,

And life’s stale trick by repetition keep,

 Our fickle permanence

(A poor leaf-shadow on a brook, whose play

Of busy idlesse ceases with our day)

 Is the mere cheat of sense.

 We bide our chance,

 Unhappy, and make terms with Fate

 A little more to let us wait;

 He leads for aye the advance,

Hope’s forlorn-hopes that plant the desperate good

For nobler Earths and days of manlier mood;

 Our wall of circumstance

 Cleared at a bound, he flashes o’er the fight,

 A saintly shape of fame, to cheer the right

 And steel each wavering glance.

 I write of one,

 While with dim eyes I think of three;

 Who weeps not others fair and brave as he?

 Ah, when the fight is won,

Dear Land, whom triflers now make bold to scorn,

(Thee! from whose forehead Earth awaits her morn,)

 How nobler shall the sun

Flame in thy sky, how braver breathe thy air,

That thou bred’st children who for thee could dare

 And die as thine have done!

 

James Russell Lowell

Published in: on September 8, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on For The Union Dead  
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July 30, 1918: Joyce Kilmer Killed in Action

I THINK that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

That poem written by Alfred Joyce Kilmer, better known as Joyce Kilmer, in 1914 is, unfortunately, all most Americans remember todayis regrettable, because he was a devout Catholic and an American patriot and he deserves better than relative historical oblivion.

 Born in 1886 into an Episcopalian family in New Brunswick , New Jersey,  Kilmer studied at the Rutgers College Grammar School, Rutgers College and graduated from Colombia in 1908.  Shortly after graduation he married Aline Murray, the love of his life, a poet in her own right.  Together they had a happy home and five children to fill it.

Initially teaching Latin in Morristown, New Jersey, Kilmer quickly embarked on a literary life, submitting essays and poems to the various magazines of the day.  From 1909 to 1912 he worked on the Funk and Wagnalls’ Dictionary.  In 1912 he became literary editor of The Churchman, a publication of the Episcopalian Church.  In 1913 he made the leap to being an ink-stained wretch and became a features writer for the New York Times.

In 1912 the Kilmers welcomed into this world their third child and second daughter, Rosamond (called Rose) Kilburn Kilmer.  Rose was afflicted with infantile paralysis.  A sick child often causes parents to look seriously at their faith, and the Kilmers were no different. Their conversion to Catholicism was no doubt helped along by Father James J. Daly, SJ, who became a good friend to the Kilmers after Rose’s birth, and who had been from 1898-1908 chaplain of the Fighting 69th, a New York National Guard regiment that was to play such a dominating role in Kilmer’s future.  Here is some of Kilmer’s correspondence with Father Daly that continued until Kilmer’s death.  In 1914, Kilmer wrote to Father Daly about his conversion: (more…)

Published in: on July 30, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on July 30, 1918: Joyce Kilmer Killed in Action  
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Rouge Bouquet

 

 

In a wood they call the Rouge Bouquet
There is a new-made grave to-day,
Built by never a spade nor pick
Yet covered with earth ten metres thick.
There lie many fighting men,
Dead in their youthful prime,
Never to laugh nor love again
Nor taste the Summertime.
For Death came flying through the air
And stopped his flight at the dugout stair,
Touched his prey and left them there,
Clay to clay.
He hid their bodies stealthily
In the soil of the land they fought to free
And fled away.
Now over the grave abrupt and clear
Three volleys ring;
And perhaps their brave young spirits hear
The bugle sing:
“Go to sleep!
Go to sleep!
Slumber well where the shell screamed and fell.
Let your rifles rest on the muddy floor,
You will not need them any more.
Danger’s past;
Now at last,
Go to sleep!”
There is on earth no worthier grave
To hold the bodies of the brave
Than this place of pain and pride
Where they nobly fought and nobly died.
Never fear but in the skies
Saints and angels stand
Smiling with their holy eyes
On this new-come band.
St. Michael’s sword darts through the air
And touches the aureole on his hair
As he sees them stand saluting there,
His stalwart sons;
And Patrick, Brigid, Columkill
Rejoice that in veins of warriors still
The Gael’s blood runs.
And up to Heaven’s doorway floats,
From the wood called Rouge Bouquet
A delicate cloud of bugle notes
That softly say:
“Farewell!
Farewell!
Comrades true, born anew, peace to you!
Your souls shall be where the heroes are
And your memory shine like the morning-star.
Brave and dear,
Shield us here.
Farewell!”
Joyce Kilmer

Sergeant Kilmer wrote this poem to remember the nineteen men of the Fighting 69th killed in an artillery bombardment in the Rouge Bouquet wood on March 17, 1918.  It was read over the grave of Kilmer after he, too, was killed in action on July 30, 1918.  The Fighting 69th recite the poem each Memorial Day.

Published in: on July 27, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Rouge Bouquet  
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The Robe of Christ

 

 

 

 

THE ROBE OF CHRIST
(For Cecil Chesterton)

AT the foot of the Cross on Calvary
Three soldiers sat and diced,
And one of them was the Devil
And he won the Robe of Christ.

When the Devil comes in his proper form
To the chamber where I dwell,
I know him and make the Sign of the Cross
Which drives him back to Hell.

And when he comes like a friendly man
And puts his hand in mine,
The fervour in his voice is not
From love or joy or wine.

And when he comes like a woman,
With lovely, smiling eyes,
Black dreams float over his golden head
Like a swarm of carrion flies.

Now many a million tortured souls
In his red halls there be:
Why does he spend his subtle craft
In hunting after me?

Kings, queens and crested warriors
Whose memory rings through time,
These are his prey, and what to him
Is this poor man of rhyme,

That he, with such laborious skill,
Should change from role to role,
Should daily act so many a part
To get my little soul?

Oh, he can be the forest,
And he can be the sun,
Or a buttercup, or an hour of rest
When the weary day is done.

I saw him through a thousand veils,
And has not this sufficed?
Now, must I look on the Devil robed
In the radiant Robe of Christ?

He comes, and his face is sad and mild,
With thorns his head is crowned;
There are great bleeding wounds in his feet,
And in each hand a wound.

How can I tell, who am a fool,
If this be Christ or no?
Those bleeding hands outstretched to me!
Those eyes that love me so!

I see the Robe—I look—I hope—
I fear—but there is one
Who will direct my troubled mind;
Christ’s Mother knows her Son.

O Mother of Good Counsel, lend
Intelligence to me!
Encompass me with wisdom,
Thou Tower of Ivory!

“This is the Man of Lies,” she says,
“Disguised with fearful art:
He has the wounded hands and feet,
But not the wounded heart.”

Beside the Cross on Calvary
She watched them as they diced.
She saw the Devil join the game
And win the Robe of Christ.

Joyce Kilmer

Published in: on July 20, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on The Robe of Christ  
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Take Up Our Quarrel With The Foe

 

 

 

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row, 
That mark our place, and in the sky, 
The larks, still bravely singing, fly, 
Scarce heard amid the guns below. 

We are the dead; short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, 
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields. 

Take up our quarrel with the foe! 
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high! 
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, Canadian Army Medical Officer-
Died of cerebral meningitis on the Western Front on January 28, 1918
Published in: on June 1, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Take Up Our Quarrel With The Foe  
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High Flight

 

The poem High Flight was written by 19 year old John Gillespie Magee, Jr. an American serving as a pilot with the RCAF in World War II in England, prior to the entry of America into the War.  A few months after he wrote the poem  he was killed in a mid-air collision.  This seems like a good poem for Ascension Sunday. (more…)

Published in: on May 13, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on High Flight  
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Remember William Dawes!

William Dawes

Poor William Dawes!  A Boston tanner and patriot,  he along with Revere, and other riders, spread the news of the coming British expedition on April 18, 1775.  Due to Henry Wadsworth’s Longfellow’s poem, he is forgotten in comparison to Paul Revere.  In 1896 Helen F. Moore wrote a poem to attempt to set the record straight:

The Midnight Ride of William Dawes

I am a wandering, bitter shade,

Never of me was a hero made;

Poets have never sung my praise,

Nobody crowned my brow with bays;

And if you ask me the fatal cause,

I answer only, “My name was Dawes”

‘Tis all very well for the children to hear

Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere;

But why should my name be quite forgot,

Who rode as boldly and well, God wot?

Why should I ask?

The reason is clear —

My name was Dawes and his Revere.

When the lights from the old North Church flashed out,

Paul Revere was waiting about,

But I was already on my way.

The shadows of night fell cold and gray

As I rode, with never a break or a pause;

But what was the use, when my name was Dawes!

History rings with his silvery name;

Closed to me are the portals of fame.

Had he been Dawes and I Revere,

No one had heard of him, I fear.

No one has heard of me because

He was Revere and I was Dawes.

Dawes served as a Quartermaster during the Revolution.  His great-great grandson Charles G. Dawes served as Vice President under Calvin Coolidge.

Published in: on April 20, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Remember William Dawes!  
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The Children

 

“But who shall return us the children?”

Rudyard Kipling

 

 

 The thirty-fourth in my on-going series on the poetry of Rudyard Kipling. The other posts in the series may be read here, here , here , here, here , here, here, here, here, here, here, here , here, here, here , here, here, here , here, here, here , here, here , here , here , here , herehere, here , here here here  and here.  Kipling wrote many poems during his career.  This poem is manifestly not one of them.  The poem is a lament by a man who lost his only son in the Great War.  From first to last Kipling believed that Germany was a menace and had to be beaten.  After the War he called for a harsh peace to make certain that German could not wage a world war again.  Up to his death in 1936 Kipling warned that Germany was still a danger to the world.  This should be clearly understood since there has been an attempt to misinterpret, willfully or not, some of Kipling’s war poems as a turn towards pacifism, an interpretation that Kipling would have rejected with a snort of contempt.  No, in his poems Kipling blamed British governments for allowing Germany to grow strong enough to bring about the Great War and that his son, and a million other British and Empire men, had to die to correct the folly of British statesmanship.  When I read this poem I think of future generations and the price they will pay for the fashionable lies and follies of our day.  The heartbreaking question of “But who shall return us the children?” should be remembered by all who aspire to rule nations.
(“The Honours of War”—A Diversity of Creatures)
These were our children who died for our lands: they were dear in our sight.
    We have only the memory left of their home-treasured sayings and laughter.
    The price of our loss shall be paid to our hands, not another’s hereafter.
Neither the Alien nor Priest shall decide on it.    That is our right.
        But who shall return us the children?
At the hour the Barbarian chose to disclose his pretences,
    And raged against Man, they engaged, on the breasts that they bared for us,
    The first felon-stroke of the sword he had long-time prepared for us—
Their bodies were all our defence while we wrought our defences.
They bought us anew with their blood, forbearing to blame us,
Those hours which we had not made good when the Judgment o’ercame us.
They believed us and perished for it.    Our statecraft, our learning
Delivered them bound to the Pit and alive to the burning
Whither they mirthfully hastened as jostling for honour—
Nor since her birth has our Earth seen such worth loosed upon her.
Nor was their agony brief, or once only imposed on them.
    The wounded, the war-spent, the sick received no exemption:
    Being cured they returned and endured and achieved our redemption,
Hopeless themselves of relief, till Death, marveling, closed on them.
That flesh we had nursed from the first in all cleanness was given
To corruption unveiled and assailed by the malice of Heaven—
By the heart-shaking jests of Decay where it lolled in the wires—
To be blanched or gay-painted by fumes— to be cindered by fires—
To be senselessly tossed and retossed in stale mutilation
From crater to crater.    For that we shall take expiation.
        But who shall return us our children?
 

 

Published in: on March 16, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on The Children  
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The Choice

 

The thirty-third in my on-going series on the poetry of Rudyard Kipling. The other posts in the series may be read here, here , here , here, here , here, here, here, here, here, here, here , here, here, here , here, here, here , here, here, here , here, here , here , here , here , herehere, here , here here and here.  Like most Brits of his generation, Kipling had ambivalent feelings towards the United States.  He had married an American and had lived with her in Vermont from 1892 to 1896 when the family moved to England.  He found much to admire in the Great Republic and much to criticize.  It could be said that Kipling, the quintessential Englishman, adopted an American attitude of both love, and the freedom to speak his mind about what he perceived to be wrong, as to America.  In any case there was nothing ambivalent about the poem he published in April of 1917 after the US entered the Great War on the side of The Allies:

THE AMERICAN SPIRIT SPEAKS:

  To the Judge of Right and Wrong
With Whom fulfillment lies
Our purpose and our power belong,
 Our faith and sacrifice.
  Let Freedom’s land rejoice!
 Our ancient bonds are riven;
Once more to us the eternal choice
Of good or ill is given.
Not at a little cost,
 Hardly by prayer or tears,
Shall we recover the road we lost
In the drugged and doubting years.
  But after the fires and the wrath,
 But after searching and pain,
His Mercy opens us a path
To live with ourselves again.
  In the Gates of Death rejoice!
 We see and hold the good—
Bear witness, Earth, we have made our choice
For Freedom’s brotherhood.
  Then praise the Lord Most High
Whose Strength hath saved us whole,
Who bade us choose that the Flesh should die
And not the living Soul!

(more…)

Published in: on July 27, 2017 at 5:31 am  Comments (2)  
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Quotes Suitable for Framing: James Russell Lowell

Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne,—
Yet that scaffold sways the future, and, behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own.

James Russell Lowell, The Present Crisis (1844)

Published in: on February 1, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Quotes Suitable for Framing: James Russell Lowell  
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