THE WAR TO END ALL WARS

In light of the month and the need for remembrance I thought I would share a poem I have written. You may have to read it more than once. It is primarily about the First World War but the themes apply to all war; hapless, helpless, hopeless. Eternal. I know it is unlikely, and despite my great respect for the service men and women who risk their precious lives on our behalf, I try to to imagine a time when society loses all tolerance for violence and our governments and the war industry are forced to accept it is no longer tenable or profitable for them to concoct new reasons for us to kill each other.

 

Third light

I am of mud,
back pressed
into rivulet wall,
white sight blinking
behind rain beads
off crescent steel brim.
In my military best,
trench coat caked,
with gleaming spade,
I stand recklessly tall
on the heels of whim.
Along a river of blood
I inspect the lost parade,
slow eyes following
the perennial weeds
of forsaken youth.

Helplessly shrinking,
Christian remnant hollowing,
for King and Country slaked,
I surrender to the ugly truth.
There is nothing left but fear.

I long to join the leaving,
to flee the killing ground,
hand clutching shoulder,
head from horror bound,
blinded leading the blinded.
Knee deep they wade,
ochre waters wearing thin,
stirring hidden depths of red.
They ride a murderous crest
from a fight that is unjust
to a future where they fade
without coming to rest
till the last man is dust.

Hearing my confession
I am sorely reminded
we will all yet lie here,
never getting any older.
Veteran and war dead,
our ghosts ploughed in
this foreign soil grieving.

Beyond the dark procession,
confetti of ash descending,
from far horizons burning.
To the soft applause
of rain unending,
the feint silence
of the pause,
returning.

Yet still shells shock,
bursting in my head,
lowering flames fanned
with the malicious ire
of the cease fire.

I soothe the violence,
obvious left unsaid,
with a kindness shown,
dry proffered fag,
remainder stock,
passed underhand
by my latest brother.
Lighting up my own
then one cautious other,
the sweet first drag,
holding the ache
deep in my chest.

I am at last glorious,
formidable and revered
of pre-eminent worth,
or so the papers say.
Part of God’s greater plan,
we will be victorious
for all humanity’s sake,
live to see a better day,
return the nature of man
to a state of exalted beauty,
build a paradise on earth.
Yet how can it be
that I am so feared
when like all the rest
I am not even brave?
Compelled by callow sense
to dig my own unending grave.
Nothing now can save me.

All England expects is duty,
not one dissenting word,
march into hail and heavy gun
martyrs seen but never heard.
For every gain of little merit
another field of soldiers sown,
the only earth the meek inherit
land no man can ever own.
Where is the reward in death,
in our flesh, blood and bone?
Faith becomes frail insanity
when God has lost his breath.

Each and every mother’s son,
past and present tense,
just waiting to feel
upon an upturned face
a kiss of splintered steel,
all hopes of heaven thrown
from within the holy carapace.

Oh we redoubtable scum
of open minds and hearts
are no other than the sum
of all our broken parts.
With a resolute sadness
we tempt salvation’s sleight,
to die for common cause.
We will accept the third light
not to satisfy a King’s vanity
but to end a state of madness,
the war to end all wars.

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