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A Poem Commemorating the German War Dead

Updated: Oct 5, 2023

Threnody for the Murder of Our Race’s Finest

An axle snapping and the wheeling Sun

Hurtles to ruptured earth in mired woe

A hubless dusk of shrouded barbary

The soot and scrap of wild, inhuman glee

And cruellest weapons of perfidious foe

For blackest glory, in vile paucity

Jeering chthonic as the desert’s beasts

Shunting tin eyes across a bleeding sea

In all the monstrous discord of the East

Draped in fresh wounding pelts and rips of skin

Charge hollered hands to soil their very kin

The blind dominion of gilt-toothed priests

And this new screaming of each mother’s child

The primal bonds of deepest love defiled

Made great in all their strength, brave all the while And joy is rent, the ages’ chain is cut

Through ruddy slabs long doom’s nailed jaws clang shut

And innocents besmirched by alien guile

Hell-wrought oblations, civil-suited muck Blared fireworks and business-hasty smiles

And little deaths by millions and by miles.


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Dear Dad,


I thought you might like to read my new poem. It is a lament for the dead brutalized in war. Tonally, I find it quite close to Wilfred Owen's 'Anthem for Doomed Youth', albeit secular, as well as the writing style of somes of Ezra Pound's 'Cantos' and, in general, a metred modernist lyricism patterned somewhat on Philip Larkin. Perhaps the canons of these poets inspired me a little subconsciously. I have also be reading Goethe's poetry recently so have adopted the iambic pentameter end-stopped rhymes that are stylistically common to eighteenth century verse. There is no formal name for this strict single stanza rhyme scheme, but it is closest to a ballade (not to be confused with a ballad), a Old French form used later by Chaucer and then revived by the early Victorian poets.


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"This is a very good poem technically in its mastery of rhythm and metre. It also makes its anti-war points very well. I did find some of the imagery a little unclear. Should the "Dusk" in line 3 be "Disk". There seem to be somewhat mixed metaphors in other parts of the poem: in line 7, who or what is doing the "Jeering" ? Is it the "glory" and if so how could glory jeer? Who is doing the "Shunting" in line 8. Is it the "desert beasts"? Shunting is done by railway engines and the image of beasts shunting eyes doesn't hang together especially since you have the "desert" beasts looking at a bleeding "sea".


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Dear Dad,

Thank you for your kind reply email evaluation. I shall try to elaborate on my imagery and the metaphorical choices to elucidate you.

I did mean to write "dusk" yes, and not "disk". The poem is concerned with the terrible outcome of ferocious war, and a pall of darkness pulled down, suffocating the future. The word "hubless" was chosen to compliment the preceding vocabulary of a "wheeling Sun" hurtling to the ground - primitive society Sun mythology, common to ancient Indo-Europeans and later to many other palaeolithic societies influenced by Aryan migration as much as to the spiritual iconography of traditional Hinduism, where its passage through the year serves as a metaphor for fundamental cosmic cycles of death and rebirth, with my suggestion that this ordered system is shattered and, as in the words of Yeats, "the centre cannot hold". "Hubless" as in unordered dusk, the motion irregular and exponentially entropic, with no sign of a returning dawn. Interestingly, Roger Penrose wrote a book of mathematical cosmology titled "Cycles of Time" evaluating the possible conclusions at the eventual death of the universe, proposing a conclusion quite profound indeed, and more optimistic than most.

Perhaps I should have added some punctuation. The "jeering" is that of the "perfidious foe" from two lines before. Consider it displayed as the sentence:

The soot and scrap of wild, inhuman glee, and cruellest weapons of perfidious foe - for blackest glory, in vile paucity - jeering chthonic as the desert’s beasts. Or, alternatively, with relation to that wild glee:

The soot and scrap of wild, inhuman glee, and cruellest weapons of perfidious foe - for blackest glory, in vile paucity. [A] jeering chthonic as the desert’s beasts.

I think it's more of an issue of the liberties of poetic syntax. It's the same foe "shunting" their eyes.

I picked "tin" deliberately, as a cheap and flimsy metal, known for its use in mass cans, echoed later by "gilt-toothed" i.e. a thin-layer of gold coloured paint, of poorer quality than gold itself. "Shunting" was deliberately picked as it refers to metallic railway vehicles ferrying logistical material resources and commerce, again with echoes of the opening's "soot and scrap", both "tin" and "shunting" implying an inert, mechanical coldness and hard, non-human quality to the foe, more like weapons themselves than empathetic humans, and also their inexorable passage, as if nothing is safe from that roving, dispassionate vision, plunging on and on in tandem with depraved acts.

The "bleeding sea" is intended to be one of chaos and brutalized bodies, as much as to suggest that a great deal of blood has been spilt - a whole sea's worth, a "monstrous discord", much as the ocean itself rages in powerful swells and storms, a primal force of fury.

I hope this clears up some of my choices. One finds I have relied on echoes and contextual assonances quite a lot, reinforcing the main metaphors in multiple places. I was pleased that the iambic pentameter hangs together mostly, although the stresses on the "dominion" line are somewhat artificial as the "i" vowel would have to be extended by an exaggerated stress atop the initial stress of its conventional pronunciation into do/min/i/on as opposed to do/min/ion (pronounced in phonetic spelling as "doh'minyun"). "Alien" would also have be pronounced as if it were one syllable.

Best regards,

Benjamin


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