|Variation on 'Duty' by Edward Leighton|
Or in the mind forever.
Duty does not exonerate how death was dealt
From a marked deck, fans of cards,
Winning or losing hands played out:
No rhyme, no reason, no game at all
But boyhood’s end
In a long walk across no-man’s land.
The dead could lie in astonished pieces
Cast adrift from life or expectation
Taken to the bosom of some God or Heaven
Or some imagined place of just reward.
To the living, scattered shapes with staring eyes
Looked back like victims, grim and full of accusation.
How dare you live on another instant?
How can you not see the withering fire for what it is?
Who told you this aimless walking served a purpose?
Why did no-one come to say enough?
So duty became death, traded up to madness;
Cowardice, a sane response to thundering Bedlam,
Bought a hero’s end without the name,
Shell shock, as if detonation was an impropriety,
Memorised the thunder and its metal rain,
To survive at all was to carry guilt forever.
Guilt at fear and terror never broached;
Guilt at rising from the mud and living;
Guilt at letting others run ahead and fall;
Guilt at cowering for a moment in the shell-hole mud;
Guilt at putting humanity away;
Guilt at relishing the death your hands were making;
Guilt, in the end of days, when all was done and done,
At going home;
Guilt at breathing when the dead were dead;
Guilt at being here and now but broken to the core;
Guilt at love you felt or love received without the heart to bear it;
Guilt at bearing so much sorrow, so much rage.
And having neither tongue or words to speak it,
Having hollow eyes, dry sockets, with no tears to weep.
So was the world put asunder. Not only in the corpse-field
mud-baths or the bloodstream hollows where the silenced
met their strange forevers. The world was torn like a shroud
or mourning-cloth ripped in grief in every heart where bomb
or bullet did not strike.
Broken bodies were the least of it.
© BH 2014
Another war poem. Though I've never been in such straights, except vicariously. Maybe that's why, from time to time, it exercises me. And at a time like this. Centeneries, reminders that become veiled celebrations. It bother me. I keep coming back to what it was really like. Because we're now steeped in it and I can't separate out the acceptance of the situation, politically or there in the trenches. I mean, watching the Sainsbuty ad on YouTube made me think. There on Christmas Day, an impromtu ceasefire, football, men with respect in their eyes. Then, bang, back to dealing death. They were one step from the grand mutiny. We're fine with the fitba. Want more killing? Go kill yourselves. Big cheese against big cheese. Aristo cousin on aristo cousin. This was your fecht not ours.
BTW. This is one of a sequence, For the Falling - Silence, Duty, Brave, POW. They're all here. Because they have to be.