There was an interesting discussion on the radio a few days ago about war poetry, during which the question was asked again about why the voices of the Sasoon, Brooke and Owen are so powerful and evocative even so many years (and so many wars) later.
They capture for us the humanity and inhumanity of war in language so vivid and immediate that it resonates still.
But what of the war poets since? Can you name one? What poems told the story of the second world war, or the countless ones since? How many names can you bring to mind?
I read some poetry, but I can name none.
Perhaps this is because the voices of the world war poets bring something to us of a different time, when gentlemen went to war and discovered that there was nothing gentlemanly about industrial slaughter. A time when poetry was at the centre of literature and the arts, and when other forms of media were limited and closely managed.
Wars since then have increasingly been media events. Propaganda became as important as bullets, and image is all.
I wonder, in our mad information overloaded world, if the modern day equivalent of the poetry of Owen and Sasoon is the website Wikileaks.
But I am a poet (if that does not sound too pompous!)
So as we approach another remembrance day, here is a poem about war, and a poem hoping for peace-
A time for war
There is a time for all things under heaven
A time to dig trenches and put up barbed wire
Then run to our deaths into withering fire
A time for mass graves, for mums to wear black
Time to kill and to maim- a time to attack
A time to dehumanise, a time to breed hate
A time to decide the whole nations fate
A time when all truth is wrapped up in lies
For secret policemen and neighbourhood spies
A time to manipulate the news and the media
A time of unassailable powerful leaders
A time of expedient centralised power
Cometh the man in this our dark hour
A time for Guantanamo, a time for Auschwitz
A time of gas chambers and motherless kids
A time to throw rocks and let loose the rockets
A time for dead eyes fixed in dead sockets
A time for insurgents, a time to suppress
To disappear dissidents, and people oppress
Of brave freedom fighters and terrorist cells
A time for Robin Hoods and William Tells
In some foreign field or in our back yard
In red sucking mud or ground frozen hard
Lie the bones of our children who answered the call
Now glorious dead with their names on a wall
A time to break up and time to destroy
A time to make men of every small boy
Over by Christmas or just a bit more
Now is the time for us to make war
A time for peace
There is a time for all things under heaven.
There must come a time when canons will fall silent
And men start again to look beyond the battlements
Into the scarred and empty fields
Seeded still with land mines
There is a time to strike the white flags of surrender
And put away the banners of victory
A time when triumphalism
No longer seems to honour
The broken bodies
And the freshly dug graves
There must also come a time when displaced people
Dare to step beyond the bounds of the refugee camp
And walk the long road home
Surely too the day will come when guns will be melted into garden forks
And tanks will pull the plough
A time for doves instead of hawks
And lions to learn care for the cows
A time will come too when borders are open
And bitterness and hate are eroded by the resilience of a new generation
Who begin to replace fear with hope
And the need for revenge recedes
But for now the shadows cast will lie long
Across these broken houses
And the empty streets
In this brand new time of fragile peace.
Both poems from ‘Listing’, available from http://www.proost.com.)