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Subject: Your favorite anti-war poem? rss

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Filip W.
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An interesting discussion that came up here and now I'm wondering: What's your favorite anti-war poem and why?
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Rusty McFisticuffs
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I don't know whether they count as anti-war or not, but After Experience Taught Me by W. D. Snodgrass (which I wouldn't say I actually understand, but I like it anyway) and The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner by Randall Jarrell. As far as the "why" part of your question, I don't know; I read them a long time ago, probably in my plastic-green-army-men days, and they made an impression.
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Russ Williams
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The first one that comes to mind for me is La Espero by L. L. Zamenhof. (The English translation in the wikipedia article seems to be a very literal translation and does not have the poetic nature of the original.)

It was one of the earliest poems written in Esperanto, and expresses the idealism and optimism of the early days of Esperanto, before the world wars shattered the idea that world peace might be on the way.

"La Espero" has sentimental and literary value for me since it's a significant part of Esperanto history and certain phrases from it have become common expressions both in writing and in everyday speech.

As a poem, its rhythm and rhyme scheme flows very simply and readably, so it's a pleasure to read aloud (which is important for me in a poem).

It was later set to music and is sometimes sung at some of the larger and more formal Esperanto meetings during opening or closing ceremonies. For some people, that's rather old-fashioned or corny sounding, but I must admit that it sometimes strikes a chord for me, and I have some fond memories of singing it in a few large (2000 or so) groups of people.
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Russ Williams
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kuhrusty wrote:

That one reminds me a bit of the song "The Gunner's Dream" from the Pink Floyd album The Final Cut!
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Don't know if it's exactly an antiwar poem, but the one that comes to mind is this:

GRASS

by: Carl Sandburg (1878-1967)

Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo,
Shovel them under and let me work--
I am the grass; I cover all.

And pile them high at Gettysburg
And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.
Shovel them under and let me work.
Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor:
What place is this?
Where are we now?

I am the grass.
Let me work.
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Michael Cowles
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Henry Reed's; Naming of Parts
http://www.solearabiantree.net/namingofparts/namingofparts.h...
The juxtaposition of the lecture in preparation for war and the spring growth is wonderfully done.
And I like the flow of the meter, particularly as the poem was read to me on a warm skule afternoon, while I contemplated the evening after skule.
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When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains,
And the women come out to cut up what remains,
Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
   An' go to your Gawd like a soldier.
    Go, go, go like a soldier,
    Go, go, go like a soldier,
    Go, go, go like a soldier,
         So-oldier ~of~ the Queen
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Patrick Carroll wrote:
Don't know if it's exactly an antiwar poem, but the one that comes to mind is this:

GRASS


I see this has already been posted. I'll be on my way then.
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Mick Weitz
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Some barbarian is waving my shield,
since I was obliged to
leave that perfectly good piece of equipment behind
under a bush.
But I got away, so what does it matter?
Life seemed somehow more precious.
Let the shield go; I can buy another one equally good.

Archilochus, ca. 650 BCE.

Good Gaming~! Mick
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Saw Brecht's "Legend of the Dead Soldier" performed as some sort of combination farce and commedia dell'arte. Very powerful on stage. Here is a summary:

"Brecht's anti-war satirical poem The Legend of the Dead Soldier caused a scandal when it was first published in 1920s Germany. Taking the poem as a starting point, the company presents an epic clown show that satirizes a country's addiction to heroism and moral righteousness. "Our Hero", an ordinary foot soldier, is chosen by the Kaiser to represent all that is good and brave about the war effort. Unfortunately he is killed as soon as he arrives at the front. Annoyed, the Kaiser orders a secret directive that his body be disinterred, and that his corpse should continue to be the heroic figurehead the nation needs. Nobody must know that he is dead. As the plot thickens and the Dead Soldier becomes increasingly famous, nobody escapes Brecht's satirical wit. The media, the military, the politicians, and the people all are guilty, in his opinion, of putting their faith in the myth of combat, instead of reality. By David Bridel."
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ANTHEM FOR DOOMED YOUTH

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.


No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.



What candles may be held to speed them all? -
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;


Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

Wilfred Owen, KIA one week before the end of the First World War
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Daniele Petrini
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Mine it's not a proper poem, it's a well-known song by Eric Bogle, Waltzin' Matilda. Written in 1971. It's about the Anzac soldiers in Gallipoli, but it was obviously written as an Anti Vietnam War anthem.
I found particularly chilling a recent recording by johnny logan.

Now when I was a young man I carried my pack
And lived the free life of the rover
From the Murray's Green Basin to the dusty outback
I waltzed my Matilda all over
Then in 1915 my country said "Son,
It's time you stopped rambling, there's work to be done."
So they gave me a tin hat and they gave me a gun
And they send me away to the war

And the band played Waltzing Matilda
As the ship pulled away from the quay
And amidst all the cheers, flag waving and tears
We sailed off for Gallipoli

And how well I remember that terrible day
How our blood stained the sand and the water
And of how in that hell that they called Souvla Bay
We were butchered like lambs at the slaughter
'Johnny Turk' he was ready, he'd primed himself well
He rained us with bullets and he showered us with shell
And in five minutes flat he'd blown us all to hell
Nearly blew us right back to Australia

And the band played Waltzing Matilda
While we stopped to bury our slain
We buried ours and the Turks buried theirs
Then it started all over again

And those that were left, well we tried to survive
In that mad world of death, blood and fire
And for ten weary weeks I kept myself alive
Though around me the corpses piled higher
Then a big Turkish shell knocked me arse-over-head
And when I awoke in my hospital bed
And saw what it had done, well, I wished I was dead
Never knew there was worse things than dying
For I'll go no more waltzing Matilda
All around the green bush far and free
For to hump tent and pegs a man needs both legs
No more waltzing Matilda for me

So, they collected the wounded, the crippled, the maimed
And shipped us back home to Australia
The legless, the armless, the blind, the insane
The proud, wounded heroes of Souvla
And when our ship pulled into Circular Quay
I looked at the place where my legs used to be
And thanked Christ there was no one there waiting for me
To grieve and to mourn and to pity

But the band played Waltzing Matilda
As they carried us down the gangway
But nobody cheered, they just stood there and stared
Then they turned all their faces away
So now every April I sit on my porch
And I watch the parade pass before me
I see my old comrades, how proudly they march
Reliving old dreams and past glories
And the old men march slowly, old bones stiff and sore
They're tired old heroes of a forgotten war
And the young people ask "What are they marching for?"
And I ask myself the same question

But the band plays Waltzing Matilda
And the old men still answer the call
But as year follows year, more old men disappear
Some day no one will march there at all

Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda
Who'll go a'waltzing Matilda with me?
And their ghosts may be heard as they march by that Billabong
Who'll come a'waltzing Matilda with me?
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August Stramm: Patrouille

Die Steine feinden
Fenster grinst Verrat
Äste würgen
Berge Sträucher blättern raschlig
Gellen
Tod.

(Will try to get a translation done later ...)
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Dulce et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime...
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.


-Wilfred Owen, March 1918

Why do I like it? I don't know that I do: I find it upsetting. Dulce et decorum est was written in response to pre-war ignorance and glorification of war as a noble, patriotic endeavour. It is aimed at authority figures, too old to experience the trenches, who encouraged schoolboys to "do their duty". The description is horrifying, shocking, and powerfully angry. I suppose I like it because it challenges militarism and questions authority.

-R
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Ozludo wrote:
Dulce et Decorum Est


Seconded. I think WWI was the turning point in public thinking about the "glory" of war(s).

WWI also inspired the mostly inscrutable The Waste Land by TS Eliot.
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Tiphareth wrote:
Mine it's not a proper poem, it's a well-known song by Eric Bogle, Waltzin' Matilda. Written in 1971. It's about the Anzac soldiers in Gallipoli, but it was obviously written as an Anti Vietnam War anthem.
I found particularly chilling a recent recording by johnny logan.

"And the Band Played Waltzin' Matilda". Waltzing Matilda is Australia's most widely known song, "the unofficial national anthem of Australia". It was written in 1887 by Andrew Barton "Banjo" Paterson. There is a Waltzing Matilda Museum in Queensland. (Truly)

There are many excellent covers of And the Band Played... I think The Pogues did it magnificently:


-R
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In Flanders Fields

Quote:
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.


Cheers, Haring
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Since "Dulce et decorum est" has already been posted, here's my 2nd favorite poem in this vein, Stephen Crane's "War is Kind:"

Do not weep, maiden, for war is kind.
Because your lover threw wild hands toward the sky
And the affrighted steed ran on alone,
Do not weep.
War is kind.

Hoarse, booming drums of the regiment,
Little souls who thirst for fight,
These men were born to drill and die.
The unexplained glory flies above them,
Great is the battle-god, great, and his kingdom --
A field where a thousand corpses lie.

Do not weep, babe, for war is kind.
Because your father tumbled in the yellow trenches,
Raged at his breast, gulped and died,
Do not weep.
War is kind.

Swift blazing flag of the regiment,
Eagle with crest of red and gold,
These men were born to drill and die.
Point for them the virtue of slaughter,
Make plain to them the excellence of killing
And a field where a thousand corpses lie.

Mother whose heart hung humble as a button
On the bright splendid shroud of your son,
Do not weep.
War is kind.
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Jevon Heath
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Čizme by Ljubomir Simović
http://lyrikline.org/index.php?id=162&L=1&author=ls01&show=P...

The link leads to a German translation as well as a recording of the poem by the author. Unfortunately there is no English translation there.

Edit: also there is a YouTube reading of the poem.
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Andy Beaton
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My favourite is another one by Wilfred Owen, who seems to have the antiwar poetry business pretty well stitched up.

The Parable of the Young Man and the Old

So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned, both of them together,
Isaac the first-born spake, and said, My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
And builded parapets the trenches there,
And stretched forth the knife to slay his son.
When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him. Behold,
A ram, caught in a thicket by its horns;
Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.
But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.
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Although not a poem, I love Mark Twain's "War Prayer."

I have a small booklet that has nice pencil illustrations to go with it. www.ntua.gr/lurk/making/warprayer.html presents it as text, and it loses some of its force.

It's worth a read, nonetheless. It seems very prescient now, given he wrote this 10 years before WW1.
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Russ Williams
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Haring wrote:
In Flanders Fields

Although it's a great classic war poem, I never thought of it as an "anti-war" poem, considering that the final part is an explicit call to continue the fight, and suggesting that not to keep fighting the war would be a betrayal:

Quote:
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.


I guess it depends what one means by an "anti-war poem", eh?
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Steven Mitchell
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Not exactly a poem, nor is it probably my favorite, but 'Little Boy Soldiers' by The Jam deserves mention.

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Well, if we digress into song lyrics, I could probably name a bunch. E.g.,

"Masters of War" (Bob Dylan)
"I Ain't Marchin' Anymore" (Phil Ochs)
"White Boots Marching in a Yellow Land" (Phil Ochs)
"Sky Pilot" (The Animals)
"John Brown" (Bob Dylan) {unfortunate name, since it's not about the JB}
"Universal Soldier" (Buffy Sainte-Marie)
"Give Peace a Chance" (John Lennon)
"War" (Edwin Starr, written by Whitfield/Strong for The Temptations)
"I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-to-Die Rag" (Country Joe and the Fish)
"The Unknown Soldier" (The Doors)

. . . and so on.
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Chris Stimpson
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Quote:
Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori


In case anyone was wondering:

"What a sweet and decorous* thing it is to die for one's country."

See, those years of Latin didn't go (completely) to waste.



*or proper, becoming, elegant. Whatever sticks most in your craw.
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