And There Was a Great Calm

There had been years of Passion—scorching, cold,
And much Despair, and Anger heaving high,
Care whitely watching, Sorrows manifold,
Among the young, among the weak and old,
And the pensive Spirit of Pity whispered, “Why?”
Men had not paused to answer. Foes distraught
Pierced the thinned peoples in a brute-like blindness,
Philosophies that sages long had taught,
And Selflessness, were as an unknown thought,
And “Hell!” and “Shell!” were yapped at Lovingkindness.
The feeble folk at home had grown full-used
To ‘dug-outs’, ‘snipers’, ‘Huns’, from the war-adept
In the mornings heard, and at evetides perused;
To day-dreamt men in millions, when they mused—
To nightmare-men in millions when they slept.
Waking to wish existence timeless, null,
Sirius they watched above where armies fell;
He seemed to check his flapping when, in the lull
Of night a boom came thencewise, like the dull
Plunge of a stone dropped into some deep well.
So, when old hopes that earth was bettering slowly
Were dead and damned, there sounded ‘War is done!’
One morrow. Said the bereft, and meek, and lowly,
‘Will men some day be given to grace? yea, wholly,
And in good sooth, as our dreams used to run?’
Breathless they paused. Out there men raised their glance
To where had stood those poplars lank and lopped,
As they had raised it through the four years’ dance
Of Death in the now familiar flats of France;
And murmured, ‘Strange, this! How? All firing stopped?’
Aye; all was hushed. The about-to-fire fired not,
The aimed-at moved away in trance-lipped song.
One checkless regiment slung a clinching shot
And turned. The Spirit of Irony smirked out, ‘What?
Spoil peradventures woven of Rage and Wrong?’
Thenceforth no flying fires inflamed the gray,
No hurtlings shook the dewdrop from the thorn,
No moan perplexed the mute bird on the spray;
Worn horses mused: ‘We are not whipped to-day;’
No weft-winged engines blurred the moon’s thin horn.
Calm fell. From Heaven distilled a clemency;
There was peace on earth, and silence in the sky;
Some could, some could not, shake off misery:
The Sinister Spirit sneered: ‘It had to be!’
And again the Spirit of Pity whispered, ‘Why?’
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12 Responses to And There Was a Great Calm

  1. RobK

    If only it would be the last time that question need be asked: Why?

  2. Roger

    MCMXIV, by Philip Larkin

    Those long uneven lines
    Standing as patiently
    As if they were stretched outside
    The Oval or Villa Park,
    The crowns of hats, the sun
    On moustached archaic faces
    Grinning as if it were all
    An August Bank Holiday lark;

    And the shut shops, the bleached
    Established names on the sunblinds,
    The farthings and sovereigns,
    And dark-clothed children at play
    Called after kings and queens,
    The tin advertisements
    For cocoa and twist, and the pubs
    Wide open all day;

    And the countryside not caring:
    The place-names all hazed over
    With flowering grasses, and fields
    Shadowing Domesday lines
    Under wheat’s restless silence;
    The differently-dressed servants
    With tiny rooms in huge houses,
    The dust behind limousines;

    Never such innocence,
    Never before or since,
    As changed itself to past
    Without a word – the men
    Leaving the gardens tidy,
    The thousands of marriages
    Lasting a little while longer:
    Never such innocence again.

    ———– +++ —————

    WWI not only brought an age to an end, it gave birth to ours.

  3. P

    It’s the soldier, not the preacher, who gives us freedom of religion.
    It’s the soldier, not the poet, who gives us freedom of speech.
    It’s the soldier, not the reporter, who gives us freedom of the press.
    It’s the soldier, not the union organiser who gives us freedom to demonstrate.
    It’s the soldier, not the lawyer, who gives us the right to a fair trial.
    It’s the soldier, not the politician, who gives us the right to vote.
    It’s the soldier, who salutes the flag, who serves under the flag and whose coffin is draped by the flag who allows the protestor to burn the flag.

  4. Jannie

    It is possible to understand why by examining the participants sleep walking into an unexpected real nightmare.

    The saddest part is the understanding that it was not necessary, and not inevitable. A mistake.

  5. Herodotus

    Mark Steyn reprises a piece he wrote some years ago. Brilliant.
    We have lost more than brave souls, we have lost our way, or been detoured by flag men with the wrong flags.

  6. Baldrick

    “The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.” – GK Chesterton

  7. hzhousewife

    P, I had never seen that piece before, thank you. I am sharing it with families I know with members in the military, in the UK, the USA, NZ and here in Australia.

  8. How can I say this politely…

    If, after a certain age, you are still asking ‘Why’, you really haven’t been paying much attention.

  9. cohenite

    Wilfred Owen’s poem Miners captures the essence of war, lessons not learnt and lives lost and forgotten:

    There was a whispering in my hearth,
    A sigh of the coal.
    Grown wistful of a former earth
    It might recall.

    I listened for a tale of leaves
    And smothered ferns,
    Frond-forests; and the low, sly lives
    Before the fawns.

    My fire might show steam-phantoms simmer
    From Time’s old cauldron,
    Before the birds made nests in summer,
    Or men had children.

    But the coals were murmuring of their mine,
    And moans down there
    Of boys that slept wry sleep, and men
    Writhing for air.

    And I saw white bones in the cinder-shard,
    Bones without number.
    For many hearts with coal are charred,
    And few remember.

    I thought of all that worked dark pits
    Of war, and died
    Digging the rock where Death reputes
    Peace lies indeed.

    Comforted years will sit soft-chaired
    In rooms of amber;
    The years will stretch their hands, well-cheered
    By our lifes’ ember.

    The centuries will burn rich loads
    With which we groaned,
    Whose warmth shall lull their dreaming lids,
    While songs are crooned.
    But they will not dream of us poor lads
    Left in the ground.

    It is worse still because even remembering not only doesn’t stop wars but can cause them.

  10. Zatara

    From my mother’s sleep I fell into the State,
    And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
    Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
    I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
    When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.

    The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner

    Randall Jarrell, 1914 – 1965

  11. Elizabeth (Lizzie) B.

    The consolations of poetry. Sometimes a poem is the only thing that helps.

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