26 May 2009

British "war poet" will go to Afghanistan

The British tradition of "war poetry" will be revived by the BBC, who are sending one of the country's leading poets to Afghanistan:
While a handful of visual artists have worked in the theatre of war since fighting began in October 2001, Armitage will be the first poet to be granted access...

The planned one-hour documentary, Behind the Lines, is to be produced by BBC veteran Roger Courtier, who hopes to send Armitage to Helmand for a month. Courtier believes the tradition of the British war poet deserves to be reinstated: "We think it is a fabulous idea..."
Others are less sanguine:
A lot depends on how long a writer is at war and if they are a combatant. Of course, a poet can give the view of a sensitive outsider, but you can almost become a voyeur if you are not careful."
Perhaps in memory of the British massacre in Afghanistan in 1842 the new poet could just add an additional verse onto Kipling's immortal poem:
If your officer's dead and the sergeants look white,
Remember it's ruin to run from a fight:
So take open order, lie down, and sit tight,
And wait for supports like a soldier.
Wait, wait, wait like a soldier . . .

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.


  1. Aftermath

    Have you forgotten yet?...
    For the world's events have rumbled on since those gagged days,
    Like traffic checked while at the crossing of city-ways:
    And the haunted gap in your mind has filled with thoughts that flow
    Like clouds in the lit heaven of life; and you're a man reprieved to go,
    Taking your peaceful share of Time, with joy to spare.
    But the past is just the same--and War's a bloody game...
    Have you forgotten yet?...
    Look down, and swear by the slain of the War that you'll never forget.

    Do you remember the dark months you held the sector at Mametz--
    The nights you watched and wired and dug and piled sandbags on parapets?
    Do you remember the rats; and the stench
    Of corpses rotting in front of the front-line trench--
    And dawn coming, dirty-white, and chill with a hopeless rain?
    Do you ever stop and ask, 'Is it all going to happen again?'

    Do you remember that hour of din before the attack--
    And the anger, the blind compassion that seized and shook you then
    As you peered at the doomed and haggard faces of your men?
    Do you remember the stretcher-cases lurching back
    With dying eyes and lolling heads--those ashen-grey
    Masks of the lads who once were keen and kind and gay?

    Have you forgotten yet?...
    Look up, and swear by the green of the spring that you'll never forget.

    Siegfried Sassoon

    The establishment tried to silence some of the poets of the first world war, because they spoke words that jarred with the propaganda of the time.
    Sassoon returned to Britain, wounded, shell-shocked and sought to speak out against the war, he was silenced, treated as insane, facing court-martial for his words, so he chose, despite his disbelief in the reasons for war, and the way it was being conducted, to return to the trenches, the blood, the death, to fight and try kill men with whom he had no quarrel, and to keep the faith, with all those who were condemned to suffer and die, and who, unlike Sassoon, an officer and a gentleman, had no way out.

    After the war, he did not cease, as this poem shows, in his condemnation of the pointless waste of lives.

    I wonder.
    What will a new war-poet write?
    Will it be all heroism? And glorious sacrifice? Or will it be more like Sassoon.
    Or Kipling.

  2. "Tommy" (1890) Rudyard Kipling

    (generic name for a british soldier, a "Tommy", Private Thomas Atkins.....)

    "I went into a public-'ouse to get a pint o' beer,
    The publican 'e up an' sez, 'We serve no red-coats 'ere.'
    The girls be'ind the bar they laughed and giggled fit to die,
    I outs into the street again, an' to myself sez I:
    Oh, it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' 'Tommy, go away':
    But it's 'Thank you, Mister Atkins,' when the band begins to play -
    The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
    Oh, it's 'Thank you, Mister Atkins,' when the band begins to play.

    I went into a theatre as sober as could be,
    They gave a drunk civilian room, but 'adn't none for me;
    They sent me to the gallery or round the music-'alls,
    But when it comes to fightin', Lord! they'll shove me in the stalls!
    For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' 'Tommy, wait outside';
    But it's 'Special train for Atkins' when the trooper's on the tide -
    The troopship's on the tide, my boys, the troopship's on the tide,
    Oh, it's 'Special train for Atkins' when the trooper's on the tide.

    Yes, makin' mock o' uniforms that guard you while you sleep
    Is cheaper than them uniforms, an' they're starvation cheap;
    An' hustlin' drunken soldiers when they're goin' large a bit
    Is five times better business than paradin' in full kit.
    Then it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' 'Tommy, 'ow's yer soul?'
    But it's 'Thin red line of 'eroes' when the drums begin to roll -
    The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
    Oh, it's 'Thin red line of 'eroes when the drums begin to roll.

    We aren't no thin red 'eroes, nor we aren't no blackguards too,
    But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;
    An' if sometimes our conduck isn't all your fancy paints,
    Why, single men in barricks don't grow into plaster saints;
    While it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that , an' 'Tommy, fall be'ind,'
    But it's 'Please to walk in front, sir,' when there's trouble in the wind -
    There's trouble in the wind, my boys, there's trouble in the wind,
    Oh, it's 'Please to walk in front, sir,' when there's trouble in the wind.

    You talk o' better food for us, an' schools, an' fires, an' all:
    We'll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
    Don't mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
    The Widow's Uniform is not the soldier-man's disgrace.
    For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' 'Chuck him out, the brute!'
    But it's 'Saviour of 'is country' when the guns begin to shoot;
    An' it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' anything you please;
    An' Tommy ain't a bloomin' fool - you bet that Tommy sees!

  3. give a listen to the entire "final cut" pink floyd

  4. Thank you, soubriquet, for the verses and your commentary.


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