“The Hoard of the Gibbelins” by Lord Dunsany

Walpurgisnacht:
Have a happy night.
-The Voice before the Void

“The Hoard of the Gibbelins”

Lord Dunsany

The Gibbelins eat, as is well known, nothing less good than man. Their evil tower is joined to Terra Cognita, to the lands we know, by a bridge. Their hoard is beyond reason; avarice has no use for it; they have a separate cellar for emeralds and a separate cellar for sapphires; they have filled a hole with gold and dig it up when they need it. And the only use that is known for their ridiculous wealth is to attract to their larder a continual supply of food. In times of famine they have even been known to scatter rubies abroad, a little trail of them to some city of Man, and sure enough their larders would soon be full again. Continue reading

“Charlie Brown and Franz Stigler incident” from Wikipedia

Charlie Brown and Franz Stigler Incident Anniversary:
War is a crime and war stories are horrific, but any story of mercy is a great story; any story that humanizes an enemy is a great story; and any story of friendship is a great story. This story is triply great.
-The Voice before the Void

“Charlie Brown and Franz Stigler incident”

Wikipedia

The Charlie Brown and Franz Stigler incident occurred on the 20th of December, 1943, when, after a successful bomb run on Bremen, 2nd Lt. Charles “Charlie” Brown’s B-17 Flying Fortress (named “Ye Olde Pub”) was severely damaged by German fighters. Luftwaffe ace Franz Stigler had the opportunity to shoot down the crippled bomber, but for humane reasons, he decided to allow the crew to fly back to England. After an extensive search by Brown, the two pilots met each other over 40 years later and developed a friendship that lasted until Stigler’s death in March 2008.

1. Pilots

2nd Lt. Charles L. “Charlie” Brown (“a farm boy from Weston, West Virginia,” in his own words) was a B-17F pilot with the 379th Bombardment Group of the United States Army Air Forces’ 8th Air Force, stationed at RAF Kimbolton in England. Franz Stigler, a former airline pilot from Bavaria, was a veteran Luftwaffe fighter pilot attached to Jagdgeschwader 27; at the time, he had 22 aerial victories to his name and would be eligible for the coveted Knight’s Cross with one more downed enemy bomber. Continue reading

“A Good War” by Lord Dunsany

Armistice Day:
Such is every war.
-The Voice before the Void

“A Good War”

from Unhappy Far-off Things

Lord Dunsany

Nietzsche said, “You have heard that a good cause justifies any war, but I say unto you that a good war justifies any cause.”

A man was walking alone over a plain so desolate that, if you have never seen it, the mere word desolation could never convey to you the melancholy surroundings that mourned about this man on his lonely walk. Far off a vista of trees followed a cheerless road all dead as mourners suddenly stricken dead in some funereal procession. By this road he had come; but when he had reached a certain point he turned from the road at once, branching away to the left, led by a line of bushes that may once have been a lane. For some while his feet had rustled through long neglected grass; sometimes he lifted them up to step over a telephone wire that lolled over old entanglements and bushes; often he came to rusty strands of barbed wire and walked through them where they had been cut, perhaps years ago, by huge shells; Continue reading

“Patterns” by Amy Lowell

Armistice Day:
A celebrated poem about the Flanders Campaign of the British army during the War of the First Coalition, written and published during the First World War as the British army was fighting in Flanders.
-The Voice before the Void

“Patterns”

Amy Lowell

I walk down the garden paths,
And all the daffodils
Are blowing, and the bright blue squills.
I walk down the patterned garden-paths
In my stiff, brocaded gown.
With my powdered hair and jewelled fan,
I too am a rare
Pattern. As I wander down Continue reading

“The March” by J.C. Squire

Armistice Day
World War I poetry, in commemoration of all wars

“The March”

J.C. Squire

I heard a voice that cried, “Make way for those who died!”
And all the coloured crowd like ghosts at morning fled;
And down the waiting road, rank after rank there strode,
In mute and measured march a hundred thousand dead. Continue reading

“The Dancers” by Wilfrid Wilson Gibson

Armistice Day:
Beauty drawn from the murder of millions, and I cannot handle this beauty, I cannot handle this beauty.
-The Voice before the Void

“The Dancers”

Wilfrid Wilson Gibson

All day beneath the hurtling shells
Before my burning eyes
Hover the dainty demoiselles–
The peacock dragon-flies.

Unceasingly they dart and glance
Above the stagnant stream–
And I am fighting here in France
As in a senseless dream– Continue reading

“Paris is Full of Russians” by Ernest Hemingway

October Revolution Anniversary
and
U.S. Election Day:
Ever is there political turmoil; ever are there displaced people.
-The Voice before the Void

“Paris is Full of Russians”

Ernest Hemingway

Toronto Star, 1922 February 25

Paris.

Paris is full of Russians at present. The Russian ex-aristocracy are scattered all over Europe, running restaurants in Rome, tearooms on Capri, working as hotel porters in Nice and Marseilles and as laborers along the Mediterranean shipping centers. But those Russians who managed to bring some money or possessions with them seem to have flocked to Paris.

They are drifting along in Paris in a childish sort of hopefulness that things will somehow be all right, Continue reading

“The Gun” by Philip K. Dick

Some pointed pulp science fiction from Master Dick.
-The Voice before the Void

“The Gun”

Philip K. Dick

The Captain peered into the eyepiece of the telescope. He adjusted the focus quickly.

“It was an atomic fission we saw, all right,” he said presently. He sighed and pushed the eyepiece away. “Any of you who wants to look may do so. But it’s not a pretty sight.”

“Let me look,” Tance the archeologist said. He bent down to look, squinting. “Good Lord!” He leaped violently back, knocking against Dorle, the Chief Navigator.

“Why did we come all this way, then?” Dorle asked, looking around at the other men. “There’s no point even in landing. Let’s go back at once.”

“Perhaps he’s right,” the biologist murmured. “But I’d like to look for myself, if I may.” He pushed past Tance and peered into the sight. Continue reading

“Under Fire (Breakfast)” by Wilfrid Wilson Gibson

World War I:
Influential early poetry of the war.
-The Voice before the Void

“Under Fire”

(later retitled “Breakfast”)

Wilfrid Wilson Gibson

We eat our breakfast lying on our backs,
Because the shells were screeching overhead.
I bet a rasher to a loaf of bread
That Hull United would beat Halifax
When Jimmy Stainthorpe played full-back instead Continue reading

“The Wind in the Trees” by S. Donald Cox

World War I:
Soldier’s war poetry.

“The Wind in the Trees”

S. Donald Cox

Wind! Wind! what do you bring?
With the whirling flake and the flying cloud?
A victor’s bays and a song to sing?
—Nay, but a hero’s shroud!

Wild wind! what do you bear—
A song of the men who fought and fell,
A tale of the strong to do and dare?
—Aye, and a tolling bell!

Wind! wind! what do you see—
The flying flags and the soldiers brave,
The marching men, the bold and free?
—Nay, but a new-dug grave! Continue reading

First chapter of A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

World War I:
A work unto itself, the first chapter of A Farewell to Arms is a great war story.
Like other works of devastating power, it can serve as a denunciation of the societal institution of war.
Like other of Hemingway’s works, it is constructed with a punchline.
The immensity of war’s tragedy arrives with the realization that the incident referenced is but one of many incidents, of many wars.
-The Voice before the Void

First chapter of A Farewell to Arms

Ernest Hemingway

Fair use of the text is claimed under U.S. copyright law for the purposes of education and commentary.

“Dulce et Decorum Est” by Wilfred Owen

World War I
“Sweet and fitting it is
To die for one’s country.”
Poem emblematic of the First World War, and of all war.
-The Voice before the Void

“Dulce et Decorum Est”

Wilfred Owen

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. Continue reading

“Suicide in the Trenches” by Siegfried Sassoon

World War I:
Soldier’s war poetry.

“Suicide in the Trenches”

Siegfried Sassoon

I knew a simple soldier boy
Who grinned at life in empty joy,
Slept soundly through the lonesome dark,
And whistled early with the lark.

In winter trenches, cowed and glum,
With crumps and lice and lack of rum,
He put a bullet through his brain.
No one spoke of him again.

 

You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you’ll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go.

“Cattle Rustling and the Republic” by Theodore Roosevelt

With an old cowboy story of North Dakota, Roosevelt illustrates a moral truth about representative democracy and the line it threads between brutal revolution and authoritarian plutocracy.
⁓The Voice before the Void

“Cattle Rustling and the Republic”

from Realizable Ideals (The Earl Lectures), “The Public Servant and the Eighth Commandment,” address delivered extemporaneously to the Pacific Theological Seminary, Berkeley, California, 1911 spring

Theodore Roosevelt

edited by The Voice before the Void

In the old days, I used to have a cow-ranch in the short-grass country. At that time, there were no fences within a thousand miles of it. If a calf was passed by on the round-up, so that next year when it was a yearling and was not following any cow, it was still unbranded, it was called a maverick. It was range custom or range law that if a maverick were found on any range, the man finding it would put on the brand of that range. I had hired a new cow-puncher, and one day when he and I were riding, we struck a maverick. It was on a neighbor’s range, the Thistle Range. The puncher roped and threw the maverick; we built a little fire of sage-brush, and took out the cinch iron, heated it, and started to run on the brand. I said to him: “The Thistle brand.” He answered: “That’s all right, boss, I know my business.” In a minute, I said, “Hold on, you’re putting on my brand”; to which he answered: “Yes, I always put on the boss’s brand.” I said: “Oh, well, you go back to the house and get your time.” He rose Continue reading

“Counter-Attack” by Siegfried Sassoon

World War I:
Soldier’s war poetry.

“Counter-Attack”

Siegfried Sassoon

We’d gained our first objective hours before
While dawn broke like a face with blinking eyes,
Pallid, unshaved and thirsty, blind with smoke.
Things seemed all right at first. We held their line,
With bombers posted, Lewis guns well placed,
And clink of shovels deepening the shallow trench.
The place was rotten with dead; green clumsy legs
High-booted, sprawled and grovelled along the saps
And trunks, face downward, in the sucking mud,
Wallowed like trodden sand-bags loosely filled;
And naked sodden buttocks, mats of hair,
Bulged, clotted heads slept in the plastering slime.
And then the rain began,— the jolly old rain!

A yawning soldier knelt against the bank,
Staring across the morning blear with fog;
He wondered when the Allemands would get busy;
And then, of course, they started with five-nines
Traversing, sure as fate, and never a dud.
Mute in the clamour of shells he watched them burst
Spouting dark earth and wire with gusts from hell,
While posturing giants dissolved in drifts of smoke.
He crouched and flinched, dizzy with galloping fear,
Sick for escape,— loathing the strangled horror
And butchered, frantic gestures of the dead.

An officer came blundering down the trench:
‘Stand-to and man the fire-step!’ On he went…
Gasping and bawling, ‘Fire-step…counter-attack!’
Then the haze lifted. Bombing on the right
Down the old sap: machine-guns on the left;
And stumbling figures looming out in front.
‘O Christ, they’re coming at us!’ Bullets spat,
And he remembered his rifle…rapid fire…
And started blazing wildly…then a bang
Crumpled and spun him sideways, knocked him out
To grunt and wriggle: none heeded him; he choked
And fought the flapping veils of smothering gloom,
Lost in a blurred confusion of yells and groans…
Down, and down, and down, he sank and drowned,
Bleeding to death. The counter-attack had failed.

“The Stuffed Owl” by James Thomas Fields

I adjusted the title and ending.
⁓The Voice before the Void

“The Stuffed Owl”

James Thomas Fields

edited by The Voice before the Void

“Who stuffed that white owl?” No one spoke in the shop:
The barber was busy, and he couldn’t stop;
The customers, waiting their turns, were all reading
The Daily, the Herald, the Post, little heeding
The young man who blurted out such a blunt question;
Not one raised a head or even made a suggestion;
And the barber kept on shaving. Continue reading

“The Hill” by Edgar Lee Masters

The vastnesses of life (death), the paltriness, the irony. A great poem.
⁓The Voice before the Void

“The Hill”

from Spoon River Anthology

Edgar Lee Masters

Where are Elmer, Herman, Bert, Tom and Charley,
The weak of will, the strong of arm, the clown, the boozer, the fighter?
All, all are sleeping on the hill.

One passed in a fever,
One was burned in a mine,
One was killed in a brawl,
One died in a jail,
One fell from a bridge toiling for children and wife —
All, all are sleeping, sleeping, sleeping on the hill. Continue reading

“And There Was a Great Calm” by Thomas Hardy

Armistice Day Special:
Millions of men murdered in mud for nothing.
Millions more mangled and blinded and left limbless.
Millions displaced.
Millions dead of influenza.
World War I is a forever emblem of human civilization.
⁓The Voice before the Void

“And There Was a Great Calm”

Thomas Hardy

(On the Signing of the Armistice, November 11, 1918)

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. Continue reading

“From the Deck of a Transport (A Returning Soldier Speaks)” by Margaret Elizabeth Sangster

Armistice Day Special:
War is a crime committed against soldiers.
⁓The Voice before the Void

“From the Deck of a Transport (A Returning Soldier Speaks)”

Margaret Elizabeth Sangster

I am coming back with a singing soul through the surge of the splendid sea,
Coming back to the land called home, and the love that used to be—
I am coming back through a flash of spray, through a conquered tempest’s hum,
I am coming back, I am coming back…. But, God, do I want to come?

I have heard the shriek of the great shells speak to the dawn of a flaming day; Continue reading

“Grass” by Carl Sandburg

U.S. Memorial Day Special:
This poem is affecting and quiet. (Grass is abiding; battle is momentary.) This poem is recognized and anthologized. (Train riders are workaday, everyday, oblivious, all of us.) This poem feels to be one of the immortal poems that should live long beyond our current civilization. I thought I had a handle on it, but it is too complex. Is it a melancholic, uplifting poem about healing? Is it a bitter, rebuking poem about forgetting? The imagery of the grass seems serene, is set in contrast to the implied uproar of battle. The imagery of train riders has been archaic and therefore exotic for already fifty years, but continues to work, and should continue to continue to work. The five battles named are and should ever remain prominent in history, even when that history is far more distant and exotic than it already is today; in two thousand years and in ten thousand years, the slaughter of the battles should still be as comprehendible. Can any work of art imbue beauty to battle? This poem achieves something great… but what is that, exactly?
⁓The Voice before the Void

“Grass”

Carl Sandburg

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.

“And the Greatest of These is War” by James Weldon Johnson

Johnson makes the point well by depicting the Pride of Hell.
O War. O War.
⁓The Voice before the Void

“And the Greatest of These is War”

James Weldon Johnson

Around the council-board of Hell, with Satan at their head,
The Three Great Scourges of humanity sat.

Gaunt Famine, with hollow cheek and voice, arose and spoke,—
“O, Prince, I have stalked the earth,
And my victims by ten thousands I have slain,
I have smitten old and young.
Mouths of the helpless old moaning for bread, I have filled with dust;
And I have laughed to see a crying babe tug at the shriveling breast
Of its mother, dead and cold. Continue reading

“The Conqueror Worm” by Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe’s Birthday Special:
The apotheosis of the human condition.
⁓The Voice before the Void

“The Conqueror Worm”

Edgar Allan Poe

The Conqueror Worm by Edgar Allan illustration by W Heath Robinson 1900Lo! ’tis a gala night
Within the lonesome latter years!
An angel throng, bewinged, bedight
In veils, and drowned in tears,
Sit in a theatre, to see
A play of hopes and fears,
While the orchestra breathes fitfully
The music of the spheres. Continue reading

“Armistice Day” by Roselle Mercier Montgomery

Armistice Day Special:
Until war is abolished.
⁓The Voice before the Void

“Armistice Day”

Roselle Mercier Montgomery

I think I hear them stirring there, today,
Who have lain still
So long, so long, beside the Aisne and Loire,
On Verdun hill.

I think I hear them whispering, today,
The young, the brave,
The gallant and the gay–unmurmuring long,
There in the grave. Continue reading

“The Masque of the Red Death” by Edgar Allan Poe

Halloween Special:
Poe’s parable of the persisting pandemic known as death.
⁓The Voice before the Void

“The Masque of the Red Death”

Edgar Allan Poe

The “Red Death” had long devastated the country. No pestilence had ever been so fatal, or so hideous. Blood was its Avatar and its seal—the redness and the horror of blood. There were sharp pains, and sudden dizziness, and then profuse bleeding at the pores, with dissolution. The scarlet stains upon the body and especially upon the face of the victim, were the pest ban which shut him out from the aid and from the sympathy of his fellow-men. And the whole seizure, progress and termination of the disease, were the incidents of half an hour.

1894-1895 The Masque of the Red Death by Aubrey Beardsley mask art masquerade illustration Edgar Allan PoeBut the Prince Prospero was happy and dauntless and sagacious. Continue reading

“Religions of Error” by Ambrose Bierce

Bierce’s deep morality gets him characterized as an amoralist; Bierce’s loving humanism gets him labelled a misanthrope.
⁓The Voice before the Void

“Religions of Error”

Ambrose Bierce

Hearing a sound of strife, a Christian in the Orient asked his Dragoman the cause of it.

“The Buddhists are cutting Mohammedan throats,” the Dragoman replied, with oriental composure.

“I did not know,” remarked the Christian, with scientific interest, “that that would make so much noise.”

“The Mohammedans are cutting Buddhist throats, too,” added the Dragoman.

“It is astonishing,” mused the Christian, “how violent and how general are religious animosities. Everywhere in the world the devotees of each local faith abhor the devotees of every other, and abstain from murder only so long as they dare not commit it. And the strangest thing about it is that all religions are erroneous and mischievous excepting mine. Mine, thank God, is true and benign.” Continue reading