“The Next War” by Wilfred Owen

Armistice Day:
A rebuke.

“The Next War”

Wilfred Owen

“War’s a joke for me and you,
While we know such dreams are true.”
Siegfried Sassoon

Out there, we’ve walked quite friendly up to Death,-
Sat down and eaten with him, cool and bland,-
Pardoned his spilling mess-tins in our hand.
We’ve sniffed the green thick odour of his breath,-
Our eyes wept, but our courage didn’t writhe.
He’s spat at us with bullets and he’s coughed
Shrapnel. We chorussed when he sang aloft,
We whistled while he shaved us with his scythe.

Oh, Death was never enemy of ours!
We laughed at him, we leagued with him, old chum.
No soldier’s paid to kick against His powers.
We laughed, -knowing that better men would come,
And greater wars: when each proud fighter brags
He wars on Death, for lives; not men, for flags.

“A highly successful raid” by R.L. Johnson and The Voice before the Void

The spectacle of that woman’s grief being exploited in the U.S. Capitol embarrassed me and disgusted me; commentators and newsreaders describing it as “moving” amplified my revulsion. The commonplace exaltation of murdered military personnel paired with the commonplace disregard of militarily murdered people remains perpetually disappointing… and embarrassing, and disgusting.
-The Voice before the Void

“A highly successful raid”

R.L. Johnson and The Voice before the Void

Children and Ryan Owens fall dying,
the dust turning to soft mud in their eyes;
amid gunshots and wailing and crying,
the Devil alone can claim any prize.
The sounds of the battle are but distant,
the flashes of light dim and far away;
young lives pass into death nonexistent:
I read it all in the fake news today.

“America First” is clearly the motto
as bold leaders call Owens a hero
and make a spectacle of his widow,
so Americans snack and play the lotto
as their soldiers die for ol’ PepsiCo
and Yemeni children die for nothing.

“The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus

Immigration has been a charged – and ugly – political issue in the U.S. for all of its history. It seems almost miraculous that this sonnet, and the French statue in New York, exist as components of U.S. culture.

Perhaps one day a colossal metal monument of welcome to tired, poor, wretched, yearning masses will be built along the U.S.-Mexico border.

This quoted in the Wikipedia article on the statue:

“‘Liberty enlightening the world,’ indeed! The expression makes us sick. This government is a howling farce. It can not or rather does not protect its citizens within its own borders. Shove the Bartholdi statue, torch and all, into the ocean until the ‘liberty’ of this country is such as to make it possible for an inoffensive and industrious colored man to earn a respectable living for himself and family, without being ku-kluxed, perhaps murdered, his daughter and wife outraged, and his property destroyed. The idea of the ‘liberty’ of this country ‘enlightening the world,’ or even Patagonia, is ridiculous in the extreme.”
–“Postponing Bartholdi’s statue until there is liberty for colored as well,” The Cleveland Gazette, 1886 November 27

“The New Colossus”

Emma Lazarus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
MOTHER OF EXILES. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

“What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why” by Edna St. Vincent Millay

All lost, all forgotten.
-The Voice before the Void

“What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why”

Edna St. Vincent Millay

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
Under my head till morning; but the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply,
And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain
For unremembered lads that not again
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.
Thus in the winter stands the lonely tree,
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,
Yet knows its boughs more silent than before:
I cannot say what loves have come and gone,
I only know that summer sang in me
A little while, that in me sings no more.

“H.P. Lovecraft, An Evaluation” by Joseph Payne Brennan

H.P. Lovecraft’s Birthday:
Quite a prescient consideration.
-The Voice before the Void

“H.P. Lovecraft, An Evaluation”

Joseph Payne Brennan

MACABRE HOUSE
55 Trumbull St.
New Haven 10
Connecticut

Since the publication of my “H. P. Lovecraft: A Bibliography” (Biblio Press, 1952), I have been repeatedly urged to write out my opinion of Lovecraft’s work. I have been kept from doing so by the pressure of a full-time library job, plus my own creative work in the diverse fields of the horror story, the western story, and poetry, as well as the semi-annual publication of ESSENCE and other time-consuming activities such as an unending struggle against censorship groups which are violating Constitutional rights on both a local and national level.

The following brief essay is an admittedly hurried and incomplete attempt to meet demands for a Lovecraft critique. An entire book, requiring many months of uninterrupted work, could be devoted to the project and I sincerely regret that circumstances do not permit me to undertake such a task. But I hope that my comments, in spite of their brevity, will be of some interest. Continue reading

“One Morning” by Ambrose Bierce

St. Valentine’s Day Special:
How to apologize for running late.

“One Morning”

Ambrose Bierce

Because that I am weak, my love, and ill,
I cannot follow the impatient feet
Of my desire, but sit and watch the beat
Of the unpitying pendulum fulfill
The hour appointed for the air to thrill
And brighten at your coming. O my sweet,
The tale of moments is at last complete—
The tryst is broken on the gusty hill!
O lady, faithful-footed, loyal-eyed,
The long leagues silence me; yet doubt me not;
Think rather that the clock and sun have lied
And all too early, you have sought the spot.
For lo! despair has darkened all the light,
And till I see your face it still is night.

“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

“Anthem for Doomed Youth” by Wilfred Owen

World War I:
Every day since, and every day forever, is somber, for the memory of millions.
⁓The Voice before the Void

“Anthem for Doomed Youth”

Wilfred Owen

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.

“The Bad Year” by Edward William Thomson

Winter Special:
So we try to get through.
⁓The Voice before the Void

“The Bad Year”

Edward William Thomson

May, blighted by keen frosts, passed on to June;
No blooms, but many a stalk with drooping leaves,
And arid Summer wilted these full soon,
And Autumn gathered up no wealthy sheaves;
Plaintive October saddened for the year,
But wild November raged that hope was past,
Shrieking, “All days of life are made how drear —
Wild whirls of snow! and Death comes driving fast.”
Yet sane December when the winds fell low,
And cold calm light with sunshine tinkled clear,
Harkened to bells more sweet than long ago,
And meditated in a mind sincere: —

“Beneath these snows shining from yon red west
How sleep the blooms of some delighted May,
And June shall riot, lovely as the best
That flung their odors forth on all their way;
Yes, violet Spring, the balms of her soft breath,
Her birdlike voice, the child-joy in her air,
Her gentle colors” — sane December saith
“They come, they come — O heart, sigh not ‘They were.'”

“Cold are the Crabs” by Edward Lear

Here it all is, here it was…
Such is life.
⁓The Voice before the Void

“Cold are the Crabs”

Edward Lear

Cold are the crabs that crawl on yonder hills
Colder the cucumbers that grow beneath, Continue reading

“When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes” by William Shakespeare

Love expressed.
⁓The Voice before the Void

“When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes”

William Shakespeare

When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
(Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth) sings hymns at heaven’s gate;

For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

“Ash Wednesday” by Rosa Zagnoni Marinoni

Ash Wednesday Special:
Lovers of darkness can find much to appreciate in the art and imagery of a billion-strong death cult that fetishizes an executed criminal agitator; few can celebrate morbidity as avidly.
⁓The Voice before the Void

“Ash Wednesday”

Rosa Zagnoni Marinoni

Of votive lights there were only seven,
And each burned a prayer to the God in heaven.
Five candles were blue, one green, and one red,
Six burned for the living, and one for the dead.
The belfry was old and the church was bare.
Only the voice of the wind and the rain was there.
“I can snuff the candles,” said the voice of the rain
As downward it drifted through a cracked window pane,
“I can snuff the candles!” said the wind in the eaves,
“Who cares for a hope, or a heart that grieves?”
And the blue lights flickered, and the green one died
Before the bowed head of the meek Crucified.
But the last to flicker was the one bright red–
The candle that burned for the lonely dead.

“How do I love thee?” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

St. Valentine’s Day Special:
One of the most famed sonnets of the English language.
⁓The Voice before the Void

“How do I love thee?”

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love with a passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

“Fredericksburg” by Thomas Bailey Aldrich

Battle of Fredericksburg Anniversary Special:
Ever do men destroy each other.
⁓The Voice before the Void

“Fredericksburg”

Thomas Bailey Aldrich

The increasing moonlight drifts across my bed,
And on the churchyard by the road, I know
It falls as white and noiselessly as snow. . . .
‘T was such a night two weary summers fled;
The stars, as now, were waning overhead.
Listen! Again the shrill-lipped bugles blow
Where the swift currents of the river flow
Past Fredericksburg; far off the heavens are red
With sudden conflagration; on yon height,
Linstock in hand, the gunners hold their breath;
A signal rocket pierces the dense night,
Flings its spent stars upon the town beneath:
Hark!–the artillery massing on the right,
Hark!–the black squadrons wheeling down to Death!

“Uncalled” by Madison Cawein

The everlasting hail of failure; the everlasting hail of the dead.
⁓The Voice before the Void

“Uncalled”

Madison Cawein

As one, who, journeying westward with the sun,
Beholds at length from the up-towering hills,
Far-off, a land unspeakable beauty fills,
Circean peaks and vales of Avalon:
And, sinking weary, watches, one by one,
The big seas beat between; and knows it skills
No more to try; that now, as Heaven wills,
This is the helpless end, that all is done:
So ’tis with him, whom long a vision led
In quest of Beauty; and who finds at last
She lies beyond his effort; all the waves
Of all the world between them: while the dead,
The myriad dead, who people all the past
With failure, hail him from forgotten graves.

“As I approach the last of all my days” by Petrarch

Poetry matters more than all else, yet not at all.
⁓The Voice before the Void

“As I approach the last of all my days”

Petrarch

translated from the Italian by Lorna de’ Lucchi

As I approach the last of all my days,
So brief by reason of its dower of pain,
Light-footed time speeds swiftly from my gaze
And faith in him proves profitless and vain.
Then to myself I say: “A little space
And we will sing no more at Love’s behest,
Like snow these earthly chains will melt apace
And we be gathered peacefully to rest.

Since Love must pass away, even so must all
The dreams for which we bartered heaven and earth,
Our fears, our sorrows, and our boist’rous mirth;
Then we shall know how oft it doth befall
That men strive after things of trivial worth,
And sigh for that which matters not at all.”

“Attack” by Siegfried Sassoon

First Day on the Somme Anniversary Special:
World War I commands a darkness incomparable.
⁓The Voice before the Void

“Attack”

Siegfried Sassoon

At dawn the ridge emerges massed and dun
In the wild purple of the glow’ring sun,
Smouldering through spouts of drifting smoke that shroud
The menacing scarred slope; and, one by one,
Tanks creep and topple forward to the wire.
The barrage roars and lifts. Then, clumsily bowed
With bombs and guns and shovels and battle-gear,
Men jostle and climb to meet the bristling fire.
Lines of grey, muttering faces, masked with fear,
They leave their trenches, going over the top,
While time ticks blank and busy on their wrists,
And hope, with furtive eyes and grappling fists,
Flounders in mud. O Jesus, make it stop!

“Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley

All pride is vanity; all that exists will cease: one of the great English sonnets.
⁓The Voice before the Void

“Ozymandias”

Percy Bysshe Shelley

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

“As to some lovely temple, tenantless” by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Sensual, macabre: a love poem as you’d expect from Millay.
⁓The Voice before the Void

“As to some lovely temple, tenantless”

Edna St. Vincent Millay

As to some lovely temple, tenantless
Long since, that once was sweet with shivering brass,
Knowing well its altars ruined and the grass
Grown up between the stones, yet from excess
Of grief hard driven, or great loneliness,
The worshiper returns, and those who pass
Marvel him crying on a name that was, —
So is it now with me in my distress.
Your body was a temple to Delight;
Cold are its ashes whence the breath is fled,
Yet here one time your spirit was wont to move;
Here might I hope to find you day or night,
And here I come to look for you, my love,
Even now, foolishly, knowing you are dead.

“Into the Blizzard: Suicide by Ice” by The Voice before the Void

For much of the year in North Dakota and other obliteratingly cold climates, suicide can be as simple as going for a walk: an original sonnet.
⁓The Voice before the Void

“Into the Blizzard: Suicide by Ice”

The Voice before the Void

O Bastard blizzard blowing ice and smite:
Come; claim these fingers and these toes, this nose–
Of them no need have I where I go, where
Cold has no hold, where sun shall not heat me,
Nor wind freeze me, nor sorrow deplete me.
Blow you ice wind about my brow; cleanse my
Mind of the lies required of the alive–
Replace them with ice; encase me in ice.

My skin invisible through your flurries,
My voice inaudible above your roar,
Tonight when I sink in your drifts clean, pure,
To sleep, I shall be forced to rise no more.
At last, at long last: in ice I be free;
My Heart, my scorched Heart: calmed, cooled, finally.

“The End of the World” by Archibald MacLeish

A powerful subject; a powerful sonnet.
⁓The Voice before the Void

“The End of the World”

Archibald MacLeish

Quite unexpectedly, as Vasserot
The armless ambidextrian was lighting
A match between his great and second toe,
And Ralph the lion was engaged in biting
The neck of Madame Sossman while the drum
Pointed, and Teeny was about to cough
In waltz-time swinging Jocko by the thumb
Quite unexpectedly, the top blew off:

And there, there overhead, there, there hung over
Those thousands of white faces, those dazed eyes,
There in the starless dark, the poise, the hover,
There with vast wings across the cancelled skies,
There in the sudden blackness the black pall
Of nothing, nothing, nothing — nothing at all.