“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.

There is Life Before Reading Moby-Dick, and There is Life After Reading Moby-Dick

Life is paradox.
-The Voice before the Void

There is Life Before Reading Moby-Dick, and There is Life After Reading Moby-Dick

Works mentioned:
Report to Greco by Nikos Kazantzakis
Moby-Dick; or, The Whale by Herman Melville
Education of a Wandering Man by Louis L’Amour
“The Fiddler” by Herman Melville
50 Great American Short Stories edited by Milton Crane
“I and My Chimney” by Herman Melville
Great Short Works of Herman Melville edited by Warner Berthoff
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
“Arma Virumque” by Ambrose Bierce
The Sermon on the Mount by Jesus
The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark by William Shakespeare
The Tragedy of Macbeth by William Shakespeare
In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick
The Sea-Wolf by Jack London
The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot

Other authors mentioned:
Homer
Mark Twain
Robert Benchley
Patrick F. McManus
Nathaniel Hawthorne
Edgar Allan Poe
H.P. Lovecraft

“Voynich manuscript” from Wikipedia

Genuine mysteries are so very rare, but here is an artifact of an unknown language, an unknown botany, an unknown madness, an unknown world.
-The Voice before the Void

“Voynich manuscript”

Wikipedia

The Voynich manuscript is an illustrated codex hand-written in an unknown writing system. The vellum on which it is written has been carbon-dated to the early 15th century (1404–1438), and it may have been composed in Northern Italy during the Italian Renaissance. The manuscript is named after Wilfrid Voynich, a Polish book dealer who purchased it in 1912.

Voynich manuscript undeciphered untranslated unknown language mystery tome grimoire rare medieval codex book Beinecke Library Yale University page 181 folio 102 recto weird plantsSome of the pages are missing, with around 240 still remaining. The text is written from left to right, and most of the pages have illustrations or diagrams. Some pages are foldable sheets.

The Voynich manuscript has been studied by many professional and amateur cryptographers, including American and British codebreakers from both World War I and World War II. No one has yet succeeded in deciphering the text, and it has become a famous case in the history of cryptography. The mystery of the meaning and origin of the manuscript has excited the popular imagination, making the manuscript the subject of novels and speculation. None of the many hypotheses proposed over the last hundred years has yet been independently verified. Continue reading

Money for the Machinery of Human Slaughter by Charles Edward Jefferson

U.S. Inauguration Day:
The portentousness can be petrifying.
As the First World War was obliterating millions of lives in Europe, before the United States entered that war, military “preparedness” was a key political topic in the U.S.: Should a nation presently at peace prepare for potential future war?
Clergyman Jefferson argues here that to refuse to arm yourself against your fellow humans is an act of pure strength; to arm yourself, an act of pure fear; and, Clergyman Jefferson writes, “Christians” ought have nobler emotions than fear to motivate their actions.
Genuine “Christian” morality of uncompromising pacifism and self-sacrificing charity – pacifism even when your enemies murder you; charity even when you starve – is as powerful and as impressive and as deserving of veneration as it is rare to find publicly expressed, either eloquently or vulgarly; and, where expressed, it can be expected to be popularly ignored if not outright derided.
Clergyman Jefferson also writes that if you “create a war machine,” you cannot know who will use it, nor whether the next U.S. president will be a “megalomaniac… who, when he wants a thing, takes it.”
-The Voice before the Void

Money for the Machinery of Human Slaughter

from “Military Preparedness a Danger to Democracy”

Charles Edward Jefferson

published in The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 1916 July

edited by William Dudley and The Voice before the Void

“Why We Do Not Behave Like Human Beings” by Ralph Adams Cram, with Discussion

U.S. Inauguration Day:
“All the multiple manifestations of a free and democratic society fail of their predicted issue, and we find ourselves lapped in confusion and numb with disappointment and chagrin.”

“Why We Do Not Behave Like Human Beings”

Ralph Adams Cram

The Ancient doctrine of progressive evolution which became dominant during the last half of the nineteenth century, was, I suggest, next to the religious and philosophical dogmas of Dr. Calvin and the political and social doctrines of M. Rousseau, the most calamitous happening of the last millennium. In union with Protestantism and democracy, and apparently justified in its works by the amazing technological civilization fostered by coal, iron, steam and electricity, it is responsible for the present estate of society, from which there is no escape, it would seem, except through comprehensive calamity. Continue reading

“Lament” by Wilfrid Wilson Gibson

Armistice Day:
Survivor’s guilt – and we are all survivors, and are all guilty for all of war.
-The Voice before the Void

“Lament”

Wilfrid Wilson Gibson

We who are left, how shall we look again
Happily on the sun, or feel the rain, Continue reading

“Ronald Skirth” from Wikipedia

Armistice Day:
The only type of war hero that ought be celebrated.
-The Voice before the Void

“Ronald Skirth”

Wikipedia

John Ronald Skirth (11 December 1897 – 1977) served in the Royal Garrison Artillery during the First World War. His experiences during the Battle of Messines and the Battle of Passchendaele led him to resolve not to take human life, and for the rest of his army service he made deliberate errors in targeting calculations to try to ensure the guns of his battery missed their aiming point on the first attempt, giving the enemy a chance to evacuate. Many years later, after retiring from a career as a teacher, he wrote a memoir of his years in the army, describing his disillusionment with the conduct of the war and his conversion to pacifism. In 2010 the memoir was published as The Reluctant Tommy, edited by Duncan Barrett.

1. Early life and war service

Skirth was born in Chelmsford and grew up in Bexhill-on-Sea. In the First World War, having volunteered for the British Army under the Derby Scheme, and having requested that the process be expedited, he was called up in October 1916, two months before his 19th birthday. 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

“The Rainbow” by Leslie Coulson

World War I:
Soldier’s war poetry. Crushing, wrenching, unmatchable poetry.
-The Voice before the Void

“The Rainbow”

Leslie Coulson

Watch the white dawn gleam,
To the thunder of hidden guns.
I hear the hot shells scream
Through skies as sweet as a dream
Where the silver dawn-break runs.
And stabbing of light
Scorches the virginal white.
But I feel in my being the old, high, sanctified thrill,
And I thank the gods that the dawn is beautiful still.

From death that hurtles by
I crouch in the trench day-long,
But up to a cloudless sky
From the ground where our dead men lie
A brown lark soars in song.
Through the tortured air,
Rent by the shrapnel’s flare,
Over the troubleless dead he carols his fill,
And I thank the gods that the birds are beautiful still.

Where the parapet is low
And level with the eye
Poppies and cornflowers glow
And the corn sways to and fro
In a pattern against the sky.
The gold stalks hide
Bodies of men who died
Charging at dawn through the dew to be killed or to kill.
I thank the gods that the flowers are beautiful still.

When night falls dark we creep
In silence to our dead.
We dig a few feet deep
And leave them there to sleep —
But blood at night is red,
Yea, even at night,
And a dead man’s face is white.
And I dry my hands, that are also trained to kill,
And I look at the stars — for the stars are beautiful still.

“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.

“Song of the Zeppelin” by Violet D. Chapman

World War I:
During the First World War, Zeppelins bombed cities in France, Britain, Belgium, Russia, Greece, Romania, and Italy.
-The Voice before the Void

“Song of the Zeppelin”

Violet D. Chapman

The night-wind is humming,
My engines are thrumming,
Swift as a spark
Through the night and the dark
I am silently speeding;
Hovering grim and gray
Over my human prey,
Sowing the seeds of dearth
Over the stricken earth,
Where nations lie bleeding. Continue reading

“A Balloon Attack” by James Norman Hall

World War I:
American volunteer pilots in the Lafayette Escadrille of the French air service target German observation balloons behind enemy lines in Hall’s wry – and, at times, beautiful – first-hand account of flying in the First World War.
-The Voice before the Void

“A Balloon Attack”

from High Adventure: A Narrative of Air Fighting in France

James Norman Hall

“I’m looking for two balloonatics,” said Talbott, as he came into the messroom; “and I think I’ve found them.”

Percy, Talbott’s orderly, Tiffin the steward, Drew, and I were the only occupants of the room. Percy is an old légionnaire, crippled with rheumatism. His active service days are over. Tiffin’s working hours are filled with numberless duties. He makes the beds, and serves food from three to five times daily to members of the Escadrille Lafayette. These two being eliminated, the identity of the balloonatics was plain.

“The orders have just come,” Talbott added, “and I decided that the first men I met after leaving the bureau would be balloonatics. Virtue has gone into both of you. Now, if you can make fire come out of a Boche sausage, you will have done all that is required. Listen. This is interesting. The orders are in French, but I will translate as I read:—

On the umteenth day of June, the escadrilles of Groupe de Combat Blank [that’s ours] will cooperate in an attack on the German observation balloons Continue reading

“Who Made the Law?” by Leslie Coulson

World War I:
Soldier’s war poetry.

“Who Made the Law?”

Leslie Coulson

Who made the Law that men should die in meadows?
Who spake the word that blood should splash in lanes?
Who gave it forth that gardens should be bone-yards?
Who spread the hills with flesh, and blood, and brains?
Who made the Law?

Who made the Law that Death should stalk the village?
Who spake the word to kill among the sheaves,
Who gave it forth that death should lurk in hedgerows,
Who flung the dead among the fallen leaves?
Who made the Law?

Those who return shall find that peace endures,
Find old things old, and know the things they knew,
Walk in the garden, slumber by the fireside,
Share the peace of dawn, and dream amid the dew —
Those who return.

Those who return shall till the ancient pastures,
Clean-hearted men shall guide the plough-horse reins,
Some shall grow apples and flowers in the valleys,
Some shall go courting in summer down the lanes —
THOSE WHO RETURN.

But who made the Law? the Trees shall whisper to him:
“See, see the blood — the splashes on our bark!”
Walking the meadows, he shall hear bones crackle,
And fleshless mouths shall gibber in silent lanes at dark.
Who made the Law?

Who made the Law? At noon upon the hillside
His ears shall hear a moan, his cheeks shall feel a breath,
And all along the valleys, past gardens, crofts, and homesteads,
HE who made the Law,
He who made the Law,
He who made the Law shall walk along with Death.

“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.

“Dead Man’s Dump” by Isaac Rosenberg

World War I:
Soldier’s war poetry.

“Dead Man’s Dump”

Isaac Rosenberg

The plunging limbers over the shattered track
Racketed with their rusty freight,
Stuck out like many crowns of thorns,
And the rusty stakes like sceptres old
To stay the flood of brutish men
Upon our brothers dear.

The wheels lurched over sprawled dead
But pained them not, though their bones crunched;
Their shut mouths made no moan.
They lie there huddled, friend and foeman,
Man born of man, and born of woman;
And shells go crying over them
From night till night and now. Continue reading

“I Have a Rendezvous with Death” by Alan Seeger

World War I:
Soldier’s war poetry.

“I Have a Rendezvous with Death”

Alan Seeger

I have a rendezvous with Death
At some disputed barricade,
When Spring comes back with rustling shade
And apple-blossoms fill the air–
I have a rendezvous with Death
When Spring brings back blue days and fair.

It may be he shall take my hand
And lead me into his dark land
And close my eyes and quench my breath–
It may be I shall pass him still.
I have a rendezvous with Death
On some scarred slope of battered hill,
When Spring comes round again this year
And the first meadow-flowers appear.

God knows ’twere better to be deep
Pillowed in silk and scented down,
Where love throbs out in blissful sleep,
Pulse nigh to pulse, and breath to breath,
Where hushed awakenings are dear…
But I’ve a rendezvous with Death
At midnight in some flaming town,
When Spring trips north again this year,
And I to my pledged word am true,
I shall not fail that rendezvous.

“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.

“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.

“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