Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Glory of the Day

THIS POEM IS FROM SPOON RIVER ANTHOLOGY,  EDGAR LEE MASTERS' SERIES OF POEMS TOLD IN THE VOICES OF THE DEAD OF THIS INVENTED TOWN.  THERE ARE MANY WONDERFUL POEMS IN THIS WORK: THIS IS AMONG MY FAVORITES.  OVER 100 YEARS OLD, AND TRAGICALLY NOT ANTIQUATED.  ALONG WITH THE OTHERS WE HONOR ON THIS DAY, WE MUST REMEMBER THE HARRY WILMANS' WHO HAVE JUST DIED, WHO WILL DIE TOMORROW OR THE NEXT DAY, WHO MAY OR MAY NOT BE HEROES BUT WHO ARE ALL VICTIMS OF OUR LEADERS' GREED, FIGHTING AND KILLING OTHER VICTIMS OF OTHER LEADERS' GREED.
194. Harry Wilmans

I WAS just turned twenty-one,
And Henry Phipps, the Sunday-school superintendent,
Made a speech in Bindle’s Opera House.
“The honor of the flag must be upheld,” he said,
“Whether it be assailed by a barbarous tribe of Tagalogs         5
Or the greatest power in Europe.”
And we cheered and cheered the speech and the flag he waved
As he spoke.
And I went to the war in spite of my father,
And followed the flag till I saw it raised  10
By our camp in a rice field near Manila,
And all of us cheered and cheered it.
But there were flies and poisonous things;
And there was the deadly water,
And the cruel heat,  15
And the sickening, putrid food;
And the smell of the trench just back of the tents
Where the soldiers went to empty themselves;
And there were the whores who followed us, full of syphilis;
And beastly acts between ourselves or alone,  20
With bullying, hatred, degradation among us,
And days of loathing and nights of fear
To the hour of the charge through the steaming swamp,
Following the flag,
Till I fell with a scream, shot through the guts.  25
Now there’s a flag over me in Spoon River!
A flag! A flag!

2 comments:

Jim said...

Wars are fought by young men because you can't get the older ones to go.

I may have to read this, although I typically "don't like poetry." :)

karen lindsey said...

this is one of those poems that's both good poetry and very accessible--looking it up for the occasion i realize how long it's been since i read the whole book. so yet another small summer project [s]

re your quote: you remember phil ochs and his song 'i ain't marchin any more'?----and the line, 'it's always the old who lead us to the wars, and always the young who die...'