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Leaving Flanders (was Jourdain) - slideshow thrown in


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Trains seem to hum over rails these days

where in the past they used go clackety-clack;

you could compose a song to their rhythmic points

but they don't do that any more:

a lot of things don't happen any more.


At my back lie the fields of Flanders,

with their bone-white graves, row upon row,

and among them blood-red poppies blow,

reminding us of what? Of puffed-up old men,

of young lives thrown away?


Easy to say, so easy to contend,

yet truly hard to understand:

in the beginning there were thoughts of an end,

but in the end no memories of a beginning;

the fields, like then, soak up the falling rain.


My English newspaper, rather rare and expensive,

has slipped unread against my knee,

I gaze out through the rain-lashed windows

at Artois, at the sodden fields of Picardy:


Old Europe. They say we have now awoken,

but do we awake to the same old song? I hear

the same old siren voices, the notes of greed and fear,

that sent out the trusting provincial Pals, the lads,

to get knackered and shot and blown to shit.


No. Not again. That can't be it.




Flanders & the Somme: photo slideshow on Picasa. Click on the link below and when the album appears go to the top left corner and click on "Slideshow". Adjust the timing for 5-6 seconds (some of the captions run on a bit) and you can always hit the Pause button. Click "X" to exit.


Drown your sorrows in drink, by all means, but the real sorrows can swim

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Brendan, I like this reworked poem a lot, but I also like your original (Jourdain) poem. Taken as a two-part series, they function like the McCrae poem revisited, almost a century later, from the perspective of a thinking person of then and today.


Another poet of that time who, like McCrae, was also a combat medic of some sort, was Austrian poet GEORG TRAKL. I love the translated poems of Trakl I have read; they have been quite influential on me. It is my understanding that Trakl himself was terribly depressed by the things he saw in that war, and, ultimately commited suicide because of it: "Trakl suffered frequent bouts of depression[citation needed], exacerbated by the horror of caring for severely wounded soldiers. During one such incident in Gródek, Trakl had to steward the recovery of some ninety soldiers wounded in the fierce campaign against the Russians. He tried to shoot himself from the strain, but his comrades prevented him. Hospitalized in Kraków and placed under close observation, Trakl lapsed into deeper depression and wrote to Ficker for advice. Ficker convinced him to contact Wittgenstein. Upon receiving Trakl's note, Wittgenstein went to the hospital, but found that Trakl had committed suicide from an overdose of cocaine three days before." (from Wiki)


Here is the Wright/Bly translation of "Grodek":





At evening the woods of autumn are full of the sound

Of the weapons of death, golden fields

And blue lakes, over which the darkening sun

Rolls down; night gathers in

Dying recruits, the animal cries

Of their burst mouths.

Yet a red cloud, in which a furious god,

The spilled blood itself, has its home, silently

Gathers, a moonlike coolness in the willow bottoms;

All the roads spread out into the black mold.

Under the gold branches of the night and stars

The sister’s shadow falters through the diminishing


To greet the ghosts of the heroes, bleeding heads;

And from the reeds the sound of the dark flutes of

autumn rises.

O prouder grief! you bronze altars,

The hot flame of the spirit is fed today by a more

monstrous pain,

The unborn grandchildren.



One of the parts from Leaving Flanders that strikes me the most is where you say, the fields, like then, soak up the falling rain. It's like the picture of that mud-bowl battlefield in the slideshow. (Thank you for including that, too! ) And, as a railfan, I like your incorporation of railroads into the beginning of the poem. Indeed, much of today's rail is welded rail and, as such, does not produce the clackety-clack of yesteryear you mention.



Here is a link to an index of my works on this site: tonyv's Member Archive topic

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