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Poetry Magnum Opus

the gravedigger in the great war


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All sides pursue a parallax,inject dye
into history's eye the propaganda is
refined. Death's view is fixed from land,sea,sky.
A row of graves death's deft hands cannot miss,
he strokes them like piano keys, I dig this last
grave the sounds of war drive me to the core
I encounter earthly wounds. In a blast
he lost his face my last burial before
sirens sound. Where will my last client find his
death mask?-do the staircases to heaven and
hell intersect?-reflecting the shared abyss
all sides swap death masks. Incarnated from sands
out of the desert of ideology fascists
remain on war- wait for their alchemist.

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The scene suggested by the title is superb, The resulting images stark and stirring, and the last line is just great!



thegateless.org Come on over and check out my poetry substack y'all;-) Or if your bored, head to the Zazzle store: https://www.zazzle.com/store/gateless. If you buy anything I lose a bet, so consider that before you violate the digital rules.



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Many threads of philosophical thoughts here, connected with stark images and the shadowing mood. A lot said with so few lines, leaving the reader to follow the implications.


"A row of graves death's deft hands cannot miss,

he strokes them like piano keys" sends me to Arlington and the cemeteries in France. Death personified with grace and art.


"Where will my last client find his

death mask?-do the staircases to heaven and

hell intersect?-reflecting the shared abyss

all sides swap death masks." To me, this is the crux and theme. Death makes us all pacifists.


I'm worried that I think I'm beginning to understand and appreciate your work. ;)



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WW1 is often neglected, but not here. Loved:


he strokes them like piano keys




do the staircases to heaven and
hell intersect?


Thoughtful, reflective, and gives a bit of warning.

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Powerful work carefully done, with so much to take in. After a hundred years the industrial slaughter and savagery of the "great war" is still hard to comprehend. The phrase "great war" could arguably, also apply to the traits of human nature which took us there, and are still there for all to see in the modern world... Like begets like, springs to mind.

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  • 1 month later...
David W. Parsley

Hi Barry, this gem in the making required several reads (maybe I'm just getting dull witted!) and a few sleep-on-its. Despite its difficulty this poem is recognizably rooted in the real world, in fact the very present world of Now, not just the "Great" War. In the recurrent context of fascism, which today appears to be in an ascendant phase, the grave digger would seem to represent the burden of labor that must deal with the legacy of glorified violence. The multiplied victims of mechanized death fall to the care of the true heir of fascist passion. Here that heir is finally defeated and inured to his task, so much so that he/she may be seen as a conscious partner of Breughelian Death making music of our passing. Humanity is reduced to the impersonality of gruesome agency: "I am the grass. Let me work." as Sandburg would say. Powerful.


Most people, including PMO commentators like myself, would identify the Great War as WWI. The tone and images of the poem unquestionably reinforce that, as with the sirens and the ubiquitous death masks (suggesting gas masks). Fascism was an outgrowth of that conflict, which works with the alchemy and the dye injection, using the Great War's aftermath to generate the basis for fascist propaganda. In this way, the poem can serve as a warning to those repeating the cycle of ultra-nationalism and its attendant hatreds. What seems to be missing is a suggestion of what current history is being colored to serve advancement of ideology. For me the poem, so refreshingly grounded in matters of current concern, is not fully tacked down.


Does the theme's development simply outsize the chosen form? Themes of this magnitude often prove too large for a sonnet. Or maybe the poem's mid-section could be contracted to make room for the missing connection to Now, to preserve the power inherent in the form's brevity.


A few technical comments:

  • The word "last" occurs three times - the poem can not bear them. Try omitting or synonomizing.
  • The word "death" occurs four times - the poem can not bear them. Try omitting or synonomizing.
  • Using articles and conjunctions as rhyme words should be avoided where possible. Don't do it more than once in a short form like the sonnet.
  • "I encounter earthly wounds" seems pedestrian and redundant.
  • Nice job of avoiding the repetition of "he" - only twice!
  • Nice play on words with "dye" which not only sounds like "die", it visibly bleeds!
  • Incisive originality in verb-play: the sides pursue parallax; fascists remain on war (i.e. like on task); etc.

The imagery and symbolism are highly original and appropriate in their own contexts. For this reader these contexts do not intersect to a cohesive metaphysic. The dyeing, piano stroking, sand incarnations (becoming an over-used word for you, by the way), face loss/masking, and alchemy do not come together. It could probably be done, but not in the confines of a sonnet.


To this reader, the poem is a diamond in the rough, one refreshingly tied to the concrete here and now. Moving.



- Dave

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  • 2 weeks later...
Frank E Gibbard

To add to the favourable responses this is a fine memorialising of the torments of that war to end all wars good wordplay here, one of your best; Frank.

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