Commonplace Book: Memorial Day Poetry: Sorley, Klemm, Pound

anzacRayner Hoff’s Sacrifice inside the ANZAC War Memorial (Sydney, Australia).

‘When you see millions of the mouthless dead’
by Charles Hamilton Sorley

When you see millions of the mouthless dead
Across your dreams in pale battalions go,
Say not soft things other men have said,
That you’ll remember. For you need not so.
Give them not praise. For, deaf, how should they know
It is not curses on each gashed head?
Nor tears. Their blind eyes see not your tears flow.
Nor honour. It is easy to be dead.
Say only this, ‘They are dead.’ Then add thereto,
‘Yet many a better one has died before.’
Then, scanning all the o’ercrowded mass, should you
Perceive one face that you loved heretofore,
It is a spook. None wears the face you know.
Great deaths has made all this for evermore.

zonnebekeWorld War I – Zonnebeke, by William Orpen

by Wilhelm Klemm

Straw rustling everywhere.
The candle-stumps stand there staring solemnly.
Across the nocturnal vault of the church
Moans go drifting and choking words.

There’s a stench of blood, pus, shit, and sweat.
Bandages ooze away underneath torn uniforms.
Clammy trembling hands and wasted faces.
Bodies stay propped up as their dying heads slump down.

In the distance the battle thunders grimly on,
Day and night, groaning and grumbling non-stop,
And to the dying men patiently waiting for their graves
It sounds for all the world like the words of God.

November 1914

Translated from the German by Patrick Bridgwater.

From Hugh Selwyn Mauberly
by Ezra Pound


These fought in any case,
and some believing,
pro domo, in any case …
Some quick to arm,
some for adventure,
some from fear of weakness,
some from fear of censure,
some for love of slaughter, in imagination,
learning later …
some in fear, learning love of slaughter;

Died some, pro patria,
non “dulce” non “et decor” …
walked eye-deep in hell
believing in old men’s lies, then unbelieving
came home, home to a lie,
home to many deceits,
home to old lies and new infamy;
usury age-old and age-thick
and liars in public places.

Daring as never before, wastage as never before.
Young blood and high blood,
fair cheeks, and fine bodies;

fortitude as never before

frankness as never before,
disillusions as never told in the old days,
hysterias, trench confessions,
laughter out of dead bellies.

There died a myriad,
And of the best, among them,
For an old bitch gone in the teeth,
For a botched civilization,

Charm, smiling at the good mouth,
Quick eyes gone under earth’s lid,

For two gross of broken statues,
For a few thousand battered books.



Sorley and Klemm from The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry, Edited by Jon Silken

Pound from The Oxford Book of American Poetry, Chosen and Edited by David Lehman

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