Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Ars Poetica as Ars Rhetorica: The Third Sacred Art, in War Poetry


“The greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see something and tell what it saw in a plain way. Hundreds of people can talk for one who can think, but thousands can think for one who can see. To see clearly is poetry, prophecy and religion, all in one.” - John Ruskin

As civilization collapses, and the Long Descent get under way, the Liberal Arts will need to be preserved within a new form: the old forms will disintegrate like worn out clothes along with the civilization and culture which re-embodied them from the Greco-Roman era; people will be too busy surviving to be bothered as a group by paying homage to things directly associated with the current unfolding debacle. Since Poetry is the preeminent art of the common man, we will embody the third sacred discipline in an ark of poetry. Actually, it is already present there, embedded in the form - we only need to uncover and discover it. There are other options, but this one is calculated to survive the very worst: even the Dark Ages honored and revered their bards and poets and vates.

Rhetoric, even poetic rhetoric, has lately already come in for a very bad name and reputation. "Rhetoric" is a dirty word on most lips. Yet strangely enough (for all that), propaganda, memes, and group-think are more powerful than ever. The old progressive saying: I am principled, you are stubborn, he is bull headed, applies nowhere more powerfully than in rhetoric: it's all right when we do it, and we don't see our own self manipulation like we see it in others. So the word Rhetoric is quite tainted. And is still avidly practiced. For humans cannot do entirely without the (seven) elements of style: clarity, grandeur, beauty, rapidity, character, sincerity and force (see Hermogenes). This is all the more true, as the darkness deepens, and the hypocrisy thickens.

Then out spoke brave Horatius, the Captain of the Gate:
“To every man upon this earth, death cometh soon or late;
And how can man die better than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers, and the temples of his Gods?"

In order to even better study the rhetoric of poetry, we have selected the genre of "war poetry". The stark contrast it will provide between images of life and death, and also in the positive or negative ways it handles the realities of war, should allow us to test the inherent fluidity, ambiguity, and mercenary nature of our elusive prey: true Rhetoric. Is there any such thing? We will endeavor to put it to an utmost test, and see. And if there is, can it be shown to participate in what is sacred? And how?

We begin our journey through the huge "Zodiac" of war poetry.

Here is a prophecy from GK Chesterton, phrased in simple, homely, Anglo-Saxon "rhetoric", from the end of The Ballad of the White Horse.

    I have a vision, and I know
    The heathen shall return.
    "They shall not come with warships,
    They shall not waste with brands,
    But books be all their eating,
    And ink be on their hands.
    "Not with the humour of hunters
    Or savage skill in war,
    But ordering all things with dead words,
    Strings shall they make of beasts and birds,
    And wheels of wind and star.
    "They shall come mild as monkish clerks,
    With many a scroll and pen;
    And backward shall ye turn and gaze,
    Desiring one of Alfred's days,
    When pagans still were men.
    "The dear sun dwarfed of dreadful suns,
    Like fiercer flowers on stalk,
    Earth lost and little like a pea
    In high heaven's towering forestry,
    --These be the small weeds ye shall see
    Crawl, covering the chalk.
    "But though they bridge St. Mary's sea,
    Or steal St. Michael's wing--
    Though they rear marvels over us,
    Greater than great Vergilius
    Wrought for the Roman king;
    "By this sign you shall know them,
    The breaking of the sword,
    And man no more a free knight,
    That loves or hates his lord.
    "Yea, this shall be the sign of them,
    The sign of the dying fire;
    And Man made like a half-wit,
    That knows not of his sire.
    "What though they come with scroll and pen,
    And grave as a shaven clerk,
    By this sign you shall know them,
    That they ruin and make dark;
    "By all men bond to Nothing,
    Being slaves without a lord,
    By one blind idiot world obeyed,
    Too blind to be abhorred;
    "By terror and the cruel tales
    Of curse in bone and kin,
    By weird and weakness winning,
    Accursed from the beginning,
    By detail of the sinning,
    And denial of the sin;
    "By thought a crawling ruin,
    By life a leaping mire,
    By a broken heart in the breast of the world,
    And the end of the world's desire;
    "By God and man dishonoured,
    By death and life made vain,
    Know ye the old barbarian,
    The barbarian come again--

Almost everyone loves The Lord of the Rings, but few would mine it for "prophecy" or "transcendental insight". But can it be done? Better, could we do it with the material from our own history, rather than a sub-creation? Can we take the epic and the tragic and the dramatic within fantastical war poetry (for war truly is "fantastic" and disorienting, the source of annihilation and regeneration), and derive something that leads towards Gnosis?

I have found an argument for this, and well made - when the poet is farthest from mystic knowledge, his product in poetry is most capable of drawing us precisely to that mystical knowledge, denied to the poet. Conversely, the more mystical he is, the less capable his poetry is of inspiring us to higher knowledge. St John of the Cross is not remembered for his poetry. The poet sacrifices his own experience, and embeds it within his craft. This is Abbe Bremond's argument concerning mysticism and poetry, cited in Brockington's Mysticism and Poetry on the Basis of Experience.

Il y a une autre pensee que la pansee abstraite et discursive; une autre connaissance que la connaissance conceptuelle et rationelle; ni la connaissance reelle, ni la rationelle, lesquelles, d'ailleurs, ne se developpent pas l'une sans l'autre, n s'achevent sans impliquer l'exercise des facultes que met divinement en oeuvre la vie mystique. D'ou l'excellence, et tout ensemble l'imperfection essentialle de l'experience poetique: pierre d'attente d'une experience plus haute, qu'elle appelle, en quelque sorte, mais ou d'elle-meme elle ne saurait conduire, qu'elle empecherait plutot. 
Poetry calls out for mysticism, but is a rock, which cannot summon it, except second hand, by pointing us towards mysticism, while blocking the path of the poet. As a working amateur poet, I will second this thesis - my poetry was a "residue" which I produced of a missing or missed experience, which comforted me in the absence of mystic achievement, and turned me aside from finding such.

We can define poetry as rhetoric par excellence, even more than grammar or logic par excellence - rhetoric is the peak of poetry, vivid grammar and mature logic, raised to a height or pitch of intensity. At this height or peak, it cannot reach true Gnosis, but rather substitutes for it, crystallizing the failure as a symbol or relic of what might be possible. Poetry is a record of both the fall and the ongoing (but not completed) redemption of man. What else is the apotheosis of war, but a recognition that man lacks neither the will, nor the desire, but rather a certain level of being?

Of course, ideally (and in an older time), even this poetic impasse was resolved by the reconciliation of mysticism with verse. See Harold Weatherby or Charles Upton on this subject.

This stark contrast between Life and Death, and between Heroism and Failure, and Mortality and Aspiration, is immediately apparent when one approaches the passions and realities of war. Here, more than anywhere, we can see "the quick and the dead". The greatest of all mystical war poems (of course) is to be found in the Bhagavad-Gita.

One might be tempted to believe that all war poetry is actually anti-war poetry; but such is not the case. In fact, one of the most famous of all war poems, is both patriotic and could be construed as "pro-War".

    In Flanders fields the poppies blow
    Between the crosses, row on row,
    That mark our place; and in the sky
    The larks, still bravely singing, fly
    Scarce heard amid the guns below.
    We are the Dead. Short days ago
    We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
    Loved and were loved, and now we lie
    In Flanders fields.
    Take up our quarrel with the foe:
    To you from failing hands we throw
    The torch; be yours to hold it high.
    If ye break faith with us who die
    We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
    In Flanders fields.

   The desire for resolution or "closure" is so powerful with humans, that we short circuit the genuine article, before its time. We want to be either Pro _________ or Anti _________ (fill in the blank). Poetry offers closure, but not of a kind that short circuits the knowing process - that sacrifice has often already been made by the poet. Rather, we are drawn deeper into the tension through the manner in which he or she handles the language, the subject matter, the background experience of the poem. When it is done close to right, an effect or impulse is transmitted to the sympathetic reader, like an electric current, which makes possible a "touching" of Transcendence. In this realm, it is simply not enough to be Pro or Anti, to engage in the Demon of Dialectics. For every evocative "pro-war" poem, there are many which are "anti-war": the counter argument can always be powerfully evoked. We keep the tension of one poem when we read another, heightening and extending the effect even further - this creates a Zodiac circle of poetry, whose rotation can show us what must be true about human nature.
"Take the belief in immortality, which, according to some men, is a matter of mild indifference. It is really a belief which affects our whole conception of the human race. Consider the carnage of war, with its pile of unnumbered corpses. It must mae some matter to us whether, according to our serious belief, each man has died like a dog, and left nothing in the way of a personal existence behind him, or whether out of every Christian-named portion of that ruinous heap there has gone forth into the air and the dead fallen smoke of battle some astonished condition of soul unwillingly released." John Ruskin
To tighten the tension, we take for example, Stephen Spender, who shows us the winds from another quarter:

Ultima Ratio Regum
The guns spell money's ultimate reason
In letters of lead on the spring hillside.
But the boy lying dead under the olive trees
Was too young and too silly
To have been notable to their important eye.
He was a better target for a kiss.

When he lived, tall factory hooters never summoned him.
Nor did restaurant plate-glass doors revolve to wave him in.
His name never appeared in the papers.
The world maintained its traditional wall
Round the dead with their gold sunk deep as a well,
Whilst his life, intangible as a Stock Exchange rumour, drifted outside.

O too lightly he threw down his cap
One day when the breeze threw petals from the trees.
The unflowering wall sprouted with guns,
Machine-gun anger quickly scythed the grasses;
Flags and leaves fell from hands and branches;
The tweed cap rotted in the nettles.

Consider his life which was valueless
In terms of employment, hotel ledgers, news files.
Consider.  One bullet in ten thousand kills a man.
Ask.  Was so much expenditure justified
On the death of one so young and so silly
Lying under the olive tree, O world, O death?

And if this is not evocative enough, I give you Wilfred Owen:

"Dulce et Decorum Est"

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 gas-shells dropping softly 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.

In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

There is truth in this - ancestors, land, gods, even God...can become an idol.

If Grammar is only the beginning of Wisdom, if Logic lacks placement emotionally, and Rhetoric lacks logical resolution, then what is the point of studying these arts? What do they positively contribute to the devout and serious aspirant of royal Wisdom? Are we merely perfecting certain art forms? Or just articulating them, often beyond the regenerative power of their inherent DNA? This is certainly the conclusion the modern Academy has come to - the "liberal arts" are just artistic ways of "being human"...whatever that will come and it will mean something totally different. No wonder serious students shy away from the Trivium and the Quadrivium - at best, archaic niceties of a simpler, more homely, less knowledgeable era - useful for trivia games and party tricks.

The inducement of enough tension within these art forms, through their consistent and careful exploration, and their integration or reading with the background of Traditional studies, recapitulates the spiritual history of mankind, driving man into a kind of elevated frenzy; it awakens a thirst for what is real, true, beautiful, and good, by refusing to allow the human spirit to rest, either in the fragmentariness of Grammar, the easiness of any kind of Logic, or the passion of a particular Rhetoric. By contradicting itself in the "madness of the poets", Poetry (at its most constrictive) becomes a permanent "stone" which is a stumbling block to any cheap and easy answers, pointing upwards towards a vertical descent, lifting upwards for an ascent, of something that is beyond itself.

When we read Rupert Brooke, we are "almost convinced" to be a patriot:

The Soldier

If I should die, think only this of me:
   That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England.  There shall be
   In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
   Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England’s, breathing English air,
   Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.
And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
   A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
     Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
   And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
     In hearts at peace, under an English heaven. 

And then we are confronted by Randall Jarrell: 
The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner 
Randall Jarrell, 1914 - 1965  
From my mother’s sleep I fell into the State,
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.

Or I give you Thomas Hardy, in between, who eschews a "position" at all:

Drummer Hodge

They throw in Drummer Hodge, to rest
     Uncoffined—just as found:
His landmark is a kopje-crest
     That breaks the veldt around;
And foreign constellations west
     Each night above his mound.

Young Hodge the Drummer never knew—
     Fresh from his Wessex home—
The meaning of the broad Karoo,
     The Bush, the dusty loam,
And why uprose to nightly view
     Strange stars amid the gloam.

Yet portion of that unknown plain
     Will Hodge for ever be;
His homely Northern breast and brain
     Grow up a Southern tree,
And strange-eyed constellations reign
     His stars eternally

Or just as poignantly, if somewhat homely, Yeats:


Over the heather the wet wind blows,
I've lice in my tunic, a cold in my nose.

The rain comes pattering out of the sky,
I'm a Wall soldier, I don't know why.

The mist creeeps over the hard grey stone,
My girl's in Tungria; I sleep alone.

Aulus goes hanging around her place,
I don't like his manners, I don't like his face.

Piso's a Christian, he worships a fish;
There'd be be no kissing if he had his wish.

She gave me a ring but I diced it away;
I want my girl and I want my pay.

When I'm a veteran with only one eye
I shall do nothing but look at the sky.

                                                         W.H. Auden

Back again, to the inherent nobility of the soldier, particularly of a certain type:

Aristocrats: "I Think I Am Becoming A God"

The noble horse with courage in his eye,
clean in the bone, looks up at a shellburst:
away fly the images of the shires
but he puts the pipe back in his mouth.
Peter was unfortunately killed by an 88;
it took his leg away, he died in the ambulance.
I saw him crawling on the sand, he said
It's most unfair, they've shot my foot off.

How can I live among this gentle
obsolescent breed of heroes, and not weep?
Unicorns, almost,
for they are fading into two legends
in which their stupidity and chivalry
are celebrated. Each, fool and hero, will be an immortal.
These plains were their cricket pitch
and in the mountains the tremendous drop fences
brought down some of the runners. Here then
under the stones and earth they dispose themselves,
I think with their famous unconcern.
It is not gunfire I hear, but a hunting horn.

The potential lordliness of the soldier makes it impossible to be "Anti-War". Or at least, "anti-soldier". The soldier is the man, above all, of duty. And duty is transcendent. He can wear this as a helmet and a crown.

MCMXIV, by Philip Larkin
Those long uneven lines
Standing as patiently
As if they were stretched outside
The Oval or Villa Park,
The crowns of hats, the sun
On moustached archaic faces
Grinning as if it were all
An August Bank Holiday lark;

And the shut shops, the bleached
Established names on the sunblinds,
The farthings and sovereigns,
And dark-clothed children at play
Called after kings and queens,
The tin advertisements
For cocoa and twist, and the pubs
Wide open all day;

And the countryside not caring:
The place-names all hazed over
With flowering grasses, and fields
Shadowing Domesday lines
Under wheat's restless silence;
The differently-dressed servants
With tiny rooms in huge houses,
The dust behind limousines;

Never such innocence,
Never before or since,
As changed itself to past
Without a word - the men
Leaving the gardens tidy,
The thousands of marriages
Lasting a little while longer:
Never such innocence again.

Ted Hughes gives us the spectacle of a soldier who can still lose himself, dressed in full gear, in reading a book:

Platform One
Holiday squeals, as if all were scrambling for their lives,
Panting aboard the “Cornish Riviera”.
Then overflow of relief and luggage and children,
Then duckling to smile out as the station moves.
Out there on the platform, under the rain,
Under his rain-cape, helmet and full pack,
Somebody, head bowed reading something,
Doesn’t know he’s missing his train.
He’s completely buried in that book.
He’s forgotten utterly where he is.
He’s forgotten Paddington, forgotten
Timetables, forgotten the long, rocking
Cradle of a journey into the golden West,
The coach’s soft wingbeat – as light
And straight as a dove’s flight.
Like a graveyard statue sentry cast
In blackened bronze. Is he reading poems?
A letter? The burial service? The raindrops
Beaded along his helmet rim are bronze.
The words on his page are bronze. Their meanings bronze.
Sunk in his bronze world he stands, enchanted.
His bronze mind is deep among the dead.
Sunk so deep among the dead that, much
As he would like to remember us all, he cannot.

Or, more tragically, by Seamus Heaney:

Requiem for the Croppies
The pockets of our greatcoats full of barley…
No kitchens on the run, no striking camp…
We moved quick and sudden in our own country.
The priest lay behind ditches with the tramp.
A people hardly marching… on the hike…
We found new tactics happening each day:
We’d cut through reins and rider with the pike
And stampede cattle into infantry,
Then retreat through hedges where cavalry must be thrown.
Until… on Vinegar Hill… the final conclave.
Terraced thousands died, shaking scythes at cannon.
The hillside blushed, soaked in our broken wave.
They buried us without shroud or coffin
And in August… the barley grew up out of our grave.

All of the above is true, although it is also true enough that people will forget everything that was done:

The Battle of Blenheim[1]
Robert Southey
The Annual Anthology, II (1800), 34-37
And every body praised the Duke
    Who such a fight did win.
But what good came of it at last?—
    Quoth little Peterkin.
Why that I cannot tell, said he,
But 'twas a famous victory. [2]

Which is why the warrior will always assume the poise and the pose of Arjuna from the Bhagavad-Gita, with which we began this story:

Source: Bhagavad Gita Quote 2.38
Sanskrit transcript:

सुखदुःखे समे कृत्वा लाभालाभौ जयाजयौ।
ततो युद्धाय युज्यस्व नैवं पापमवाप्स्यसि॥
sukhaduḥkhe same kṛtvā lābhālābhau jayājayau।
tato yuddhāya yujyasva naivaṃ pāpamavāpsyasi॥
English translation:
Fight for the sake of duty, treating alike happiness and distress, loss and gain, victory and defeat.
Fulfilling your responsibility in this way, you will never incur sin.
Hindi translation:
जयपराजय लाभहानि और सुखदुःखको समान करके फिर युद्धमें लग जा।
इस प्रकार युद्ध करनेसे तू पापको प्राप्त नहीं होगा।

Finally, we give the requiem for the dead, who are not dead, and ever live - their memory melds into the eternal one of the human race:

Merlin's Time

Al Stewart

And I think of you now
As a dream that I had long ago
In a kingdom lost to time
In the forest of evening
The archer is bending a bow
And I see you bring him bread and wine

Down the legions of years
The invaders have taken this land
And bent you to their will
And the memories fade of the ancients
And all that they had
Though the magic lingers round you still

Oh who would walk the stoney roads
Of Merlin's time
And keep the watch along the borderline
And who would hear the legends passed
In song and rhyme
Upon the shepherd pipes of Merlin's time

It is always Merlin's time, if we only have the eyes to see. Always a border to defend, always a people to save, always a memory to keep alive. He who accepts that call, he it is that will be called a confederate of Merlin, a friend and a brother. This struggle is always real, always seemingly hopeless, always blessed. One of the world's greatest films, not just war films, is about precisely this: The Seven Samurai.

It may be that the gulfs will wash them down, those who stand up for the path - certainly those gray ghosts who served in the Confederate armies went down in ignominy, shame, and total defeat: at least that is how the history stands now. We do not know what the true history written in the Akashic records says concerning "lost causes" or misunderstood ones, but we can pick up hints of what it may scribe in Allen Tate's elegy to those dead:

 Ode to the Confederate Dead
Row after row with strict impunity
The headstones yield their names to the element,
The wind whirrs without recollection;
In the riven troughs the splayed leaves
Pile up, of nature the casual sacrament
To the seasonal eternity of death;
Then driven by the fierce scrutiny
Of heaven to their election in the vast breath,
They sough the rumour of mortality.

Autumn is desolation in the plot
Of a thousand acres where these memories grow
From the inexhaustible bodies that are not 
Dead, but feed the grass row after rich row.
Think of the autumns that have come and gone!--
Ambitious November with the humors of the year,
With a particular zeal for every slab,
Staining the uncomfortable angels that rot
On the slabs, a wing chipped here, an arm there:
The brute curiosity of an angel’s stare
Turns you, like them, to stone,
Transforms the heaving air
Till plunged to a heavier world below
You shift your sea-space blindly
Heaving, turning like the blind crab.

     Dazed by the wind, only the wind
     The leaves flying, plunge

You know who have waited by the wall
The twilight certainty of an animal,
Those midnight restitutions of the blood
You know--the immitigable pines, the smoky frieze
Of the sky, the sudden call: you know the rage,
The cold pool left by the mounting flood,
Of muted Zeno and Parmenides.
You who have waited for the angry resolution
Of those desires that should be yours tomorrow,
You know the unimportant shrift of death
And praise the vision
And praise the arrogant circumstance
Of those who fall
Rank upon rank, hurried beyond decision--
Here by the sagging gate, stopped by the wall. 

     Seeing, seeing only the leaves
     Flying, plunge and expire

Turn your eyes to the immoderate past,
Turn to the inscrutable infantry rising
Demons out of the earth they will not last.
Stonewall, Stonewall, and the sunken fields of hemp,
Shiloh, Antietam, Malvern Hill, Bull Run.
Lost in that orient of the thick and fast
You will curse the setting sun.

     Cursing only the leaves crying
     Like an old man in a storm

You hear the shout, the crazy hemlocks point
With troubled fingers to the silence which
Smothers you, a mummy, in time.

                               The hound bitch
Toothless and dying, in a musty cellar
Hears the wind only.
                    Now that the salt of their blood
Stiffens the saltier oblivion of the sea,
Seals the malignant purity of the flood,
What shall we who count our days and bow
Our heads with a commemorial woe
In the ribboned coats of grim felicity,
What shall we say of the bones, unclean,
Whose verdurous anonymity will grow?
The ragged arms, the ragged heads and eyes
Lost in these acres of the insane green?
The gray lean spiders come, they come and go;
In a tangle of willows without light
The singular screech-owl’s tight
Invisible lyric seeds the mind
With the furious murmur of their chivalry.

     We shall say only the leaves
     Flying, plunge and expire

We shall say only the leaves whispering
In the improbable mist of nightfall
That flies on multiple wing:
Night is the beginning and the end
And in between the ends of distraction
Waits mute speculation, the patient curse
That stones the eyes, or like the jaguar leaps
For his own image in a jungle pool, his victim.

What shall we say who have knowledge 
Carried to the heart?  Shall we take the act
To the grave?  Shall we, more hopeful, set up the grave
In the house?  The ravenous grave?

                                   Leave now
The shut gate and the decomposing wall:
The gentle serpent, green in the mulberry bush, 
Riots with his tongue through the hush--
Sentinel of the grave who counts us all!

This knowledge "carried to the heart" is something different than the attention to the mechanical side of war, which is juxtaposed below by Henry Reed with the poignant and natural aspect of the soldier underneath the uniform.

Naming of Parts (1942)

Vixi duellis nuper idoneus
Et militavi non sine gloria
Oxford English Dictionary (OED) Links On
Today we have naming of parts. Yesterday,
We had daily cleaning. And tomorrow morning,
We shall have what to do after firing. But to-day,
Today we have naming of parts. Japonica
Glistens like coral in all of the neighbouring gardens,
And today we have naming of parts.
This is the lower sling swivel. And this
Is the upper sling swivel, whose use you will see,
When you are given your slings. And this is the piling swivel,
Which in your case you have not got. The branches
Hold in the gardens their silent, eloquent gestures,
Which in our case we have not got.
This is the safety-catch, which is always released
With an easy flick of the thumb. And please do not let me
See anyone using his finger. You can do it quite easy
If you have any strength in your thumb. The blossoms
Are fragile and motionless, never letting anyone see
Any of them using their finger.
And this you can see is the bolt. The purpose of this
Is to open the breech, as you see. We can slide it
Rapidly backwards and forwards: we call this
Easing the spring. And rapidly backwards and forwards
The early bees are assaulting and fumbling the flowers:
They call it easing the Spring.
They call it easing the Spring: it is perfectly easy
If you have any strength in your thumb: like the bolt,
And the breech, and the cocking-piece, and the point of balance,
Which in our case we have not got; and the almond-blossom
Silent in all of the gardens and the bees going backwards and forwards,
For today we have naming of parts.

We can close with two very, very different "anti-war" poems, neither of which, strictly speaking, is necessarily against war, but against self-deception and hypocrisy, and unnecessary war ("an unjust peace is better than a just war" - Russian proverb). 

The Shield of Achilles
W. H. Auden, 1907 - 1973
    She looked over his shoulder
       For vines and olive trees,
     Marble well-governed cities
       And ships upon untamed seas,
     But there on the shining metal
       His hands had put instead
     An artificial wilderness
       And a sky like lead.

A plain without a feature, bare and brown,
   No blade of grass, no sign of neighborhood,
Nothing to eat and nowhere to sit down, 
   Yet, congregated on its blankness, stood
   An unintelligible multitude,
A million eyes, a million boots in line, 
Without expression, waiting for a sign.

Out of the air a voice without a face
   Proved by statistics that some cause was just
In tones as dry and level as the place:
   No one was cheered and nothing was discussed;
   Column by column in a cloud of dust
They marched away enduring a belief
Whose logic brought them, somewhere else, to grief.

     She looked over his shoulder
       For ritual pieties,
     White flower-garlanded heifers,
       Libation and sacrifice,
     But there on the shining metal
       Where the altar should have been,
     She saw by his flickering forge-light
       Quite another scene.

Barbed wire enclosed an arbitrary spot
   Where bored officials lounged (one cracked a joke)
And sentries sweated for the day was hot:
   A crowd of ordinary decent folk
   Watched from without and neither moved nor spoke
As three pale figures were led forth and bound
To three posts driven upright in the ground.

The mass and majesty of this world, all
   That carries weight and always weighs the same
Lay in the hands of others; they were small
   And could not hope for help and no help came:
   What their foes like to do was done, their shame
Was all the worst could wish; they lost their pride
And died as men before their bodies died.

     She looked over his shoulder
       For athletes at their games,
     Men and women in a dance
       Moving their sweet limbs
     Quick, quick, to music,
       But there on the shining shield
     His hands had set no dancing-floor
       But a weed-choked field.

A ragged urchin, aimless and alone, 
   Loitered about that vacancy; a bird
Flew up to safety from his well-aimed stone:
   That girls are raped, that two boys knife a third,
   Were axioms to him, who’d never heard
Of any world where promises were kept,
Or one could weep because another wept.

     The thin-lipped armorer,
       Hephaestos, hobbled away,
     Thetis of the shining breasts
       Cried out in dismay
     At what the god had wrought
       To please her son, the strong
     Iron-hearted man-slaying Achilles
       Who would not live long.
Or the Anglo Saxon equivalent: 
 In Westminster Abbey by John Betjeman
Let me take this other glove off 
As the vox humana swells, 
And the beauteous fields of Eden 
Bask beneath the Abbey bells. 
Here, where England's statesmen lie,
 Listen to a lady's cry. 
Gracious Lord, oh bomb the Germans, 
Spare their women for Thy Sake, 
And if that is not too easy 
We will pardon Thy Mistake. 
But, gracious Lord, whate'er shall be, 
Don't let anyone bomb me. 
Keep our Empire undismembered 
Guide our Forces by Thy Hand, 
Gallant blacks from far Jamaica, 
Honduras and Togoland; 
Protect them Lord in all their fights,
 And, even more, protect the whites. 
Think of what our Nation stands for, 
Books from Boots' and country lanes, 
Free speech, free passes, class distinction,
 Democracy and proper drains. 
Lord, put beneath Thy special care 
One-eighty-nine Cadogan Square. 
Although dear Lord I am a sinner, 
I have done no major crime; 
Now I'll come to Evening Service 
Whensoever I have the time. 
So, Lord, reserve for me a crown, 
And do not let my shares go down. 
 I will labour for Thy Kingdom, 
Help our lads to win the war, 
Send white feathers to the cowards 
Join the Women's Army Corps, 
Then wash the steps around Thy Throne 
In the Eternal Safety Zone.
Now I feel a little better, 
What a treat to hear Thy Word, 
Where the bones of leading statesmen 
Have so often been interr'd. 
And now, dear Lord, I cannot wait 
Because I have a luncheon date.
We have traveled through a literal zodiac, around the great circle and back again, to bear the horn of plenty to the sons of men. In each of their hues, colors, perspective, and message, these poems vary, like each constellation in the sky. Together, they tell a story, with peculiar brightness, as each poem is powerful in its own right. Each one grasps something of what is true about the nature of war and the nature of man. But what boots this tour de force? Is it not one huge, self-canceling Circle? Haven't we just gone around the mundane block? Have you felt their circling power, deeply and intensely, and in the depths of your being?  For "God is a circle whose center is everywhere, and whose circumference is nowhere" - Allan of Lille 

Far more than either with grammar in its elemental sparkling embers, or logic with its cunning grasp of the signatures that run through Creation, in rhetoric multiform man speaks out, circumnavigating in his spirit, moving through the dangers and high beauty of the Cosmos. In Grammar he learned to "name the parts". With Logic he grasps what came before and anticipates what might come after. But in Rhetoric, the "Man" speaks out full and bold. It is only in simultaneously holding this zodiac of tensed, poised Truth (each part as a whole, but yet a part to go with a part) that an edifice is built for the final step, an altar for the fire from heaven. In completing the Trivium, Man declares his willingness to lay hold upon Reality, to not accept a final or partial substitute, or at the least, be lay held upon by something that is Infinite, and which compels him in a way to banish all lesser compulsions. 

Fate leads the willing, drags the unwilling.  

It is no accident that in Revelation, God the Supreme makes final war upon Evil, until the dead are raised and all tears are gone. Or that Arjuna is bidden to "strike" with impunity in the Bhagavad-Gita. The path of the warrior, through the Zodiac of his passions and impressions, if it holds true to the circle, creates a zone of influence for something higher to come down, and/or for himself to ascend. This is the reason that the Lord Christ, it is remarked, had such a fondness for Roman soldiers. 

If Rhetoric is sharpened and honed on the poetry of War (the most galvanizing force on the physical plane known to man), it will be well placed to poise the serious student towards achieving the Gnosis of self-knowledge.

And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.
Matthew 11: 13


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