War poems witness for the woke.

Didact always has a post on June 6th for D Day, so I thought it is time for some war poetry.

This is from Russia. Bergholz survived the seige of Leningrad: this is the experience of women who got caught up in the war.

‘Conversation With A Neighbor’

Dariya Vlasievna, my next-door neighbour,
Let us sit down and talk, we two,
Let’s talk about the days of peace,
The peace that we all long for so.
Nearly six months now we’ve been fighting,
Six months of battle’s roar and whine.
Cruel are the sufferings of our nation,
Your sufferings, Dariya, and mine.
O nights of shriekings and of rumblings
And bombs that ever nearer fall,
And tiny scraps of rationed bread
That scarcely seem to weigh at all…
To have survived this blockade’s fetters,
Death daily hovering above,
What strength we all have needed, neighbour,
What hate we’ve needed — and what love!
So much that sometimes moods of doubting
Have shaken even the strongest will:
«Can I endure it? Can I bear it?»
You’ll bear it. You’ll last out. You will.
Dariya Vlasievna, wait a little:
The day will come when from the sky
The last alert will howl its warning,
The last all-clear ring out on high.
And how remote and dimly distant
The war will seem to us that day
We casually remove the shutters
And put the black-out blinds away.
Let the whole house be bright with lights then,
Be filled with Spring and peacefulness,
Weep quietly, laugh quietly, and quietly
Exult in all the quietness.
Fresh rolls our fingers will be breaking,
Made of dark rye-bread, crisp and fine,
And we’ll be drinking in slow sips
Glasses of glowing, crimson wine.
And to you — to you they’ll build a statue
And place on the Bolshoi Square;
In firm imperishable steel,
Your homely form they’ll fashion there.
Just as you were — ill-fed, undaunted,
In quickly gathered clothes arrayed;
Just as you were when under shell fire
You did your duties undismayed.
Dariya Vlasievna, by your spirit
The whole world renewed shall be.
The name of that spirit is Russia.
Stand and be bold then, even as She.

OlgaOlga Bergholz
(Translated by James von Geldern and Richard Stites)

By contrast, Douglas commanded a tank during the desert war, abandoning a staff officer position to fight.He died in the days after D Day.


Three weeks gone and the combatants gone
returning over the nightmare ground
we found the place again, and found
the soldier sprawling in the sun.

The frowning barrel of his gun
overshadowing. As we came on
that day, he hit my tank with one
like the entry of a demon.
Look. Here in the gunpit spoil
the dishonoured picture of his girl
who has put: Steffi. Vergissmeinnicht.
in a copybook gothic script.

We see him almost with content,
abased, and seeming to have paid
and mocked at by his own equipment
that’s hard and good when he’s decayed.
But she would weep to see today
how on his skin the swart flies move;
the dust upon the paper eye
and the burst stomach like a cave.

For here the lover and killer are mingled
who had one body and one heart.
And death who had the soldier singled
has done the lover mortal hurt.

Keith Douglas

what about the Germans? A fair number of them ended up on the Eastern side, and the right were suspect. Deeply so: they had led Germany to defeat. Twice. This is not a war poem in the usual sense. It is a poem of a veteran,

“Rauchbier” (Smoked Beer):

My headlines,
deaf-mute pretzel sellers
hunkered in the passage
sharing a beer,
I stare at their conversations,
their modest
and continual horror,
my headlines,
my Kennedys,
my Kruschevs.

Gunter Eich

Over the weekend — Queens Borthday and D day, Kea and I had a discussion with her parent. About Berlin. She was horrified we had been there: she had been taught to hate Germans. I recall my grandfather, wiho was unable to serve (farmers were a reserved occupation) hated the Japanese more, because the Germans looked after POWs while the Japanese starved them.

I hate neither. Let the Gemans be German. May the Japanese continue to be deeply weird. We are not that generation who fought.

I would argue that in general, they were better: they did far greater deeds, for both good and evil.