WWI British Poets and the War Today

First, excuse some of the spelling errors in the text—My book was scanned and scanned text is never perfect.

Walter de la Mare

Come, Death, I’d have a word with thee; And thou, poor Innocency; And Love – a lad with broken wing; And Pity, too: The Fool shall sing to you, As Fools will sing.
Ay, music hath small sense, And a tune’s soon told, And Earth is old, And my poor wits are dense; Yet have I secrets, – dark, my dear, To breathe you all: Come near. And lest some hideous listener tells, I’ll ring my bells.
They’re all at war! Yes, yes, their bodies go ‘Neath burning sun and icy star To chaunted songs of woe, Dragging cold cannon through a mud Of rain and blood;
The Fool Rings His Bells 67
The new moon glinting hard on eyes Wide with insanities!
Hush! … I use words I hardly know the meaning of; And the mute birds Are glancing at Love! From out their shade of leaf and flower, Trembling at treacheries Which even in noonday cower. Heed, heed not what I said Of frenzied hosts of men, More fools than 1, On envy, hatred fed, Who kill, and die Spake I not plainly, then? Yet Pity whispered, ‘Why?’
Thou silly thing, off to thy daisies go. Mine was not news for child to know, And Death – no ears hath. He hath supped where creep Eyeless worms in hush of sleep; Yet, when he smiles, the hand he draws Athwart his grinning jaws Faintly their thin bones rattle, and…. There, there; Hearken how my bells in the air Drive away care! …
Nay, but a dream I had Of a world all mad. Not a simple happy mad like me, Who am mad like an empty scene Of water and willow tree, Where the wind hath been; But that foul Satan-mad, Who rots in his own head, And counts the dead, Not honest one – and two But for the ghosts they were, Brave, faithful, true,

68 Walter de la Mare
When, head in air, In Earth’s clear green and blue Heaven they did share With Beauty who bade them there….
There, now! he goes Old Bones; I’ve wearied him. Ay, and the light doth dim, And asleep’s the rose, And tired Innocence In dreams i’s hence…. Come, Love, my ]ad, Nodding that drowsy head, ‘Tis time thy prayers were said!
Nay, nay, sweet England, do not grieve!
Not one of these poor men who died But did within his soul believe
That death for thee was glorified.
Ever they watched It hovering near
That mystery ‘yond thought to plumb, Perchance sometimes in loath and fear
They heard cold Danger whisper, Come!
Heard and obeyed. 0, if thou weep
Such courage and honor, beauty, care, Be it for joy that those who sleep
Only thy joy could share.


These poems by Walter de la Mare, do, indeed have much with what is exactly going on in this world today.
Starting with

“Come, Death, I’d have a word with thee; And thou, poor Innocency; And Love – a lad with broken wing; And Pity, too: The Fool shall sing to you, As Fools will sing.”

This line, I believe explains that the poet was very dissatisfied about what the entire war was all about. “Fools,” evidently, refers to those who do things (fight, or give orders to fight) without knowing what they are doing thus. This can be proven by one of his final lines when he says:
“Nay, nay, sweet England, do not grieve!
Not one of these poor men who died But did within his soul believe”

Very powerful line–yes? He is saying that these men died for an unnecessary war (at least, so I understand), because these men did not believe of what they were doing (‘not what their soul believe’).

The poet goes later to say:
“Hush! … I use words I hardly know the meaning of; And the mute birds Are glancing at Love!”

Indeed, it seems like Walter de la Mare is criticizing this war (and those who did it), because they did not know what they were doing and why. How else, would anybody use words that he/she does not understand?
All of these words (poems) make me think of the world today. The same problem is recurring; it seems like people are fighting and none of them knows why.

I was just reading an article on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, which, I had also read on yahoo news a couple of days ago. The article
Israeli soldiers allegedly told to avoid capture at all costs
Is so horrifying as it quotes an Israeli lieutenant-colonel of the elite Golani unit telling his brigade:
“You must avoid at all cost that one of you be captured alive by Hamas, even if that means blowing
yourself up with your grenades” (ABC).
Although the article resumes to say that this is more to improve the spirit of the troops, its wording reminds me of the terrorists who care less for their lives or the lives of others. In other words, to the best of my knowledge, armies were made to defend the citizens (and they are, after all, citizens); yet, they are instructed to risk their lives when there is no point of their death. True, with war comes death; however, when death is somewhat purposeful, the situation becomes entirely different, and we can then question: what is exactly going on?
Fox News, on the other hand, reported a different article that is equally interesting
Netanyahu Says He’d Expand Existing West Bank Settlements If Elected

Netanyahu, who is predicted to win the upcoming Israeli elections was quoted as saying:

“I have no intention of building new settlements in the West Bank,” Netanyahu was quoted as saying:

“… I will have to meet the needs of natural growth in the population. I will not be able to choke the settlements.”

This is, in fact, interesting, because it is and has been a war-declaration, as when you expel people (Palestinians in this case) from their homes, the normal reaction would be: war.
To point the connection a bit better, the poem says that those who died in the war don’t know what and why they really died for, and don’t know what they are doing; the article above shows that the same is going on. In other words, the typical reaction to war is war. Therefore, when an army destroys the homes of certain people to build or expand his settlements, he can only expect the party that loses its homes to fight back, and thus, people will die. I still can not understand how one party can claim to want peace while destroying the homes of others to build his settlements on them. Therefore, I see that many of those who are fighting there don’t know the real dilemma, or at least, seeing only one side, and thus, don’t know what they are doing; why they are dying, or what they are really dying for.
Walter de la Mare have successfully described his feelings toward the war, which, evidently, he felt was absolutely unnecessary, and believed that most of those who died in it did not believe in what they were doing, which seems to be the case today in most of the wars—Iraq, Israel…

Works Cited

de la Mare, Walter. “The Fool Rings his Bells.” WWI British Poets. PG 66.

“Israeli soldiers allegedly told to avoid capture at all costs” Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 26 Jan, 2009.

“Netanyahu Says He’d Expand Existing West Bank Settlements If Elected.” Fox News. 26 Jan, 2009.

-Moe Fawaz


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