As we get ready for "The Poet" - a program that is inextricably linked to the Second World War, and which poses the very real question of what it means to create art in a time when everything is changing - I've been taking on a little side project and researching POETRY written during this period. I'll post a few WWII-era poems here between now and concert time... One of the most interesting and profound sources of verse is the soldiers themselves. So I thought I'd start with some short GI-created poems, each written in dramatically different circumstances (and the last two coming from a prisoner-of-war camp). I love reading these works and hearing these incredibly real voices sounding in the distance. There's art here, and wit, and insight, but also a lack of "artfulness." Here goes:
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings; Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth Of sun-split clouds - and done a hundred things You have not dreamed of - wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there, I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung My eager craft through footless halls of air. Up, up the long delirious burning blue I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace Where never lark, or even eagle flew. And while with silent lifting mind I've trod The high untrespassed sanctity of space, Put out my hand and touched the face of God.
- John Magee
When you're far away from the one you love Stop and gaze at the heavens above, Whether the time be the sun-scorched noon Or a frosty night with a glittering moon, And there up above in that realm of space I see not the sun or the moon, but a face A beautiful face with a tender smile Which tells me she’s waiting to make life worthwhile.
Perhaps tonight from her windowpane She’s gazing aloft, on her lips my name. As she prays to God, way up above To watch o’er, keep safe, and return that love.
So when you’re feeling alone and forlorn Watch into the night and the wakening morn, And remember that westward across the blue She’s watching and waiting, the same as you.
- Author Unknown
Barbed Wire! Barbed Wire! Barbed Wire! To the North, South, West and East Will it always hold me captive Without hope or joy or peace
Must I ever curve this eager flame That burns within my chest Or know once more the joy of home With pleasant hours of rest
Such questions to my mind do crowd When deep in thought I sit But ever with it comes the cry It won't be long, don't quit
And so it goes from day to day A never changing scene But someday soon I will leave it all As though it were a dream.
- Author Unknown
By: Lt. Larry Phelan, Stalag Luft III, dedicated to his wife:
I dream as only captive men can dream Of life as lived in days that went before; Of scrambled eggs, and shortcakes thick with cream; And onion soup and lobster Thermidor; Of roast beef and chops and T-bone steaks, And turkey breast and golden leg or wing' Of sausage, maple syrup, buckwheat cakes, And chicken broiled or fried or a la king. I dwell on rolls and buns for days and days, Hot corn bread, biscuits, Philadelphia scrapple, Asparagus in cream or hollandaise, And deep-dish pies - mince, huckleberry, apple. I long for buttered creamy oyster stew, And now and then, my pet, I long for you.
More poems can be found at http://www.merkki.com/poetry.htm