On the subject of 2016

Plenty @ The Public Theater New York »

B.H. Fraser

November 16th, 2016.

Filed under 2016,Poems


It was all a bit of a mistake, slightly careless:

due to a mix up with the Americans

the wrong things went to the wrong place.

‘Ambassador?’  ‘What?’

‘Excellency, that was and is,’

‘Is it … slightly hopeless, I mean,

to lose an Empire due to Suez?’

‘What?’  ‘I mean, Ambassador, shall I draw the curtains?’

‘Yes, draw the curtains at the embassy.’

Fix It »

B.H. Fraser

September 21st, 2016.

Filed under 2016,Poems


No rhyme or reason

Or rationalisation

Some vague notion of globalisation:

A hairy bear will take my home and stay there.

Brexit? Is that you?

I thought, you, I mean, really? Really?

I don’t do detail, don’t care, just fix it.

While I stare at the wall

On my sunken patio.

Poetry About War »

B.H. Fraser

September 8th, 2014.

Filed under 2016,Poems


Poetry and War


War is a powerful poetry theme; a topic that has been explored throughout history, it is a subject at the heart of many of the most poignant poems. There are many different aspects of war that can be beautiful yet hauntingly depicted, from the power struggles of humankind to the visual horror of the battlefield.


Take a look at the famous war poem by First World War brigade doctor, John McCrae. Here McCrae honours the fallen following the death of his friend, a young Canadian artillery officer, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, during the Second Battle of Ypres, May 1915. He was thought to have begun writing this on the evening of Helmer’s burial service.


In Flander’s Field

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.

Wilfred Owen also deals with the atrocities of World War One in his complex and chilling poem written in 1918. It speaks from the point of view of a soldier who goes to the Underworld to escape his hellish reality of the battlefield.


Strange Meeting

It seemed that out of battle I escaped

Down some profound dull tunnel, long since scooped

Through granites which titanic wars had groined.

Yet also there encumbered sleepers groaned,

Too fast in thought or death to be bestirred.

Then, as I probed them, one sprang up, and stared

With piteous recognition in fixed eyes,

Lifting distressful hands, as if to bless.

And by his smile, I knew that sullen hall,—

By his dead smile I knew we stood in Hell.

With a thousand fears that vision’s face was grained;

Yet no blood reached there from the upper ground,

And no guns thumped, or down the flues made moan.

“Strange friend,” I said, “here is no cause to mourn.”

“None,” said that other, “save the undone years,

The hopelessness. Whatever hope is yours,

Was my life also; I went hunting wild

After the wildest beauty in the world,

Which lies not calm in eyes, or braided hair,

But mocks the steady running of the hour,

And if it grieves, grieves richlier than here.

For by my glee might many men have laughed,

And of my weeping something had been left,

Which must die now. I mean the truth untold,

The pity of war, the pity war distilled.

Now men will go content with what we spoiled.

Or, discontent, boil bloody, and be spilled.

They will be swift with swiftness of the tigress.

None will break ranks, though nations trek from progress.

Courage was mine, and I had mystery;

Wisdom was mine, and I had mastery:

To miss the march of this retreating world

Into vain citadels that are not walled.

Then, when much blood had clogged their chariot-wheels,

I would go up and wash them from sweet wells,

Even with truths that lie too deep for taint.

I would have poured my spirit without stint

But not through wounds; not on the cess of war.

Foreheads of men have bled where no wounds were.

“I am the enemy you killed, my friend.

I knew you in this dark: for so you frowned

Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed.

I parried; but my hands were loath and cold.

Let us sleep now. . . .”

There are also many poems surrounding the Second World War. Randall Jarrell’s is a short but vivid description of being a fighter pilot.

The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner

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.



Having fought in WWII himself, famous war poet Vernon Scannell, linked his other life experiences to war. This can be seen in his short snapshot of fathering:



My son aged three fell in the nettle bed.

‘Bed’ seemed a curious name for those green spears,

That regiment of spite behind the shed:

It was no place for rest. With sobs and tears

The boy came seeking comfort and I saw

White blisters beaded on his tender skin.

We soothed him till his pain was not so raw.

At last he offered us a watery grin,

And then I took my billhook, honed the blade

And went outside and slashed in fury with it

Till not a nettle in that fierce parade

Stood upright any more. And then I lit

A funeral pyre to burn the fallen dead,

But in two weeks the busy sun and rain

Had called up tall recruits behind the shed:

My son would often feel sharp wounds again.

First-hand experience isn’t always necessary for captivating war poetry. Alfred Lord Tennyson didn’t experience the British cavalry charge against Russian artillery during the Crimean war, but he still writes about it with verve.


The Charge of The Light Brigade

HALF a league, half a league,

   Half a league onward,

All in the valley of Death

   Rode the six hundred.

‘Forward, the Light Brigade!

Charge for the guns!’ he said:

Into the valley of Death

   Rode the six hundred.

‘Forward, the Light Brigade!’

Was there a man dismay’d?

Not tho’ the soldier knew

   Some one had blunder’d:

Their’s not to make reply,

Their’s not to reason why,

Their’s but to do and die:

Into the valley of Death

   Rode the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,

Cannon to left of them,

Cannon in front of them

   Volley’d and thunder’d;

Storm’d at with shot and shell,

Boldly they rode and well,

Into the jaws of Death,

Into the mouth of Hell

   Rode the six hundred.

Flash’d all their sabres bare,

Flash’d as they turn’d in air

Sabring the gunners there,

Charging an army, while

   All the world wonder’d:

Plunged in the battery-smoke

Right thro’ the line they broke;

Cossack and Russian

Reel’d from the sabre-stroke

   Shatter’d and sunder’d.

Then they rode back, but not

   Not the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,

Cannon to left of them,

Cannon behind them

   Volley’d and thunder’d;

Storm’d at with shot and shell,

While horse and hero fell,

They that had fought so well

Came thro’ the jaws of Death,

Back from the mouth of Hell,

All that was left of them,

   Left of six hundred.

When can their glory fade?

O the wild charge they made!

   All the world wonder’d.

Honour the charge they made!

Honour the Light Brigade,

   Noble six hundred!

Another imaginative description can be found in Thomas Hardy’s three stanza poem about the sad but ‘humane’ burial of a drummer boy during the Boer war burial party.


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 some Southern tree,

And strange-eyed constellations reign

His stars eternally.

Contemporary war is also subject to much poetic exploration. Robert Kiely looks at the importance of a soldier’s spouse back home as he lies awake at night in Afghanistan.

Afghan Skies

‘Neath Afghan skies I lay my head

and dream of soft brown dancing eyes.

Your sweet scent from my senses fled,

your gentle touch, a distant smile.

‘Neath Afghan skies I see you sleeping,

yet when I awake you are gone.

We share the same constellations fleeting

but countless miles see us alone.

The ceiling stares – a ticking clock

and still no calm to wistful sighs.

The shadows in the corner mock

while pictures play before my eyes.

I see across Drumavish hills,

the waves break on Rosnowla beach.

As winter blows its icy chill

your splendour smile just out of reach.

The passion that we often know.

The pleasure as our spirits ‘twined.

Breast to breast, a knowing glow –

our heart beats beat as one defined.

As slumber breaks, alone again

but images of you endure.

I hold them as my thoughts remain,

I save them in my mind secure.

‘Neath Afghan skies I write a while

and as I wish this night to fade

(a soldier’s curse, a spouse’s trial)

I wait for our reunion made.