Posted by: gdevi | July 4, 2014

Of “Desperate Glory”

Happy 4th of July, everyone!

Just a beautiful beautiful song, isnt it? I must learn to play and sing this on the piano.

“Round the curve/ And a big dark horse/ Red taillights on his side/ Is keeping right alongside / Rev for stride / Fourth of July / Night Ride Home  . . . .”

You know, it is the 100th anniversary of the First World War this year, and for many countries, this is a big event, a Great Remember. Many nations around the world are apparently observing the centenary 1914-1918 between 2014-2018. This is when the modern world started to unravel; the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria by a Serbian nationalist. It was the fall of the Austro-Hungarian empire, the slow unraveling of all imperial powers, the decolonization of imperial colonies, including India, and most importantly, the carving out of the the Middle East for European powers. I remember learning about the First World War in my high school History classes; it was like a nineteenth century novel. I was lost in it for a long time. After the Napoleonic wars, perhaps the First World War was the last low-tech war; the casualties and sufferings were long-standing and profound.

Wilfred Owen’s Dulce et Decorum est never loses its meaning, does it? The young poet wrote it shortly before he was killed one week before the Armistice.

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 disappointed shells that dropped 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 floundering 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.


And in honor of the Armistice, here is Eric Bogle’s And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda–no waltz with a woman, but holding all your belongings in one sack and walking on.


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