Sunday, March 31, 2013

A Poem for Sunday

Rudyard Kipling
I'll try to post a poem weekly.  I have mixed emotions about poetry.  I enjoy good poetry, really, but some poetry takes a good deal of time to read and understand -- particularly poetry laden with symbolism and religious or historical references.  Those can be a tough slog.  But after you've learned a really hard poem it pays off, you will feel that the effort was worth it.  In the spirit of blogging, however, I'll try to keep poems simple and sweet.  Something you can read once, maybe twice, something that rings good to your ear and gives you a few seconds of reflection.

Along the theme of my last post -- whimsical reading, that is -- I picked up an anthology on Rudyard Kipling.  Most know him for The Jungle Book, or maybe you've read what many consider to be his masterpiece, Kim.  Kipling, however, was also a prolific poet.  Flipping through the book today, I stopped and read his poem "The Verdicts [Jutland]."  

The short history is this:  Kipling covered the Battle of Jutland for the London Daily Telegraph in October of 1916.  And for those who forgot the details of The Battle of Jutland (understandable), it was the major naval battle of WWI between British an German naval forces.  And one of the few -- if only one, if I remember -- naval battle that was battleship vs. battleship.  Ultimately the Royal Navy lost more men and ships in the Battle of Jutland, but the German Navy also suffered significant losses as well, and wouldn't risk losing more of their fleet with further forays into the Northern Atlantic.  

Onto the poetry... so Kipling wrote a poem about the men of that infamous sea battle.  And when I finished the poem I realized two things: 

First, after 10 years of war, after Iraq and Afghanistan, I don't know of any published poetry about those wars.  Do you?  (I have seen some poetry blogs.)  There are numerous fantastic war memoirs out there, but no poetry.  Reasons why? I can only guess, but poetry's popularity has decreased -- people simply aren't reading it.  And another reason, poetry, well, good poetry, is difficult to write.  Not that some soldiers or sailors haven't written some fine verse, but good enough to move thousands of readers?  I just don't know.

Second,  Kipling's "The Verdicts" can be read now as it was when first published.  It is, for lack of better words, timeless.  I don't know if our recent wars have changed the future of the world or made us "saviors of mankind."  I think it is much easier to say that of WWII, certainly.  But for me, the poem is a reminder of all the heroic acts that we never see, even in our own services, the deaths and lives lost that we'll never know. 

Read it and decide for yourself.

The Verdicts [Jutland]

Not in the thick of the fight,
Not in the press of the odds,
Do the heroes come to their height,
Or we know the demi-gods.

That stands over till peace.
We can only perceive
Men returned from the seas,
Very grateful for leave.

They grant us sudden days
Snatched from their business of war;
But we are too close to appraise
What manner of men they are.

And, whether their names go down
With age-kept victories,
Or whether they battle and drown
Unreckoned, is hid from our eyes.

They are too near to be great,
But our children shall understand
When and how our fate
Was changed, and by whose hand.

Our children shall measure their worth.
We are content to be blind . . .
But we know that we walk on a new-born earth
With the saviours of mankind.

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