World War I is the war of poetry and literature. Wilfred Owen, Isaac Rosenberg, Siegfried Sassoon, and Robert Graves are all laureates of that war, official or not. But other wars bring their own visions, as Roy Fisher demonstrates for World War II in his “The Entertainment of War:”
A mile away in the night I had heard the bombs
Sing and then burst themselves between cramped houses
With bright soft flashes and sounds like banging doors;
The last of them crushed the four bodies into the ground,
Scattered the shelter, and blasted my uncle’s corpse
Over the housetop and into the street beyond.
Death is always meaningful to those dying, Fisher thinks, but sometimes not to anyone else:
These were marginal people I had met only rarely
And the end of the whole household meant that no grief was seen;
Never have people seemed so absent from their own deaths.
Fisher “realized a little what they meant,” and so might we, reading his poem. So, too, might those visiting the Tombs of the Unknown Soldier, or contemplating the nameless dead of the Eastern Front, or the death camps, or the jungles of Vietnam, or the tropics of India and Pakistan, or the deserts of Ethiopia and Eritrea. Nameless to history, perhaps, but having always that meaning to themselves. Dying alone into brightness and silence, we might find that, as well.
(h/t to Jonathan Beard for forwarding the poem)