Monday, December 21, 2015

Monday's Poetry: "The Conscript"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

If you stopped by here expecting some decorous or festive verse for the holidays, or perhaps something appropriately spiritual, move along - there's nothing to see here that would ring those particular Christmas bells.  This week's selection is a somber reminder that there is more to life than just gaiety, party lights, and religious pageants.

Sometimes life is defined by what rots at the other end of the spectrum.

The selection of this week's poem came about after I was struck by two very formidable influences over the past few days.  First, as I noted here recently, I had the opportunity to see the new movie, Trumbo.   It is a biopic detailing the life and times of legendary Hollywood screenwriter and novelist, Dalton Trumbo, a man who went to prison during the Red Scare of the 1950's in order to protect his Constitutional rights - as well as our own.   In addition to some Academy Award-winning movies, Trumbo also wrote one of the best known and most gripping anti-war novels of all time - Johnny Got His Gun.

Johnny Got His Gun is the story of a young man who suffers grievous wounds in World War I.  He wakes up (if you can call it "waking up") in a field hospital where he slowly comes to realize that he has lost his face, his vision, and all four limbs.  The only stimulus he has are his thoughts and memories, and the occasional feel of rats nibbling at the dressing on his wounds.  The book, like the author, was blacklisted for many years, but it began being circulated to wide acclaim during the Vietnam War.   Now when people talk in terms of being against war, Trumbo and Johnny are often in the forefront of the conversation.

I tried reading Johnny Got His Gun back in the sixties as it was being revived, but I was only able to make it about two-thirds of the way through the novel when I had to set it aside.   It was more horror than I could handle.  This week, after seeing the movie Trumbo, I knew that I had to make an effort to read the book again - and this time finish it.  Tim drove me to a bookstore in Kansas City where I was able to find a clean, used copy.  It is at the top of my reading pile.

Then last night another thing happened that drew me toward this week's poetry selection.  One of the series that I watch on the Roku is Supernatural, the fictional story of brothers Sam and Dean Winchester who spend their lives hunting and killing demons.  Sam and Dean also rub elbows with angels, and sometimes get tossed about in time.   The episode that I saw last night, number 125 of 218, featured a bit about one of my favorite authors, H.P. Lovecraft, a horror writer of the early twentieth century.  After viewing that,  I decided to hit the internet and try to find a poem by Lovecraft to use in today's posting.

And then I found it, the perfect poem.  Lovecraft's The Conscript is the thoughts of a young man who is being drafted into World War I.  He sees the war as an unfair imposition on his young life - in much the same way as Trumbo's Johnny must have felt after the same war had ruined his.  In the end, what was it all really about?

Wars are never fought by the men who create them - and they are seldom fought by their children.  Wars are fought by the poor for the benefit of the rich - while God remains at the arcade playing skeeball.

The Conscript
by H.P. Lovecraft

I am a peaceful working man—
     I am not wise or strong—
But I can follow Nature’s plan
     In labour, rest, and song.

One day the men that rule us all
     Decided we must die,
Else pride and freedom surely fall
     In the dim bye and bye.

They told me I must write my name
     Upon a scroll of death;
That some day I should rise to fame
     By giving up my breath.

I do not know what I have done
     That I should thus be bound
To wait for tortures one by one,
     And then an unmark’d mound.

I hate no man, and yet they say
     That I must fight and kill;
That I must suffer day by day
     To please a master’s will.

I used to have a conscience free,
     But now they bid it rest;
They’ve made a number out of me,
     And I must ne’er protest.

They tell of trenches, long and deep,
     Fill’d with the mangled slain;
They talk till I can scarcely sleep,
     So reeling is my brain.

They tell of filth, and blood, and woe;
     Of things beyond belief;
Of things that make me tremble so
     With mingled fright and grief.

I do not know what I shall do—
     Is not the law unjust?
I can’t do what they want me to,
     And yet they say I must!

Each day my doom doth nearer bring;
     Each day the State prepares;
Sometimes I feel a watching thing
     That stares, and stares, and stares.

I never seem to sleep—my head
     Whirls in the queerest way.
Why am I chosen to be dead
     Upon some fateful day?

Yet hark—some fibre is o’erwrought—
     A giddying wine I quaff—
Things seem so odd, I can do naught
     But laugh, and laugh, and laugh!

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