Posted by: John Looker | 9 November, 2014

After The War

.

After the War

People seldom spoke about the war
directly. Each family had certain of its members
missing, and the child walking with mother in the city saw

gaps among the houses where blackened rubble lay
unremarked. The cinema screens relived and relived
victorious raids and daring escapes but kept away 

from the darker memories, transmuted or denied
the starker facts. November months brought collective moments
of remembrance: silence for those who had died. 

And the petty reminders: the rationing of food, cracks
in the neglected paintwork, the well-worn clothes:
as a large beast leaves distinctive tracks 

where it was stalking. Of those harrowing years, little was said.
Babies were made. New laws were born.
There was much to be done, but no-one forgot the past.

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© John Stevens 2014

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Responses

  1. Amen

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  2. This seems driven by personal memory, so the last half line seems true but it doesn’t seem true to the decidedly impersonal narrative. You that child? The irony of form / content is so subdued there’s a sense if repression. That what you aim for here?

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    • Yes, repression is the right word I think Tom. In a way I was that child (born ten days after VE Day) but the poem is offered to anyone and with general experience in mind.

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  3. oh! that stalking beast comparison is simply perfect

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  4. This week, here in the USA we commemorate the armistice of WWI on ” the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month”……I was not alive when the treaty of Versailles was signed, but all that I’ve read, seen on film, overheard and was told by grandparents comes back to me when I read this poem. There was indeed indirectness, denial, and repression in those tellings.

    You’ve captured it beautifully here, John. Like Sarah, I’m especially fond of that beast leaving petty reminders, but there are many moments to savor poetically throughout….babies made/laws born….The rhyme knits it well, too, and unobtrusively; I wonder why it stops in the last stanza….

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    • In Britain the commemoration has moved to the nearest Sunday, ‘Remembrance Sunday’ — today. I’m glad you feel that the poem works, Cynthia. And I knew you, if anyone, would spot that implicit closing rhyme. Thank you.

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  5. Hi John, so many stories of war told in one poem, and I also noticed the missing rhyme, but it seems not to do any harm to this wonderful poem! 🙂

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  6. I think this poem touches on how humanity (myself included) finds solace in the practical duties of life, humanity and society as a whole with its new laws to be made. Your poem captures a truth we have all experienced and one worth pondering. I suppose it may be “repression”, but it’s also sheer survival…and hopefully, in time, the healing begins for all.

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    • I think you’re right Anna. You’ve set me thinking again …

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  7. A powerful poem, John. It makes me think of how all wars throughout time have left their “geology” upon the earth… and on our humanity….

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    • Thanks Betty – I see just what you mean.

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  8. You have reached for power here, John, and achieved it.
    The break in the first line starts the power:
    “People seldom spoke about the war
    directly.”
    The break in the sense of the line is perfect. “People seldom spoke about the war”
    At least not
    “directly.”
    hinting, of course, that they spoke in symbolic ways about the war all the time.
    Then the terrible facts of war:
    “Each family had certain of its members
    missing, and the child walking with mother in the city saw

    gaps among the houses where blackened rubble lay
    unremarked…”
    But then the telling imagefact:
    “The cinema screens relived and relived
    victorious raids and daring escapes but kept away

    from the darker memories, transmuted or denied
    the starker facts. ”
    The cinema as escape, as the image of denial of “darker memories, transmuted or denied…” even though “Each family had certain of its members/missing…”
    In the silence of victory and daring escapes lies the horror of denial and forgetting: What a powerful set of thoughts!

    Then, on the edge of winter in November, as all of Europe struggled with the “gaps among houses,” the ways denial was actually remembrance:
    “November months brought collective moments
    of remembrance: silence for those who had died.

    And the petty reminders: the rationing of food, cracks
    in the neglected paintwork, the well-worn clothes:”
    The formal moments of collective remembrance contrasted with the real reminders of the war, “the rationing of food, cracks in the neglected paintwork…” The reality of life after a storm that we want to forget but cannot since it is ingrained into our existence: ” as a large beast leaves distinctive tracks

    where it was stalking.” The war gone, but not gone, the possibility, since there are tracks, that it will stalk again.

    Then the summing up, the beginning of time outside of the still present tracks of the beast, the going on to the “much to be done…”
    “Of those harrowing years, little was said.
    Babies were made. New laws were born.
    There was much to be done, ”
    But, “but no-one forgot the past.”
    It haunts us, the poet, still.

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    • It’s very good of you, Thomas, to take the time to read these lines so closely. I took a lot of trouble over the line breaks, as you surmised (as equally over the avoidance of the obvious rhyme on the final word). Thank you.

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      • Your craftsmanship is always to be admired, John.

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  9. A beautifully crafted and moving poem….

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I’m revisiting this poem in honor of the day. I marvel at how well you have captured the matter-of-factness, the stoicism—even denial—of horror by the human spirit.

    My uncle Walter, who flew planes and dropped bombs over Europe in that war was recently honored for his distinguished service. I went to watch as he received–as they termed it, “belatedly”— a medal from the French consul on board a ship in Boston harbor. To this day, though, he has never spoken of his experience, even at age 92 and still having all of his marbles.

    My own poem by this same title deals more with consequent life in the late forties and early fifties, in a country not blitzed as was yours. I do always think of shiny shoes when I recall those times; it seemed that no matter how threadbare the coat, to keep the shoes polished was a matter of upstanding and pride.

    Looks like a significant natal anniversary is coming right up. 🙂

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  11. Thanks Cynthia. I am very interested to hear that story of your uncle; it provides an insight into that war, especially that he was honoured (at last) by France. I once attended a reception on a French naval frigate moored on the Thames in London, but an award ceremony in Boston harbour must have been something special.
    (You’re right about that anniversary by the way!).

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