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Saturday, February 1, 2014

Battlefields and Poems

The fierce and sudden snow of the other day that wreaked such havoc began to vanish as the temperatures again rose above freezing, so I went to Princeton Battlefield, looking for a sense of winter on the field of battle on January 3, 1777.  I have always been intrigued by the combined mass grave, shown here in the foreground.  We look through the remains of a mansion across the field and towards the American lines.


Alfred Noyes in May 1917 wrote a commemorative poem, a couple of lines which are on a grave marker shown here; the exact location may not be in this exact spot but we are told that 21 British and 15 American soldiers are buried together.  Part of the poem reads:

Through this May night, if one great ghost should stray
  With deep remembering eyes,
Where that old meadow of battle smiles away
  Its blood-stained memories,        
If Washington should walk, where friend and foe
  Sleep and forget the past,
Be sure his unquenched heart would leap to know
  Their souls are linked at last.

Noyes was the poet laureate of England, and wrote this poem for this battlefield years into the carnage of World War I.  It is, perhaps, hard to read the archaic lines from almost a century ago.  There is also something discordant about trying to express the horror of war in neatly rhyming and pseudo-soaring lines.  Still, what is interesting is the reference to the "linked souls" of enemies, buried together, and that they "sleep and forget the past." Such a lesson of forgiveness or forgetfulness is hardly reflected in the decades-old cycles of violence that circle the globe today.



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