Lest We Forget
One of the poems we learnt from our West Indian Reader Book 3 or 4 in my heyday:
YOU know, we French storm’d Ratisbon:
A mile or so away
On a little mound, Napoleon
Stood on our storming-day;
We strutted like the little man, legs wide apart, head bowed as we uttered these brave lines of Robert Browning’s “Incident of the French Camp” – a Victorian narrative poem meant to teach us loyalty, nobility and courage, in choral speaking fray.
We galloped in with the young soldier until we came to the awesome lines – awesome a word young people today have changed forever from its heretofore meaning:
You look’d twice ere you saw his breast
Was all but shot in two.
Yet still, our voice leapt with pride for an instant under the choral master’s baton; then softened into sorrow’s cadences, noting the swift change in Napoleon’s demeanour:
The chief’s eye flash’d; but presently
Soften’d itself, as sheathes
A film the mother-eagle’s eye
When her bruis’d eaglet breathes.
But stridently, chest high, with no dying breath, in the young soldier’s voice, we pridefully sounded:
… “Nay,” the soldier’s pride
Touch’d to the quick, he said:
“I ’m kill’d, Sire!” And his chief beside,
Smiling the boy fell dead.
Coda – Lest we forget:
- Black soldiers and their progeny of wars of the 19th and 20th centuries still experience the need to hold their own memorials today, fighting an uphill battle to be among the remembered, not forgotten.
- Do poets still write war poems? Or has the genre disappeared under the cloud of Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce et Decorum Est”?