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Friday, June 18, 2010

Anthem of Doomed Youth..

http://www.chance1234.com/anthem/anthem.htm

More than a decade back, we were doing a radio documentary for All India Radio on the 1971 war. We interviewed  one of the heroes of that war, Gen JFR Jacob. At the end of the interview, his eyes misted over, and in his faltering voice, he recited this beautiful stanza from a poem, as a homage to all the young men who lay down their lives in war:


"What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?



- Only the monstruous anger of the guns.


Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle


Can patter out their hasty orisons.


No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;


Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, -


The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;


And bugles calling for them from sad shires."

Back at the editing suite, I was moved by the soft sad voice of the General reciting this sad poem, and I ended my documentary with the stanza.

It was only sevaral years later, thanks to the internet, that I looked up the poem. I found it had been written by Wilfred Owen, a young British chap who perished  in the great carnage that was World War I. Before his death, he wrote several pacifist poems, the best known of which was the poem called the "Anthem for Doomed Youth". Gen Jacob's stanza was from that poem, a brief and shining gem, which I place below in its entirety. Above, I'm also attaching a link to the flash version of the poem, which tries to convey the sadness and futility of WW I, with the whine of shells, the patter of rifles, photos and great music. So, a la Kurt Vonnegut, here it goes:

"Anthem for Doomed Youth


What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?


- Only the monstruous anger of the guns.


Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle


Can patter out their hasty orisons.


No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;


Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, -


The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;


And bugles calling for them from sad shires.










What candles may be held to speed them all?


Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes


Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.


The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;


Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,


And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds."



The flash version of the poem, is also at:

http://www.chance1234.com/anthem/anthem.htm

However, till today, I am amazed at Gen Jacob, an old soldier,
showing such sensitivity and poetic taste.....I guess in his old age,
after all the glory and valour, he had to find something to console
him for all the friends that he had lost to the grim reaper Death....





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