Thursday, September 04, 2008


Elegy For A Dead Soldier
By Karl Shapiro

The time to mourn is short that best becomes
The military dead.
We lift and fold the flag,
Lay bare the coffin with its written tag,
And march away.
Behind, four others wait
To lift the box, the heaviest of loads.
The anesthetic afternoon benumbs,
Sickens our senses, forces back our talk.
We know that others on tomorrows roads
Will fall, ourselves perhaps, the man beside,
Over the world the threatened, all who walk:
And could we mark the grave of him who died
We could write this beneath his name and date:
Underneath this wooden cross there lies
A Christian killed in battle.
You who read,
Remember that this stranger died in pain;
And passing here, if you can lift your eyes
Upon a peace kept by human creed,
Know that one soldier has not died in vain.

To the Canadian soldiers who recently lost their lives in Afghanistan


Brian Campbell said...

A beautiful and grave poem (in all senses of the latter word.) The easy facility with rhyme worthy of one who wrote a book entitled "Essay on Rime". "A Christian killed in battle" though, gave me pause. Why not a Moslem killed in battle? Or a Jew? (& Karl was Jewish...) But, this soldier is buried under a cross, of course, not star of david, or swastika for that matter.

Which brings to mind other questions. If he's referring to the kinds of guys who kill, rape, commit atrocities in any war, that "Christian" appelation, with its conventional cloak of assumed goodness, becomes questionable indeed. (And no, I don't sense any irony in his use of the word "Christian".) WWII is often described as "the last good war", but that common view becomes questionable as soon as we delve into some of the details.

This also brings to mind that specious exploitation of the heroism of soldiers to defend & promote all kinds of nasty, imperialist wars and the defence industry in general. All that crapola coming from the so-called Christian right these days... supported by embedded reporting from the media, including from Afghanistan. Hence this poem, for all its mastery, does not sit all that well with me.

Nick said...


Sorry that this poem does not sit well with you. It was meant simply as an hommage to those that die in the name of peace. I am not here to defend the comportment of the military criminal. As in any population deviants are present in the military. And no I did not support the Afghanistan or Iraq war. But I don't believe that these soldiers (civilians or anybody else for that matter) deserve to die to further the ends of any government. And so this, however maladroit, is a means to honor their sacrifice - however misappropriate.

Nick said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nick said...

I should specify that the explanation that I give above is my own personal reason for replicating the poem here and not necessarily the original intent of the poet.

Brian Campbell said...

I appreciate your feelings of ambivalence vis-a-vis those wars over there & the soldiers who give life and limb to fight them. Clearly, I share those feelings. I should have thanked you for sharing that poem, too.