Because Blogger's "Adult warning" often goes into a perpetual loop (isn't working properly), I will be making all new posts at my WordPress blog. You can follow it even if you do not have a WordPress Account. There're also my Twitter and my Tumblr blog, my Facebook and my Google+ page and my group.
(Update: Blogger hasn't fixed its problem with the "adult warning". Will go back to posting at my WordPress blog)

Sunday, August 8, 2010

I Must Face the Men I Slew

When I lived in England, the tube (the London Underground railway) would have a poem in each carriage. The poems had to be short enough to fit into the space where normally an advertisement would fit. But other than that, there seemed to be no restriction: poems were mostly British, but there were plenty from America, Russia, Spain and elsewhere. A remarkably civilised venture. Somebody paid a team to select the poems, someone else was paid to print them, and others to post them up, all so that commuters might have a small touch of beauty in their lives. There's a reason utilitarian means the opposite of beautiful. Today most things ordinary people encounter are utilitarian. Ugly, sometimes so ugly it hurts: buildings, music, art, clothing, values.

A few years ago, I bought the paperback "Poems on the Underground". I see from Amazon that there are now several editions: I must have them. (Briefly considers selling body on street corners, but realises futility just in time)

I love the variety and spread of these poems. Unlike most anthologies, they're all good. (Did you know that the word anthology comes from two ancient Greek words, ἄνθος = anthos, meaning 'flower', and λόγος = logos, meaning originally 'word', 'speech', 'reason' or 'discourse'. So ἀνθολογία = anthologia/'anthology' really once meant 'flower gathering'. Nice, huh?)

Anyway, today I was thinking about war and its stupidity and evil, about Afghanistan and Iraq and all the innocents who have died on all sides, and I thought this poem by Rudyard Kipling was apposite. Most people think of him as a Colonel Blimp, a racist and an imperialist. Yet his first language was Hindi; he knew India and loved it and its peoples. He would have been aghast at the fratricide of Partition. This poem suggests he was far more complicated than a mere jingoist Little Englander.

A DEAD STATESMAN
I could not dig: I dared not rob:
Therefore I lied to please the mob.
Now all my lies are proved untrue
And I must face the men I slew.
What tale shall serve me here among
Mine angry and defrauded young?
What do they dream of the Bushes and Blairs and Husseins, as they lie asleep at night or in their graves with the blood of tens of thousands on their hands? How do they sleep?

By the way, here's a lovely post on Kipling.

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