Sunday, May 22, 2005

a 22 year old war poet laments the death of one of his men

For all the book hunting I do, sometimes it's not until I have to decide to sell or not to sell that I actually peruse the books I've hunted down. Winnowing my books yesterday, I came across A Year in Poetry. Its resale value is negligible but it's a keeper. I put it in my personal pile.

In it I discovered a Scottish poet from WWI, Ewart Alan Mackintosh. He was a 22-year old lieutenant when he carried one of his wounded men, Private David Sutherland, back from enemy engagement. Pvt. Sutherland died before he reached safety, and so he left him behind enemy lines. He records Pvt. Sutherland's death in this poignant poem. It has me thinking about the war in Iraq.

In Memoriam
by Ewart Alan Mackintosh

So you were David's father,
And he was your only son,
And the new-cut peats are rotting
And the work is left undone,
Because of an old man weeping,
Just an old man in pain,
For David, his son David,
That will not come again.

Oh, the letters he wrote you,
And I can see them still,
Not a word of the fighting
But just the sheep on the hill
And how you should get the crops in
Ere the year got stormier,
And the Bosches have got his body,
And I was his officer.

You were only David's father,
But I had fifty sons
When we went up that evening
Under the arch of the guns,
And we came back at twilight
- O God! I heard them call
To me for help and pity
That could not help at all.

Oh, never will I forget you,
My men that trusted me,
More my sons than your fathers'
For they could only see
The little helpless babies
And the young men in their pride.
They could not see you dying
And hold you while you died.

Happy and young and gallant,
they saw their first born go,
But not the strong limbs broken
And the beautiful men brought low,
The piteous writhing bodies,
They screamed, "Don't leave me Sir,"
For they were only fathers
But I was your officer.

Written in 1917, in memory of Private David Sutherland, killed in Action in the German Trench, May 16th 1916. The author was killed in action shortly after composing the poem.

See more of E.A. Mackintosh here.

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