Do People Die in War So That Professors Can Read Poetry About It?

By David Swanson

The latest hardcopy newsletter from the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities opens with an article about poetry about war, which opens with this line: “Many of my favorite poets are soldiers.” The author begins with a poet who “has served in the current war in Iraq.” Served what we are not told. Then she jumps to Virgil and declares:

“Neither Virgil nor Turner gives us answers to war: they know the questions are more important, and likely answerable only by each of us alone.”

So we should each enlist right away in order to answer “the questions”? Or we should all read lots of ambiguous war poetry? Who knows, because this follows:

“What is my responsibility as the gears of human perfidy and greatness grind together?”

Another question that is more important than the answer, no doubt. And yet, what could be more important or – by now – more obvious than the answer?

Your responsibility is to bring war to an end and find your vicarious adrenaline and heroism through something less murderous.

Congress is busy using your money to fund more war while you enjoy its poetry. But the purpose of the wars is not the poetry. The purpose of any good war poetry, however, is to end war.

The poem from Iraq quoted in the newsletter is a crystal clear demand for an end to war, nothing ambiguous or questioning about it. It’s an excellent poem, but not one that lends itself to fair and balanced journalism. Here it is:

“Curfew” from Brian Turner’s book Here, Bullet

At dusk, bats fly out by the hundreds.
Water snakes glide in the ponding basins
behind the rubbled palaces. The mosques
call their faithful in, welcoming
the moonlight as prayer.

Today, policemen sunbathed on traffic islands
and children helped their mothers
string clothes to the line, a slight breeze
filling them with heat.

There were no bombs, no panic in the streets.
Sgt. Gutierrez didn’t comfort an injured man
who cupped pieces of his friend’s brain
in his hands; instead, today,
white birds rose from the Tigris.