Saturday, 1 September 2018

Shell Cases

September sweeps in, the relentless year rolls on. Summer is almost spent and there is a tang of autumn in the air. A new school term is underway, the football season is getting into gear and in the jewel of the north it's 'switch on' week-end. Blackpool Illuminations light up the promenade and Britney Spears ("Baby One More Time", heaven help us) is in town to top tonight's big gig on the headland. She's probably gyrating and miming to her set as I write - thankfully the house on the strand is just out of earshot.

It's also the time when your Saturday Blogger's thoughts turn to a holiday in the Greek sunshine, a strategy to hang onto warm days for a while longer. Rhodes beckons. This, then, will be my last post for a couple of weeks. Its allotted theme is shells.

I've conjured mentally with a number of ways that I could go with it - and you can almost guarantee that I'm not going to take the obvious route, especially as I only wrote about cockling a fortnight ago. The nearest we're getting to shells of the maritime variety is the photograph below that I took of a case of beautiful shells in dusty Crete a couple of summers ago.


As we approach the 100th anniversary of the end of World War One, I'm sure we'll be reminded once again just what a cataclysmic event it was in European history, one of the deadliest conflicts of all time. Over ten million soldiers were killed in the fighting, along with two million civilians who were simply 'collateral damage' of the military offensive. On top of that another six million civilians died as a result of malnutrition and disease across the war-scarred territories of central Europe during the four years of the campaign. Over and above the eighteen million dead, there were another twenty-three million who were wounded. The numbers are simply staggering!

Regrettably it was followed only two decades later by an even more deadly sequel. In fact there hasn't been a single year in the last half-century when there wasn't a war being waged somewhere on the planet.

I've written several poems about the First World War and I'm adding to the number here with an oblique take on the week's theme. It was often said that the dead were the lucky ones; whereas for a percentage of the twenty-three million 'undead' who never properly recovered, their lot was an almost unimaginable suffering, living on as permanent victims of the war. It used to be called 'shell shock'; it's labelled post-traumatic stress disorder these days - more generic, more euphemistic.

I say 'almost unimaginable', because of course we make attempts to imagine it, in order to try and understand and empathise with the predicament of people who were exposed to horrors way beyond the comfortable pale of our own experience; and to suggest by the weight of words why such atrocities should never be allowed to happen again...

Shell Cases
Hold the line. Hold the line.
It will soon be medication time,
a numbing pill in a candy shell.

Once the awful shaking begins,
that's when you know.
Behind the hollow eyes
are scenes replayed
that have unminded
all these brave and honest souls.

This was a doctor, over there
a ploughboy and beside him
a blacksmith and two clerks.
The one who just stares at the floor
was a schoolmaster before the war.
Lawyers and labourers rub shoulders,
the majors and the miners
are neighbours in this new estate,
all cursed alike by warlike fate,
no larks for these good people anymore.

Hold the line. Hold the line.
This is retribution time,
the bitter pill of a living hell.

Truth to tell, although
they inhabit a common nightmare
yet they are disparate still,
for none would ever dare to share
with what sensibility they retain
the secret that unites them:
disgust, despair, and above all,
the toll of quite unhinging terror.

If you had known them then,
you would not know them now,
slow, scarred, vulnerable men.

They mill around in pain,
these human husks,
silently sick with the shock of shells
spat out at speed.
A constant rain of percussive seeds
has shredded every nerve,
has blown their very brains.
Most wish that they were dead indeed.

Hold the line. Hold the line.
It will soon be medication time.


Thanks for reading. Be kind to each other, S ;-)
Reactions:

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

I don't know how to respond other than to say it leaves me speechless.

Matt West said...

Wish I could write like you pal. Do that book on the Oystons.

RC said...

A powerful, well crafted poem.

Anonymous said...

Yes, powerful and moving. If you were going for emotional impact, this delivers.

Adele said...

Phenomenal Steve!

Boz said...

Yep, that's pretty good.

Hodan said...

Powerful!no words to describe the feeling I had reading it. Thank you Steve.

Will M said...

Nice poem there on the shellshock thing, and of course it’s utterly relevant given the subject heading of shells, but I’ve often felt a grisly contemporary of WWI got a very raw deal in the "wasn’t it ghastly" department.

Spanish ’flu, which was of course no more Spanish than I am, killed FAR more people than the two World Wars put together, and yet one doesn’t see quite the same outpouring of 100-years-on handkerchief material as for the Great War. Not by a long chalk. It’s a bit of a mystery, really.

Anonymous said...

Great poem Steve.

Anonymous said...

Incredibly moving.

Anonymous said...

Bravo.

Anonymous said...

Another great blog that. Such a powerful poem.

Anonymous said...

Wow!

Anonymous said...

Wonderful poem.

Anonymous said...

That's such a powerful piece of writing. Thank you for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Excellent!

Anonymous said...

As others have commented, a powerful and moving poem.

Anonymous said...

Well this is just brilliant! How movingly you write.

Niall said...

Tremendous and very touching.