How Best to Honor a Veteran?

Prairie rain


                                   A voice from the dark called out,
‘The poets must give us
imagination of peace, to oust the intense, familiar
imagination of disaster. Peace, not only
the absence of war.’
                                   But peace, like a poem,
is not there ahead of itself,
can’t be imagined before it is made,
can’t be known except
in the words of its making,
grammar of justice,
syntax of mutual aid.
                                 A feeling towards it,
dimly sensing a rhythm, is all we have
until we begin to utter its metaphors,
learning them as we speak.
                                 A line of peace might appear
if we restructured the sentence our lives are making,
revoked its reaffirmation of profit and power,
questioned our needs, allowed
long pauses . . .
                                A cadence of peace might balance its weight
on that different fulcrum; peace, a presence,
an energy field more intense than war,
might pulse then,
stanza by stanza into the world,
each act of living
one of its words, each word
a vibration of light—facets
of the forming crystal.
                                                          “Making Peace” ~ Denise Levertov


Comments always are welcome.  Please click here for more information about poet Denise Levertov.


29 thoughts on “How Best to Honor a Veteran?

  1. It’s a very interesting poem, and a lovely photo, what the Irish call a “soft day,” and I love to go walking when there’s a little mist around. In the Genesee Valley, where one of my grandmothers lived, there are often single trees like that, in the middle of the farm fields – always oaks, left standing by order of the original landowner.
    Histories are always talking about the balance of power, balance of terror, the Axis, Axis of Evil, etc. . I like “ peace might balance its weight on that different fulcrum.”

    1. Levertov is an interesting poet. I discovered her by accident, and my reaction varies quite a bit from poem to poem. Still, this is one of a pair I’ve appreciated and held on to for some time, and I thought it would fit the occasion. Like you, I especially like the line about “that different fulcrum.”

      I enjoy the ‘soft days’ as well, even though they can complicate my work life when there are too many of them. I was surprised yesterday to catch just a whiff of wet-leaf scent. It’s not something that’s common around here, and it rouses memories of much different autumns: all of them filled with more maples and elm than with palms. As for those lone trees, they do appeal. The number of places in the U.S. named Lone Tree or Lone Oak is substantial.

  2. This is tangential to your post: in following your link to information about Denise Levertov, I noticed that she grew up in the English town of Ilford. That name has long been familiar to photographers because Ilford was the main photographic company in England, the way Kodak was here. From a different website I learned this: “Mr Alfred Hugh Harman (born 1841) lived and had a photographic studio at 2 Ewell Road in Surbiton, Surrey, from 1867-1879. Four of his children were born there, adding to the three born at Peckham where he first set up business as a photographer. While at Surbiton he suddenly left his wife and family, went off with another lady and started manufacturing photographic plates from a house in Ilford.” Sounds like he didn’t maintain “a line of peace” with his family.

    1. Tangential, perhaps, but also interesting. From what I read on a few British genealogical forums, it seems that Harman still is a bit of a shadowy figure. I thought this was especially interesting:

      “He left a share of his will (valued at £333,000 in 1913) to his adopted daughter Margaret Hilda Knobel (Harman). I think she was the daughter of Edward Ball Knobel (who was Director of the Ilford Photographic Company) and Margaret nee Whitehead (abt 1851 in St James, Middlesex). I don’t know why he adopted her or left her his money. Any leads or information welcome.”

      There’s a fine history of the company here. It shows the trademark Harman adopted on page 17. It wasn’t a camera, but a paddle steamer flying a burgee with the company name. Perhaps it was meant as a sign of modernity, since steamboats had emerged as quite a force in transportation by that time.

      1. You’ve made me aware that the website I quoted doubled the n at the end of Harman.

        Burgee is a new word for me. People have conjectured that it came from a dialectal French form of bourgeois that meant ‘shipowner.’

        1. After I discovered both spellings of Harman’s name appearing on various websites, it took me a few minutes to decide which form was correct. It’s a tricky world out there: if it’s not Ipomoea, it’s poor Mr. Harman. I’ll dispose of that extra ‘n’.

          On motor craft, the national flag flies from the stern, and the burgee from a flagstaff at the bow. Sailboats usually fly theirs from a dedicated line in the rigging, since sails attach at the bow and make flying a burgee impossible. Yacht clubs and various cruising associations have their own versions; here are a couple of my customers just home after an extended cruise with the America’s Great Loop Cruising Association burgee.

  3. A lovely poem to pay tribute to war veterans and their fight for peace. The photo is surely an analogy. The scene is one of a hushed quietness,. There is no movement in the prairie, except the light rain falling around a solitary tree that keeps vigil over the dying grasses as winter approaches

    1. And it was peace for which they hoped, although they fought for many things. Some wars in which we’ve been engaged have been questionable and ill-advised at best; some were necessary. Some helped bring healing to other countries; some have torn our country apart. But the ones who were called to serve, and who accepted the call, deserve to be honored, and helped. Too many veterans still are suffering, or dying by their own hand. They, too, deserve some peace.

    1. When I was very much younger, a popular camp song began, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.” The message here is very much the same, although more nuanced and in some ways more thought provoking.”A line of peace might appear if we restructured the sentence our lives are making” is both poetic and powerful. Imagine if it were true.

  4. Peace is always hard. Making it. Keeping it.

    I often wonder where we’d be if all those young men we lost, not just in WWI but in all wars, had been able to become what they might have been. The loss of life in WWI was so horrendous that it’s hard to get your mind around it. (The word “decimate” actually means killing one out of every ten. During WWI, it was more like one in every ten survived.) We in America don’t appreciate the impact that such a loss of life had on society because we didn’t lose that many when compared to England, France, Belgium, and Germany. The irony of it is we are still paying the cost of that war, because it sowed the seeds for WWII, the Soviet Union, genocide in the Balkans and Turkey, and the trouble in the Middle East.

    1. Your first comment isn’t only true, it also reminded me of William Makepeace Thackery, and the curiosity of such a surname. I found a good history of the name here that you might enjoy.

      The losses in WWI were made even more terrible by the flu pandemic that swept the world at the time. Loss is loss, and the loss of lives to the pandemic raises the same questions you ask about the lives lost in battle. It bothers me tremendously that in this country, where we’re supposed to be so advanced, there are increasing numbers of people choosing not to vaccinate their children. We’ll all be paying the cost for that in the future if the trend can’t be reversed. (And it’s more than a little ironic that highly educated, well-off individuals are making that choice, while in areas of the world like West Africa, even non-literate and poverty-stricken mothers understand that they can help their children through such a simple thing as a measles vaccination.)

      Peace is for the living, and any set of values or beliefs that promotes death is set against it.

    1. There’s something about rain-wrapped trees that I often find comforting rather than depressing or distressing, and a lone tree in a field does stir emotions — not always identifiable. I’m glad it appealed to you.

  5. I like cadence of peace as cadence is so often used in the context of marching off to war. Drums of peace or drums of wars. A wonderful poem for Veteran’s Day!!

    1. I thought this poem was perfect for the day. I love seeing the various memorials — especially the creative use of poppies — and reading the stories of those who have served in any war always is touching and thought-provoking, but I just wanted something different this year: a looking forward, as well as a looking back.

  6. Lovely poem! I love:

    “A cadence of peace might balance its weight
    on that different fulcrum; peace, a presence,
    an energy field more intense than war,
    might pulse then…”

    My favorite movie about veterans is: ‘The Best Years of Our Lives’. The actor Harold Russell was a Canadian-born American World War II veteran who became one of only two non-professional actors to win an Academy Award for acting. I think that makes a statement. Actor Russell also lost both hands during the war.

    The other one I also like is ‘The Deer Hunter’, although lengthy and complex. It will never have the charm of ‘The Best Years of Ours Lives’, but it gets the point across when at the end De Niro refuses to shoot the deer. It’s also a much more controversial film I suppose because it seems to question war altogether, although in my opinion it’s more about veterans than about warfare.

    1. I saw The Deer Hunter, but The Best Years of Our Lives isn’t familiar. How that can be, I’m not sure. I just read about its history, the plot, and so on, and it sounds like a wonderful film. Many of the names associated with it are familiar, including that of MacKinlay Kantor, who did the screenplay. I read his book Andersonville, years ago. I’ve added the film to my ‘watch list’ for this winter, which is when I tend to do most of my movie-watching.

      One of the best places for veterans in Houston is called Camp Hope. It’s for veterans who are having trouble readjusting, and particularly for those suffering from PTSD. The community really supports them, and their work has raised awareness of the need to support veterans with more than a yearly parade.

      1. I dare say ‘The Best Years of Our Lives’ is one of the most popular movies shown on TV. I see it aired on the TMC channel several times a year, although I’m not so much of a TV fan myself. Hoagy Carmichael had a cameo appearance in the movie also. My father was a fan of his as well as other Jazz musicians from his time.

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