Masterpiece Monday: Poems for Memorial Day

Image via Small Wars Journal

While every other American besides me enjoys their holiday (as I have a full tutoring shift today), I want to remind you that on top of the barbecues and road-trips, you should take a little time to remember the reason for your three-day weekend.

While everyone has their own opinions on war and the military, I think that we can agree that the loss of human life is tragic. Because Memorial Day is about remembering those soldiers who never returned, I thought I would share three poems about their ultimate sacrifice.

“Oh, Stay at Home, My Lad, and Plough” by A.E. Housman (1859-1936)

Oh stay at home, my lad, and plough
The land and not the sea
And leave the soldiers at their drill,
And all about the idle hill
Shepherd your sheep with me.

Oh stay with company and mirth
And daylight and the air;
Too full already is the grave
Of fellows that were good and brave
And died because they were.

“The Volunteer” by Elbridge Jefferson Cutler (1831-1870)

“At dawn,” he said, “I bid them all farewell,
To go where bugles call and rifles gleam.”
And with the restless thought asleep he fell,
And wandered into dream.

A great hot plain from sea to mountain spread;
Through it a level river slowly drawn;
He moved with a vast crowd, and at its head
Streamed banners like the dawn.

There came a blinding flash, a deafening roar,
And dissonant cries of triumph and dismay;
Blood trickled down the river’s reedy shore,
And with the dead he lay.

“The Flag” by Edith Matilda Thomas (1854-1925)

There were three colors in the banner bright
On which maidens stitched and stitched all day.
Their needles glanced, for with the morning light
Each saw her hero-lover march away.

Save one the maidens stitch with fond proud haste;
And her they chide, “Why do thy fingers lag?
Think but how fair will gleam, by farm and waste,
The red and white and blue of their loved flag.”

The maiden lifted neither hands nor eyes:
“The red of flowing blood I see,” she said,
“The white of faces upturned to the skies,
The blue of heaven wide above the dead.”

I love these poems because of their powerful imagery and the multiple points-of-view represented, from the soldier himself to the parents and lovers he leaves behind. Serving your country is arguably the hardest job there is, and although most people are fiercely proud of their troops, we would much rather live in a world where their occupation is unnecessary, just so they can remain with their loved ones.

Until the day when we as a globe can set aside politics and religion, greed and corruption, for the sake of diplomacy, we will need our servicemen and women. And to those who cannot be with their friends and family to jump in the swimming pool, eat a hotdog, or watch some fireworks, I say with the utmost sincerity,

Thank You.

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