Commonplace: Cicely Hamilton, “Non-Combatant”

The First World War, or the Great War, began on 28 July 1914. It ended on the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month in 1918. Tuesday marks Remembrance Day or Veteran’s Day in the US. I’m teaching modernism in my British Literature class right now, and I can’t quite convey, have never been able to convey, the destructiveness of this war. That it was a war preached from the pulpit, that men were driven to slaughter by the hundreds of thousands in dark, dismal trenches. The poetry of the period, often brief, captures the despair and grief. This week, I’m doing commonplaces from those poets from The Great War Poetry project.


 

Before one drop of angry blood was shed

I was sore hurt and beaten to my knee;

Before one fighting man reeled back and died

The War-Lords struck at me.

They struck me down — an idle, useless mouth,

As cumbrous — nay, more cumbrous — than the dead,

With life and heart afire to give and give

I take a dole instead.

With life and heart afire to give and give

I take and eat the bread of charity.

In all the length of all this eager land,

No man has need of me.

That is my hurt — my burning, beating wound;

That is the spear-thrust driven through my pride!

With aimless hands, and mouth that must be fed,

I wait and stand aside.

Let me endure it, then, with stiffened lip:

I, even I, have suffered in the strife!

Let me endure it then — I give my pride

Where others give a life.

 

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