"Recessional" into memory, 100 years on

"Recessional" into memory, 100 years on
Far-called, our navies melt away;
  On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
   Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget — lest we forget!

-- from "Recessional" (1897) by Rudyard Kipling

I had other ideas about what to write, but they can wait. This can't. One hundred years ago today was the beginning of the Great War, which was with tragic speed renamed World War I.

You're probably saying to yourself just now that 100 years is a long time. As an old saying goes -- one that my British cousins and I bandy about with mutual amusement -- the Americans think 100 years is a long time, and the British think 100 miles is a long way. Neither one truly understand the other.

One way I'm trying to understand is a statue I saw often in Cambridge, England, when I visited there as  a student. It's called "The Homecoming," unveiled in 1922 as a war memorial. It was at the railway station when I came to know it, but the BBC reported in 2012 that it was moving to a new site at the Botanic Garden after restoration.

At the station, it was very powerful. It's a figure of a young soldier, his feet set toward town and home, his face looking back at the station. If you think you can't see pain and grief in a statue's face, you've never seen this one. I see it in my mind's eye on days like this. The pain of realizing all of his friends who are not coming home, all the faces he didn't see at the station, is written all over his face. Multiply that.

I'll be witty again another day, I suppose. Today is no day for that. It's a day for poems, such as Rudyard Kipling's "Recessional" -- quoted above and below this paragraph. I trust you to find the rest on your shelf -- or follow the link to the Poetry Foundation if you need to. As the Poetry Foundation's biography of Kipling notes, "his unpopular political views caused his work to be neglected shortly after his death. Critics, however, recognize the power of his work."

I suppose other writers may muse about how far we've come in 100 years... computers, automobiles, phones, and on and on. But with the world in such a state -- again -- I find myself turning to Kipling's words. I leave you with them:

For  heathen heart that puts her trust
   In reeking tube and iron shard,
All valiant dust that builds on dust,
   And guarding, calls not Thee to guard,
For frantic boast and foolish word —
Thy mercy on Thy People, Lord!


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  • Beautiful and eloquent. There is an installation in London---

  • In reply to Weather Girl:

    Thank you! I'll check out the installation.

  • P.S. I checked out the link, and I thank you for it again. Powerful stuff.

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