02 February 2008

“Achilles in the Trench”

I am feeling poetic at this moment, so I would like to share one of my favorite pieces of verse. This was written by Patrick Shaw-Stewart, a young scholar and poet who died too young in 1917—a victim of the Great War.

He composed this poem during the Gallipoli campaign, when he overlooked the site of ancient Troy.

There are many classic war poems—indeed, The Iliad is perhaps the greatest—but I think this is the supreme one written in the modern era.
Achilles in the Trench

I saw a man this morning
Who did not wish to die;
I ask, and cannot answer,
If otherwise wish I.

Fair broke the day this morning
Upon the Dardanelles:
The breeze blew soft, the morn’s cheeks
Were cold as cold sea-shells.

But other shells are waiting
Across the Aegean Sea;
Shrapnel and high explosives,
Shells and hells for me.

Oh Hell of ships and cities,
Hell of men like me,
Fatal second Helen,
Why must I follow thee?

Achilles came to Troyland
And I to Chersonese;
He turned from wrath to battle,
And I from three days’ peace.

Was it so hard, Achilles,
So very hard to die?
Thou knowest, and I know not;
So much the happier am I.

I will go back this morning
From Imbros o’er the sea.
Stand in the trench, Achilles,
Flame-capped, and shout for me.