American War Poetry, Part VII

Today, Memorial Day, I’m featuring a poem composed for a memorial service. The year was 1921 and the service was held in memory of William Earl Covey, who died of pneumonia while serving in France in World War I.

William Covey was the son and grandson of noted naturalists in the Adirondacks. His father, Earl Covey, built Covewood Lodge, a wonderful place you can still visit today. “Willie,” as he was known, hiked and camped in those mountains with two childhood friends who also served in World War I but were lucky enough to return. The friends decided there should be a memorial bridge at Twitchell Lake, and a couple years later the bridge was dedicated. The program for the dedication ceremony included this poem, written by a Marion Cleveland:

In Memoriam

Far, far above the tops of all the trees
His spirit floats unseen, borne by the breeze:
His spirit, — he who daily loved to roam
Far in the silent wood, his native home.

To him the woods were like an open book,
He knew each tiny stream, each babbling brook;
No secret of the forest but he knew;
No trail he could not find with instinct true.

How different from the peace he lived within
Was whir of shrapnel and the battle’s din!
He came not back, for him the awful price
Of War was truly the great sacrifice.

‘Tis fitting that the stream he loved so well
Should by this bridge of stone be spanned, to tell
Of him, — to those who daily pass it o’er, —
Who loved the woods, but loved his country more.

(H/T to the Adirondack Express, December 17, 2002)

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2 Responses to “American War Poetry, Part VII”

  1. Paul Knopfler Says:

    Excellent job, Mark. Congratulations.

    Last night I was reading ‘Goodbye to All That’, by Robert Graves . That’s why I post you one of his poems. Thank you for your blog.

    RECALLING WAR

    Entrance and exit wounds are silvered clean,
    The track aches only when the rain reminds.
    The one-legged man forgets his leg of wood,
    The one-armed man bis jointed wooden arm.
    The blinded man sees with his ears and hands
    As much or more than once with both his eyes.
    Their war was fought these twenty years ago
    And now assumes the nature-look af time,
    As when the morning traveller turns and views
    His wild night-stumbling carved into a hill.

    What, then, was war?
    No mere discord of flags
    But an infection of the common sky
    That sagged aminously upon the earth
    Even when the season was the airiest May.
    Down pressed the sky, and we, oppressed, thrust out
    Boastful tongue, clenched fist and valiant yard.
    Natural infirmities were out of mode,
    For Death was young again: patron alone
    Of healthy dying, premature fate-spasm.

    Fear made fine bed-fellows. Sick with delight
    At life’s discovered transitoriness,
    Our youth became all-flesh and waived the mind.
    Never was such antiqueness of romance,
    Such tasty honey oozing from the heart.

    ROBERT GRAVES

    Note. With the outbreak of World War I, nineteen-year-old Robert Graves enlisted immediately in the Royal Welch Fusiliers and was sent to Nothern France (poets Isaac Rosenberg, Wilfred Owen and Siesgfried Sassoon were also there).

    I wonder if he could meet William Earl Covey and others American poets


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