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24 May 2014

Memorial Day 2014 / When you see millions of the mouthless dead across your dreams in pale battalions go

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This is Memorial Day, a three-day weekend. Wikipedia:

Memorial Day is a US federal holiday wherein the men and women who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces are remembered.[1] The holiday, which is celebrated every year on the final Monday of May,[2] was formerly known as Decoration Day and originated after the American Civil War to commemorate the Union and Confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War. By the 20th century, Memorial Day had been extended to honor all Americans who have died while in the military service. It typically marks the start of the summer vacation season, while Labor Day marks its end.

Many people visit cemeteries and memorials, particularly to honor those who have died in military service. Many volunteers place an American flag on each grave in national cemeteries.


It's one of the holidays when persons awaiting organ transplants pack a bag and wait for a phone call from the transplant surgeon. They don't know whose kidney or liver you'll get, but they know there'll be a lot of fresh available organs.

The USA war in Afghanistan -- the longest war in our history -- is still going on under the presidency of Barack Obama. The other war George W. Bush started, Iraq -- the US military commitment has mercifully ended, but Iraq is an ongoing violent catastrophe. 

Like Southeast Asia for decades after the USA withdrew from Vietnam, the entire region is destabilized and violent, and filled with enormous overflowing refugee camps. In this region entire generations live their entire lives in refugee camps.

When the US military withdraws from Afghanistan -- a fuzzy schedule possibly this year -- it certainly will not have defeated or neutralized its enemies. We'll leave, they live there.

• • •

Charles Hamilton Sorley, a Scot from Aberdeen, was shot through the head and died instantly at age 20, at the Battle of Loos, on Wednesday 13 October 1915. His body was lost, but his kit bag was found and sent home to his family. They found this poem inside it.

When You See Millions
of the Mouthless Dead

Charles Hamilton Sorley (1895-1915)

When you see millions of the mouthless dead
Across your dreams in pale battalions go,
Say not soft things as other men have said,
That you'll remember. For you need not so.
Give them not praise. For, deaf, how should they know
It is not curses heaped on each gashed head?
Nor tears. Their blind eyes see not your tears flow.
Nor honour. It is easy to be dead.
Say only this, "They are dead." Then add thereto,
"Yet many a better one has died before."
Then, scanning all the o'ercrowded mass, should you
Perceive one face that you loved heretofore,
It is a spook. None wears the face you knew.
Great death has made all his for evermore.

Original text: Charles Hamilton Sorley. Marlborough and other Poems. 4th edition. Cambridge: University Press, 1919: 78 (no. XXXIV). First publication date: 1916. Composition date: 1915. Form: sonnet. Rhyme: ababbabacdcdcd

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