January 28, 1990 [War Requiem]

Sometimes, when I want to remind myself that the Middle Ages echo as though sound had no dying-point, no eventual muffling as the waves crash against one rock, then on to another, without lessening--again, when I want to see those days as clear as a flare at night, I read Wilfred Owen, his alliterative pleas and proclamations as old as the muddy ruts where soldiers have lain forever.

In "The End," he wonders if any wounds will heal after World War I:
Shall Life renew these bodies? Of a truth,
All death will he annul, all tears assuage?--
Or fill these void veins full again with youth,
And wash, with an immortal water, age?
Of course not:
When I do ask white Age, he saith not so:
"My head hangs weighed with snow."
And when I hearken to the Earth, she saith:
"My fiery heart shrinks, aching. It is death.
Mine ancient scars shall not be glorified,
Nor my titanic tears, the seas, be dried."
This is necessary--Benjamin Britten thought so when he composed War Requiem--and so does Derek Jarman with his visual music film, respectful and beautiful, but certain that the end is the end, and that nothing remains.

--except the urge to hold a hand against the will to war, the awful certainty that every generation has to take its turn--yes, some more than others; but why, with so few of us princes, are we Machiavellian in our certainty that we must always be thinking of war, preparing for our turn? The first World War is Medieval in its refusal not to die out: Its brutal sloppiness has been repeated over and over, and my heart shrinks like the Earth as we move closer to one another--and not in cozy affection, but like creatures caught in a small space with our breaths hot in each others' faces.


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