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Wednesday, July 1, 2015

"Soldier from the wars returning" - A. E. Housman

Soldier from the wars returning,
Spoiler of the taken town,
Here is ease that asks not earning;
Turn you in and sit you down.

Peace is come and wars are over,
Welcome you and welcome all,
While the charger crops the clover
And his bridle hangs in stall.

Now no more of winters biting,
Filth in trench from tall to spring,
Summers full of sweat and fighting
For the Kesar or the King.

Rest you, charger, rust you, bridle;
Kings and kesars, keep your pay;
Soldier, sit you down and idle
At the inn of night for aye.










If only such a day as this would come, when soldiers turn down from the fight and there is peace.  While the imagery of this poem is dated, and soldiers no longer have horses (charger), the sentiment is the same.  It's an almost fatigued sounding poem, as if the author, Housman, has just seen enough of war.  That would make sense, given that this poem was written in 1922, after Europe had been devastated by unimaginable war and hardship.  If only Kings and Kesars (kaisers, ceasers) would keep their pay, and not finance wars.

While there is a persistent fatigued tone to the poem, I feel that it also extends an invitation for healing.  In the first two lines, Housman acknowledges that soldiers who return from war (as opposed to those who do not) are not blameless themselves.  The returning soldier is the "spoiler of the taken town."  His war deeds were earned in blood.  Despite this, comfort is offered.  I wouldn't say forgiveness, because that's not mentioned again.  Peace is the offer.  "Here is ease that asks not earning."  Housman wants nothing in return for peace.  There are no demands, no vengeance, no grudges.  "Turn you in and sit you down."  Just stop war and take peace, since it's right there, he's saying.

Housman wants to see the bridle rust and the horse rest, and the soldier nevermore return to war.  To him, peace can be that simple.  The last line, "at the inn of night for aye" contains a bit of an archaic phrasing.  "For aye" means forever.  An alternate reading of the poem can assert that the soldier returning from war is dead.  The inn of night is eternity, where there will be peace forever.  The charger no longer carries the man and the bridle will rust from disuse.  Even if there is war in the world, there is peace for this soldier who no longer fights, and no longer has to endure the inhumanity of trench warfare.  I still think the poem is a larger call for peace rather than an individual mourning, but both opinions are valid.

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