"Six jolly soldiers to carry my coffin,
six jolly soldiers to walk by my side;
let six jolly soldiers take a bunch of red roses
therefore to smell them as we move along"

--When I Was On Horseback, Irish ballad

Bored of farm, of crow, of field,
we put our shoulders to the wheel
of patriot's game and patriot's folly,
for love of King and kin, by golly.

The station's bands and bunting were fine,
with cheering sweethearts straight down the line
to see us off to who knows where,
God help the Boche when we get there.

We joined the army with our "chums",
to sound of bagpipe and of drums,
that echoed off the bricks of Dublin
to let the bastards know we're comin'.

Here's your quarters, here's your dinner,
trench and rat and all you sinners
here to fight and done by Christmas,
not knowing the endless Hell that this is.

Here, no crow, no pretty crocus,
just splintered bone and bloated horses,
just bombs that scream and hands that shake
like earth itself when bedlam breaks.

Kiss the cross, go over the top,
wish yourself back in your uncle's shop,
buck up boys, and give 'em hell,
the kind that comes when flesh meets shell.

It's not so bad, you've still one eye,
what the trenchfoot takes will always be dry.
Go home and rest on a porch so cool
to think on your glory, and quietly drool.

The sentimental rose your sweetheart sends
on a card for the hero who bravely defends
the crow, the field, the farm back home,
will make a fine ornament for his bones.

for Artistic Interpretations with Margaret, at Real Toads. The subject: flowers and their meanings.

Image at top: Irish WWI soldiers.

"Join up with your chums." WWI enlistment slogan. Men were allowed to enlist with, and serve with, their chums. Because of this, some towns and families lost an entire generation of young men when they died together on the same battlefield.

Chum, noun: a close or intimate companion. "boyhood chums."

Chum, noun: cut or ground bait dumped into the water to attract fish; fish refuse or scraps discarded by a cannery.

Chum, verb: to lure (fish) with chum. "They chummed the fish with hamburger."



Mama Zen said…
Damn, this is good.
hedgewitch said…
A ballad with teeth, and of course, one that brings up another flower automatically, the poppies of Flanders fields. Fine often unexpected rhyme, and disciplined execution on this bloody awful theme that carries us over the wall and into the trenches--a hell on earth if there ever was one--also, I'll never view the word 'chum' quite the same.
Hannah said…
Like a patriotic the rhythm and the piece that inspired this, Shay!
Kathryn Dyche said…
Holy moly guacamole . . . how do you do it. I agree with Mama Z, this is so darn good!
Margaret said…
Oh, the photo and first line made me pause …. I just know it is going to break my heart. I just heard some sad news that made me cry … so I will be back in a bit to read this - I have to get dinner in the oven first :)
TexWisGirl said…
wonderfully and tragically written.
Sherry Blue Sky said…
This is war, exactly. Could not be said any better.
Jennifer Wagner said…
So much is lost in, so tragic. Gripping poem, heartbreaking image.
Susie Clevenger said…
So many have died being the bait of war...this is a powerful piece. It brought me to tears.
Kerry O'Connor said…
I've been reading a lot of WW1 poetry recently (putting together a study module for my classes in view of the centenary memorials) and this poem could easily be one of them. This is authentic work, Shay, in form, cadence and satire which hinges on despair.
Liz Rice-Sosne said…
This is really good!
kaykuala said…
The sentimental rose your sweetheart sends
on a card for the hero who bravely defends
the crow, the field, the farm back home,
will make a fine ornament for his bones

The hero will get his rightful dues even though he is not alive to enjoy it together. Nicely Shay!

Anonymous said…
I've just finished reading a book about Flanders in WW1 -- the four-year battle of the Somme in which millions died. The rip between a life back home and that dying became a gulf that we can't heal, I don't think. And all those flowers blooming on the hills of Flanders now, what the hell are they singing about? Thanks for shoveling this up, really. Roses waft a deathly sweet perfume.
Sioux Roslawski said…
Please. Please do me a favor.

Please tell me one--just one--topic that you think you could NOT tackle...

Then I will ask for a poem about that one topic.

Seriously. Amazing.
Margaret said…
… Epic.

Lure idealistic & adventurous youth with idealistic frivolity … and boy - how fast they "grow up". The second definition of "chum" is chilling, but bait is what these boys often became.

The use of crocus here was quite appropriate as it means "cheerfulness" - I have a feeling there was little of that - perhaps each night when they survived a bit of hysterical feeling of "glee"

And in the end, the "sweetheart" ditches him once he came back a wounded hero - instead of the girl, he has to settle for the rose and a "thank you". So much for the grand farewell, the cheering.

The whole poem was rather a treat, rhythm and rhyme presented like this… I love it. I'm not good at it myself, but I am always thrilled when I see it done so wonderfully as here.
HansHB said…
A great post! Nice to study the details!
Anonymous said…
we're all of us waiting to ornament our bones ~

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