Poetry Journal

Issues / Volume 5 Issue 1 , July 2015


The Art of War—Europe

Julian Croft

  the morning afterCoventry Cathedral, February 1940
                         John Piper
  those broken slabs of colour were waiting
  in november slanting light
  the morning after the nighttime raid
  a cubist composition of total war
  a hint of what all of us were in for
  right up to a two dimensional
  Hiroshima, end plate of this album
  put away among all the others:
  frozen history, the rubble
  of medieval stone, Christian
  Europe eating its own, 
  Asia poisoned, the world convulsed
  until the holy light of the atom
  irreducible ultimate
  sucked all colour from creation
  but on that cold morning
  propped on still hot saints
  infernal smoke in the nose
  someone saw beauty in light
  and stone and the ordinary business
  of cleaning up the mess
  and getting on to tomorrow
  the new apocalypseShelterers in the Tube, 1941
                         Henry Moore
  the colours of judgement day
  are black and white
  wrapped in grey earth we lie and wait
  above, the busy din of angels:
  the wailing siren, the crump
  and shake of heavenly wrath
  it’s time to hide pull close the covers
  and will the flickering light of life
  to stay alight for one more mortal moment
  before the earth will part
  and we will be sucked upward
  in pillars of transforming flame
  to face the awful truth 
  that it is not God nor Beëlzebub
  nor frightful Moloch
  who consumes us in the fiery furnace
  but our neighbor and ourselves
  the black and white of rage and love
  perspectiveLandscape of the Vernal Equinox, 1943
                         Paul Nash
  the hill   the tree   the moon
  of such things
  is the world composed
  spring in the middle
  of that war which gave me life
  and took so many others
  a place   a time 
  the rigid geometry
  of all compositions
  vanishing points
  of sentences
  the hill   the tree   the moon
  setting the sceneHuman Laundry, Belsen, April 1945
                         Doris Zinkeisen
  the dead and near dead are being washed
  laid out on cots in converted stables
  bleached skin and bones groomed
  by well-fed guards in butchers’ aprons
  this is the post-war world
  the sudden shift from abattoir to  hospice
  how did she make sense of this?
  one week the smell of burning flesh
  the next carbolic and rice gruel
  pre war she designed for noël and gertie
  dressed mannequins and sketched lalique
  and then the curtain dropped, scene change
  and here we are as the players pack up
  the tragedy complete, the dead carried off
  the audience sent home to lick their wounds
  and on the washing lines across five continents
  soiled sheets will flap in cleansing winds
  and shrouds wrap lovers in a sun-struck world
  war artistNuremburg Trial, January 1946
                         Laura Knight
  ‘the ordinariness of evil’—don’t you believe it:
  ‘unser Hermann’ sits opposite me,
  his enormous head wobbles, the grin
  waxes and wanes like the tide, his
  eyes sparkle, he jokes, and nudges,
  then falls into a dark mood—he is
  the weather we’ve been sheltering from
  these six long years, cyclonic egos
  who have unhoused and killed millions
  it’s hard to be dispassionate, that chin,
  like a tyrol rock shelf, the sleek seal skin,
  how they filled Speer’s arc-lit spaces
  no different from Ingres’ Napoleon, or
  busts of Caesar or Hadrian, the ego
  celebrated, the petty man obliterated
  but here that day I saw it all, even down
  to the fountain pen in his bank manager’s suit
  which hid the cyanide signature on his great work
  the leaderWinston Churchill, 1954
                         Graham Sutherland
  the war is nine years gone, and after seven
  years of famine, call it ‘rationing’, and seven
  years of ‘never having it so good’ to come
  Pharaoh sits on his commoner’s throne,
  rotund in plenty, still glorying in triumph
  over his teetotal, vegetarian antithesis
  he is Empire in an age of existential doubt
  Victorian certainty in a ruined Europe
  ruthless to protect decency and law
  his purpose to keep the scepter in its isle
  and this above all—to be victor
  and write the history of his times
  no wonder he thought this portrait ‘filthy’—
  its after-the-war-to-end-all-wars modernism
  shows true colours seeping through a public varnish
  and in that bull-dog certainty one can see
  doubt, the scars of 1945’s rejection
  and the scowl and defiance that anyone else
  should make a likeness