It means mean “It is sweet and right.”

File under: The more things change…

I’m not a poetry person, or really a literature person at all. My wife knows more about literature than I do (she’s also often commented that WWI poetry is among the most depressing thing there is – makes my Jawbreaker CDs look like a warm summer day), which is ironic cuz I’m the one in a literature program.

Don’t get me wrong. I like fiction. Like, Nick Hornby or Irvine Welsh. John Steinbeck. I also like stuff that’s more easily defensible among my academic pals – Jeanette Winterson, Italo Calvino, Luisa Valenzuela. But I have an entirely gustatory relationship to this stuff: tastes good, I like it. Poetry, not my thing. Doesn’t please my palate. Which is funny because I love songs. On the other hand –

I was in Gainesville recently, co-facilitator of a workshop for the fine folks in the IWW branch there. I experienced Floridian hospitality which included a bonfire sing-along of old labor and folk songs, and was reminded that I can’t carry a tune unless it’s shouted. If it’s sung I may be able to keep up if it has big fucking handles on it, but even then it’s doubtful. Which is a shame. I don’t let inability stop me (that’s this blog’s new motto! “I don’t let inability stop me!”), which is also a shame, at least for those in my immediate vicinity. (Incidentally, I initially had a typo on “facilitator”, typing it “facilitory.” That’s my new favorite word. It’s facilitory. I also found out, another time on that trip, that my Spanish speaking hasn’t atrophied nearly as bad as I’d feared.) Kelly did lovely lead vocals, backed by some of the guys who could sing, of the haunting Digger Song, AKA the World Turned Upside Down:

In 1649
To St George’s Hill
A ragged band they called the Diggers
Came to show the people’ s will
They defied the landlords
They defied the laws
They were the dispossessed
Reclaiming what was theirs

We come in peace, they said
To dig and sow
We come to work the land in common
And to make the waste land grow
This earth divided
We will make whole
So it can be
A common treasury for all.

The sin of property
We do disdain
No one has any right to buy and sell
The earth for private gain
By theft and murder
They took the land
Now everywhere the walls
Rise up at their command.

They make the laws
To chain us well
The clergy dazzle us with heaven
Or they damn us into hell
We will not worship
The God they serve
The God of greed who feeds the rich
While poor men starve

We work, we eat together
We need no swords
We will not bow to masters
Or pay rent to the lords
We are free men
Though we are poor
You Diggers all stand up for glory

Stand up now
From the men of property
The orders came
They sent the hired men and troopers
To wipe out the Diggers’ claim
Tear down their cottages
Destroy their corn
They were dispersed –
Only the vision lingers on

You poor take courage
You rich take care
The earth was made a common treasury
For everyone to share
All things in common
All people one
We come in peace
The order came to cut them down


The power of that song in a way sums up for me the sentiment of memory expressed in the lyrics and the title of We Have Fed You All For A Thousand Years and the opening lines and the entirety of “From the Multitudes of Europe, Rising Up Against the Empire and Marching on Genoa,” by the inimitable Wu Ming:

“We are new, and yet we are the same as always. (…) For centuries we have marched, armed with stories as weapons, “dignity” emblazoned across our ensigns.”

Anyways, poetry –
Despite, or because of (really both) a haze resulting from too much drink, I was deeply moved by two poems that the Gainesvillians (Gainesvillains? Yeah, definitely Gainesvillains) introduced me to. Through a haze resulting from pathetically little drink – I haven’t been training and I hadn’t eaten – I just now found the words, provided by my old friend The Internet. Jimmy mentioned the poem, Pax got up and went to his car. He had an anthology of poems with that poem in it. Jimmy read it, I can’t remember if this is before or after he sang, impressively unaccompanied, a couple of songs he wrote. The poem was called “Dulce Et Decorum Est.” It goes

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.

It’s by Wilfred Owen. There are explanatory notes here, which is where I found out again what the Latin means. Owen fought in the Great War, and was killed November 4, 1918, seven days before the signing of the treaty that ended the war (via).

The second poem is Owen as well. Pax had it memorized. In my mind we were drinking wine at the time, a special bottle Joe had from the anniversary of the CNT which said “serve with the social revolution” in Spanish on the bottle, but I know we didn’t actually open that bottle until later and drunker into the evening.

The second poem is called “The Parable of the Young Man and the Old” (Words via.) It goes:

So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned, both of them together,
Isaac the first-born spake, and said, My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
And builded parapets the trenches there,
And stretched forth the knife to slay his son.
When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him. Behold,
A ram, caught in a thicket by its horns;
Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.
But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.