Gallipoli, 1915

There are none left on earth can ever tell
At first hand of this mortal waste of war
Hard-fought one hundred years ago and more,
The stench of death, of corpses left to swell,
Their startled eyes wide open where they fell.
No mockery of sleep their faces bore
But ghastly grins, with twisted limbs they wore
Too well the look and smell of Brueghel’s hell.

And all those flies! Those hateful, feasting flies
That crawled on every living thing and dead.
Nobody warned them of the loathsome flies!
Nobody said they bred and fed and spread
And filled the air and blotted out the sun
From all who fell beneath it one by one.

 

Gallipoli, 2015

Today the site, serene and clean, the one
The tourists see. They chatter as they view
The endless ranks of war graves; many too
Still marvel at their youth, the lives undone,
Wiped out before the barrel of a gun.
Recruited under age some never knew
The heavy odds against survival through
The hecatomb, their living scarce begun.

I look for urchin shells at Suvla Bay,
A blameless place. One hundred years before
Were four untried batallions put ashore.
A boy among them landed here that day:
My grandfather, to fight the Turk, engage
In brutal war at sixteen years of age.

 

A Life of Austerity

My grandfather was always old. The more
I think of him the more I call to mind
He seldom left his kitchen. We would find
Him sitting in an upright chair, the door
Pine-panelled, high ceiled, lino on the floor,
And he would sit there all day long behind
A newspaper. The place for me defined
Him like the horrors of the First World War.

You see it spoke of his austerity.
He dwelled, like all the old in reverie,
A lifetime in his prime. Sometimes he went
To sleep, his nightmares we could only guess.
Sometimes again we saw an immanent
Serenity, a twilight peacefulness.

 

Trotters and Tripe

A man of simple needs he was and so
Indeed was he a man of simple taste.
He lived upon a spartan diet based
Upon pigs’ trotters, tripe and offal though
It did him little harm. I didn’t know,
But now in retrospect, I should have placed
Him there on high among the gods. Shamefaced,
It’s far too late to say I didn’t know.

For nothing less than patriarch he was,
And of his wisdom we knew nothing for
We couldn’t say we didn’t know because
To ask would show we didn’t know before.
Pigs’ trotters, tripe and offal he would chew
And that I think was all we ever knew.

 

A Biscuit Tin

But in a biscuit tin behind a door
Beside the hearth among old dog-eared snaps,
Of long-forgotten kith and kin perhaps,
His father on a bicycle we saw
Who died in nineteen ten, four years before
All hell broke loose. Amid the other scraps
We found inside their careless little wraps
Were all his letters home from the Great War

One hundred years ago, and all forlorn
His honourable discharge creased and torn.
Could he still hear the pounding of the guns
Resounding to a barrage from the Huns?
For if by chance upon the Somme one day
We saw it in his eyes he didn’t say.

 

Peter Hartley is a retired painting restorer. He was born in Liverpool and lives in Manchester, UK.


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29 Responses

  1. E. V.

    Good Morning (afternoon in England)! Peter, you are very talented. These important poems expand upon what students read in their history books. They are also a very respectful tribute to your grandfather.

    In Gallipoli 1915, on the 1st line, how about swapping “can” for “to” and, on the 2nd line, switch “at” for “a”? Also, on the 2nd stanza, 2nd line, I’d switch the word order of “living” and “thing” so the line reads: “… That crawled on every thing living and dead.” These suggestions are just that … suggestions … and they are really minor tweakings of excellent poetry written by a very talented poet.

    Reply
  2. Peter Hartley

    Dear E.V., Thank you very much indeed for your kindness in paying me the generous compliments in your comments above. I hope, though, that you will not consider me churlish when I say that I would not alter a thing that I wrote in light of your suggestions. 1) by “can” I meant “able to”, not just “to”, in other words because the last Great War veteran is now dead. 2) on the second line switching “at” for “a” would leave the line making no sense. 3) I really really did mean “on every living thing and dead” and not simply to preserve the strong beat of its iambic rhythm (which your suggestion would have compromised). The alteration of normal word order makes the sentence more distinctive, more powerful (I think), and more memorable (I hope).

    Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      E V – I’m not so sure about your first statement, especially in light of the following comment, but thank you again for the kind remarks, and regarding my own remark on your (3 the opinion I express may for all I know put me in a minority of one! Your constructive views are in any case gratefully received.

      Reply
  3. Joseph S. Salemi

    There are two immediately solvable problems in both Gallipoli poems.

    In “Gallipoli, 1915” line 9 is simply not metrical. It stands out like a sore thumb in an otherwise well-constructed iambic pentameter poem. Listen:

    “And all those flies! Those feasting flies!”

    You can’t get five stresses out of that line in any manageable manner. I suggest the following change:

    “And all those flies! Those buzzing, feasting flies!”

    This solves the metrical problem, and also adds another visual/aural touch to the description.

    In “Gallipoli, 2015” line 11 suffers from an extremely awkward inversion:

    “Were four untried battalions put ashore”

    This construction splits the verb in half, placing the subject in mid-line, and it comes across as stilted and amateurish. I suggest the following fix:

    “Four untried raw battalions went ashore”

    Here you have a natural word order, and the addition of “raw” emphasizes the very haphazard and minimal training that the British and ANZAC landing forces at Gallipoli received — an important factor in their defeat.

    Reply
    • Amy Foreman

      Dr. Salemi, I thought maybe “were” was a typo for “where,” which would have been smoother.

      Reply
      • Joseph S. Salemi

        Yes, that’s possible. But then there would be a sentence fragment:

        …One hundred years before
        Where four untried battalions put ashore.

    • Peter Hartley

      Dear Joseph, Thank you for your remarks about Gallipoli 1915 and Gallipoli 2015. Regarding your first criticism Mea culpa! I don’t know how I let that gaffe slip through the net, and as you say, it is a shortcoming easily remedied (although perhaps not with the word “buzzing”, which sounds, to my ears at least, just a little bit too jaunty for such a sombre subject as this). Regarding your second fix, though, I’m not so sure that beginning my iambic pentameter line with a trochee followed by a spondee would have sounded less “awkward” than what I wrote. The meaning of your additional word “raw”, I think, is so adequately encompassed by my word “untried” in the context and tells us so little more about the untrained state of the allied combatants at Gallipoli as to be a waste of a syllable.

      Reply
      • Joseph S. Salemi

        The scansion of my suggested revision is as follows:

        Four UNtried RAW batTALLions WENT aSHORE

        There is no trochee or spondee there. It is perfect iambic pentameter.

      • J. Simon Harris

        These are all great poems. A pleasure to read, though some of the subject matter is terrible to contemplate, of course. You have a really fantastic grasp of meter and form (with the exception of the 8 syllable line which Joseph Salemi points out), your imagery is clear and your diction is pointed. Very well done.

      • Peter Hartley

        Joseph S Salemi – The three most authoritative dictionaries of the English language, on this side of the pond at any rate, are the Oxford, Chambers and Collins dictionaries, all of which put the stress in “untried” on the second syllable. My forays into the pronunciation of this word in American English via Merriam-Webster yield the same result. The scansion of your revision is, I think, as follows: FOUR un TRIED RAW ba TALL ions WENT a SHORE. I believe I can indeed detect a trochee and a spondee there in a normal reading. It certainly does not sound like “perfect iambic pentameter”, as you have stated.

    • J. Simon Harris

      Yes, Salemi points out correctly that one of your lines is short by one iamb. I think his fix is good enough, although one can imagine others.

      I disagree about Dr. Salemi’s second quibble, however. I tend to place emphasis on the second syllable of “untried” when I speak, in which case the line scans just fine. Perhaps this is just a regional difference in pronunciation?

      Reply
      • Peter Hartley

        Dear J Simon Harris, Thank you very much indeed for your remarks about my Great War poems. One line is indeed short of a iamb. That much is self-evident. As you also rightly say, in your second comment, the stress in “untried” is on the second syllable, not the first. And I’m glad you found my poems a pleasure to read, but not to meditate upon too deeply, I hope!

      • Christìna

        I did not notice any flaw in rhythm when I read these superb Gallipoli poems over and over again to myself, both aloud and silently. I was surprised when the missing foot was first commented on here, and wondered why I had noted nothing amiss. The answer must be that after that most dramatic exclamation, “And all those flies!” I had paused to absorb that horrible image before proceeding with the even more horrible one, “Those feasting flies” – a silent foot in effect! While a poet might not be allowed any such departure from the rules, my original reading still works best to my ear.

        All of the additional words suggested above seem to me to detract seriously from the poem, especially ‘stinking’ in any position!

        I suggest “And all those flies! Those swarming, feasting flies”. It’s a pity there isn’t a suitable f-word for the great alliteration, but I think the increased sibilance suggests the noise of the vile creatures.

      • J. Simon Harris

        I don’t disagree with you, Christina. The line reads very well with the missing iamb. However, because the rest of the poem is so regular in form, the departure feels more accidental than purposeful (as indeed it was), so I think it is probably better with the missing syllables than without them. Your suggestion, “swarming”, is the best I’ve seen so far.

        As per your other comment, I can think of one “f” word that would go very well here: “those f***ing, feasting flies” (note the comma, which makes it an adjective and not an adverb). Although the word is rough, so is the subject matter; and it plays very nicely with “bred and fed” on line 12. What do you think? Too vulgar, or does it work?

  4. Monty

    This is the 2nd time in a week that I’ve found myself drooling over something on these pages . . . what an epic.

    For me, putting aside poetry for the moment: putting aside sonnets . . it stands on its own as a beautifully-crafted 70-line written-documentary about one individual’s involvement with the Great War, and the consequences he (and those around him) bore thereafter. It’s an ‘epic’ in itself. But to then fit it into 5 perfectly-rhymed sonnets, without losing a gram of its impact . . that’s what caused the drooling.

    I applaud your noble defence of some of the modifications suggested by others (one of which, as you saw, would’ve rendered a certain line senseless). The first 2 lines of ‘..1915’ are so clear and concise that any suggested modification(s) could only be detrimental . . and so it transpired.

    Of course there was no possible defence for the glaring anomaly in line 9 of ‘..1915’: how did that ever get past a man of your feel for a poem? As soon as I’d read that line, I was immediately puzzled. I thought it was too obvious for you not to’ve seen it, so then wondered if you’d done it intentionally . . and if so, WHY? Given that you’ve since declared it to be an unintentional ‘gaffe’: for a man with your effortless talent for poetry, I’m no less surprised at that than I would be if you told me you forgot to clean your teeth this morning! My only suggestion on the whole matter is that you grab some comfort from Mr Wilde’s words: “A poet can see everything, except the obvious”. As for remedies: I feel the suggested ‘buzzing’ would be superfluous, ‘cos we already know that flies ‘buzz’. When I initially read the line: once I’d recovered from the shock, I started wondering what word could be inserted. Within about 20 seconds, I thought of ‘hated’; and about 10 seconds after that, I thought of ‘dreaded’ . . and quickly decided that ‘dreaded’ would be the perfect word.

    In ‘..2015’: line 11 does look a little awkward at first sight, but if one allows for old-style diction (where words were often arse about face), I think it just about stands as a clear sentence. I can’t agree with the suggested insertion of the word ‘raw’, ‘cos, contextually, the words ‘raw’ and ‘untried’ mean the same thing; thus it’d be, as you say, a “waste of a syllable”. To me, it’d be no different than writing, for example: ‘Four dirty, unclean battalions went ashore’.

    Overall, the only suggestion I would make is for the addition of a hat-trick of Commas; hence line 14 of ‘Trotters..’ would read: ‘And that, I think, was all we ever knew’ . . and line 14 of ‘..Biscuit’ would read: ‘For if we saw it in his eyes one day, he didn’t say’.

    Well played again, Pete . . top stuff; and with the insertion of the word ‘dreaded’, this ‘documentary’ would grace any past, present or future war-poetry anthology.

    Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      Dear Monty, My heartfelt thanks once again for your appreciative and your constructive comments, deserved or otherwise. Oddly enough I contemplated the same line as you did for some eight seconds and came out with “dreadful”, which is probably about the same standard as your “dreaded” although mine scores more in a game of Scrabble and I pipped you by two seconds. I then thought of “hateful” about three picoseconds later but decided it was a little too close to “loathsome” (as “raw” is perhaps a little too close to “untried”). I agree with all three commas, not because they are strictly necessary grammatically, or even because they are useful to convey the sense, but because they put welcome breaks in the right places.

      Reply
      • Monty

        But, with the Commas: the very fact that “they put welcome breaks in the right places” . . automatically makes them “grammatically necessary” and “useful to convey the sense”. Does it not?

  5. Peter Hartley

    I seem to recall now that the offending line nine WAS originally decasyllabic, that I removed a word I was not happy with and then forgot to replace it with another. It’s no excuse, I know, for the lapse. After much cogitation I’ve decided on “stinking” (in the sense “offensive”) as my best shot at restoring the two missing syllables, as a tribute to the stink it should have engendered, and as a reminder of the bad odour in which, quite rightly, I deserve to stand.

    And all those stinking flies! Those feasting flies …

    Reply
      • Peter Hartley

        Your version sounds much better as a quotable single line than mine and is marginally better in context. I am exceedingly angry about this.

      • Christina

        A post of mine meant to be inserted here has migrated upwards. I don’t know what I did or didn’t do.

  6. Peter Hartley

    And regarding your earlier comment that ends with “Does it not?” – NO IT DOES NOT!!!. One might write to somebody, “I know two things about the horse, and one of them is rather coarse.” The comma in that sentence is by no means grammatically necessary and nor is it necessary in order to convey the sense. It does, however, provide welcome respite in mid-sentence to enable the speaker to draw breath, to refer to his copious notes, to scratch himself behind the ear-flap or even, given a long enough pause, to consider for himself what on earth might be coarse about a horse and to reach the inevitable conclusion. Grammatical necessity has little to do with providing the speaker with ease of delivery, which is precisely what that comma was for.

    Reply
    • Monty

      Regarding your being “exceedingly angry” about the line in question: be grateful for your anger . . . John Lydon, once of the Sex Pistols, wrote the following refrain in a song written for his later group ‘Public Image Ltd’ . . ANGER IS AN ENERGY.

      Regarding your claim of “NO IT DOES NOT”: If I were to counter-claim that with OH YES IT DOES, then it’d become apparent that the words ‘grammatical necessity’ are perfectly ambiguous and fully-open to interpretation; hence prone to differing opinions as to what actually constitutes ‘grammatical necessity’. What one author deems to be a ‘necessary’ Comma, another author may not. Thus, I feel there’s a case here for introducing a new term: ‘moral necessity’.

      The Comma in your ‘horse’ sentence is, I feel, the perfect case in point. If one was to say that that Comma is not strictly ‘grammatically necessary’.. they wouldn’t be wrong; the sentence can be fully grasped without it. But if another was to say that the Comma is ‘morally necessary’, then they also wouldn’t be wrong – in the sense that an author has a ‘moral’ obligation to “convey the sense” of a sentence, in a way that a reader will grasp the sense that the author intended.

      As such, I feel that the Comma in the ‘horse’ sentence is fully warranted: NOT because it’s grammatically correct; NOT because it “enables the speaker to draw breath”; NOT for any other reason other than that if one was to say that same sentence in speech, they would naturally and unconsciously make a slight pause between the words ‘horse’ and ‘and’ . . and whenever such a pause exists in speech, it warrants a Comma on the page – not because of grammatical necessity, but because of the author’s obligation to allow the reader to make the same pause.

      As an aside . . at the same juncture in the ‘horse’ sentence, I personally might’ve even considered using a Colon, before talking myself out of it and settling for a Comma.

      p.s. I only noticed after writing the 3rd one that I accidentally wrote the word “and” 3 times consecutively (and ‘and’ and) in my 4th paragraph . . and yet it somehow worked. How did I get away with that?

      Reply
      • Peter Hartley

        To deal with your last point first. My local is called the “Hand and Anchor”, and when the pub sign was repainted, I noticed that too big a gap was left between hand and and and and and anchor. I think you’ll find six consecutive ands, not one trace of a comma, and yet the statement was fully comprehensible to the sign-writer who was summarily dismissed and later found dead with a Latvian pole-axe embedded between his occipitoparietal sutures. To take your first point last, I find the persistent capitalisation of the initial “C” in “comma” and the no less persistently erratic employment of the subjunctive mood so unnerving that I am unable to comment coherently in the indicative mood on the kind of philosophical questions of moral neccesity that have preoccupied the likes of Leibniz for centuries. I’m strongly reminded, though, of one of those things about the horse that’s rather coarse.

  7. Monty

    There were only 5 consecutive ‘ands’, not 6, but even 5 blew my mind. What a revelation! If someone had told me before today that one could place 5 consecutive ‘ands’ in a sentence which made perfect sense, with not a Comma in sight . . well, I wouldn’t ‘ave even entertained the thought. I would’ve confidently proclaimed it to be impossible. What a challenge to set someone: “Oi, see if ya can form a valid sentence containing 5 consecutive ‘ands’ with no commas”. I feel that if such a challenge was put to me, I’d run a mile.

    Well, someone’s made it quite clear above what they think of ‘stinking’ as your choice of word for the missing foot: and I can’t disagree. Once you declared it to be your final choice, I thought: “Well, it works, so I’ll leave him to it”; but I was never comfy with it, purely ‘cos it has two meanings . . and readers outside of Britain may not be aware of the second meaning.
    I personally think that even when I’m in the next life, I’ll still be rattling-on that ‘dreaded’ would’ve been the perfect word.

    I realise that it ain’t everyone’s cup o’ tea, but I often capitalise the first letter of a word if that word is the very subject-matter of what I’m saying; or the very point of a debate: and as such, I must enter a plea of Not Guilty. As for the “persistently erratic employment of the subjunctive mood”: my solicitor has advised me not to enter a plea . . on the grounds that I’m mentally incapable of knowing exactly what those words mean.

    Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      Six consecutive “ands”, I think you’ll find, although one of them is aspirated. And regarding your last paragraph you can’t enter a plea of “Not guilty”, merely on the grounds that you often do it. On a regular basis I crash my car into the local old folks’ home, and on a good day I usually manage to take out at least half-a-dozen old folk and one or two ancillary staff as collateral damage. The fact that I often do it doesn’t make me any less of a serial killer. Hence I almost invariably plead guilty and so should you. It would save everybody a lot of time in the long run, and it would free our overworked police force and our overburdened judiciary to get on with the job they’re paid for.

      Reply

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