May 8 – Speaking the wounds of war in springtime: World War I, Sarah Teasdale

Monday, May 8  “And frogs in the pools singing at night,
And wild plum trees in tremulous white . . . ”

I listened to a news report yesterday about the unique terrors of chemical weapons, those originating in chemical labs during World War I and those whose appearance in present battlefields frightens so many observers.  “Unique terrors” (1) their effect in the bodies of children and grown-ups from the moment they engulf their living bodies, causing some of the most ordinary body processes (e.g., breathing, speaking, seeing) to collapse into biological horrors; (2) these horrors terrify especially because they last and last, leaving maimed victims to walk the earth carrying disfigurements that seem never to go away.   That experience helps explain why World War I left gas attack survivors walking city streets pulling terror and despair in their wake.

And that terror helps to understand why the first years of the 1920s are marked by cruel reactions of deeply frightened people (e.g., the reborn Ku Klux Klan peaked in 1924; the year when more black Americans were lynched than any other year in U S history;  the year of the “Immigration Act of  1924” when Congress shut down the promise that this country welcomes immigrants from all parts of the world, when the “Other” was redefined not as a source of blessing, of renewing energy for the national symbolized by its Statue of Liberty, but as hoards of aliens threatening the nation (

Not a few observers of our current historical moment find 1920-25 a compelling metaphor for the competing antagonisms roiling the political order of 2017.

No surprise, perhaps, that exquisite poems, written in the years just after World War I can speak to people paying attention to our present tense.  Poets sometimes seek “flint-hard” words to help readers come close to fear and to tenderness and not to flinch from either.  In today’s post, Sarah Teasdale evokes a Spring whose delicate beauty, in blossom and bird song, require the reader’s attention to war as a world-ending genocide.

Best to read “soft rains” out loud, with pauses between the two for some breathing.

Monday of the 4th week of Easter in the Christian tradition.   In Detroit spring in full blossom and covered with sunshine.

Have a blest week.


john sj

p.s. I’m on the road Wednesday in Santa Clara and Friday in Connecticut; see you next week.


Today’s Post # 1  “There Will Come Soft Rains”
Sara Teasdale, 1884 – 1933

(War Time)

There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,

And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;


And frogs in the pools singing at night,

And wild plum trees in tremulous white,


Robins will wear their feathery fire

Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;


And not one will know of the war, not one

Will care at last when it is done.


Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree

If mankind perished utterly;


And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn,

Would scarcely know that we were gone.


Sarah Trevor Teasdale  1884-1933

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