The Day The tigers Broke Free
It seems poetry is contagious. I was asked recently about the nature of poetry; how it differs from lyrics and other writing, and the truth is it doesn’t, really. It also doesn’t necessarily differ a lot from aesthetic experiences in general; consider if you will the phrase “poetry in motion”.
And to be sure, there is poetry to be found in a lot of things. Throwing broadies. The box of death. Hitting the most clutch shot you could ever imagine. But that’s different; that’s all about appreciating the poetic quality of things; it doesn’t really tell us a lot about poetry itself. Indeed, having some kind of understanding of what poetry is is pretty much a prerequisite for that sort of appreciation.
Still, knowing poetry when you see it is quite sufficient. In any case, I don’t think a better understanding of what constitutes actual poetry and what doesn’t, necessarily allows you any greater appreciation of it.
So poetry can be a lot of things. Lyrics is one of them. And I think when it comes to poetry about tanks, in the event we have come across it at all, most of us will have heard songs about tanks rather than poems.
Not to worry, though. All you have to do is disregard the music, and the lyrics become poetry again.
In response to last weeks Poetry Corner, my friend Soulinthemachine alerted me to the following work by Roger Waters. It’s about his father; originally a conscientious objector to the war, getting killed at the battle of Anzio and Waters later finding the letter of condolence from the British government.
This is the story of the 20:th century, of the whole world at war. You’ve heard it before. Husbands, sons and fathers marching off to war and not coming back. Grief, sorrow, and despair.
And this, I think, is the way poetry is most often utilised; as a way to put words to our feelings. The title notwithstanding, this is not actually a poem about tanks, but about a little boy missing his father, and lashing out against the injustice of him being taken from him.
As with art, you’ll know it when you see it:
When The Tigers Broke Free
It was just before dawn one miserable
Morning in black Forty-Four
When the forward commander was told to sit tight
When he asked that his men be withdrawn
And the Generals gave thanks as the other ranks
Held back the enemy tanks for a while
And the Anzio bridgehead was held for the price
Of a few hundred ordinary lives
And kind old King George sent Mother a note
When he heard that Father was gone
It was, I recall, in the form of a scroll
With gold leaf and all
And I found it one day
In a drawer of old photographs, hidden away
And my eyes still grow damp to remember
His Majesty signed with his own rubber stamp
It was dark all around, there was frost in the ground
When the Tigers broke free
And no one survived
From the Royal Fusiliers Company Z
They were all left behind
Most of them dead, the rest of them dying
And that’s how the High Command
Took my daddy from me
Special thanks to Soulinthemachine for this weeks inspiration.