Poetry and Folk Songs for Peace – Latest News – The Nation
War is devastating, cruel and terrible – and, in fact, it is meant to be. Needless to describe this now that the Russian war in Ukraine is raging. We are now reminded of this daily as television viewers, but it is nothing compared to what it is for those who have sons there as soldiers, on both sides, and relatives and friends. Five weeks ago, few would have believed that war would happen; so cruel could men not be. Unfortunately, this has happened, again, even in the 21st century.
How is it that we have not been able to find peaceful and humane ways to resolve conflicts? This question that we always ask when a war breaks out, alas, usually afterwards, and when it ends, we seem to want to forget, not to learn, not to listen enough; we can say “never again”, but without forcing words – in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen and all the other places where war has destroyed people’s lives, taken away the innocence of children, the passion of women, the projects of men, and the rest.
Today we are experiencing war in the middle of Europe, with Russia invading Ukraine. But other wars are just as terrible, indeed the many wars waged by the United States, a country which today plays the role of moral leader and policeman; it is the largest country in NATO and it makes a lot of money on the war industry. Pope Francis said last week that it was “madness” for Western nations to call for increased military spending after the war in Ukraine. New ways must be found to balance global power. May God open our eyes so that we can see and do what is good and right, find new ways of peaceful co-existence and conflict resolution, including pacifism and the revival of Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence .
It is said that the First World War was the cruellest of all wars, until the next one. Twenty years later, it is the Second World War, as cruel as the previous one, if not worse. Moreover, for each person affected, maimed, crippled, rendered armless and legless, blind and alienated, and their loved ones, there would be little sense in classifying the devastation, making statistics and definitions. Erik Bogle (born 1947), a Scottish-Australian singer, describes some of the devastation of World War I in his song, “The Band Played Waltzing Matilda” (1971), but it could also be in Ukraine today .
He ends the song by explaining his feelings when every April, on Memorial Day in Australia, he sits on his porch watching the parade, where old men slowly file past, with stiff, aching bones. The days of imaginary glory and pride are over, and young people are asking, “Why are they walking? The veteran on the porch asks the same question: “What was all this for?” the hellish battles of Gallipoli and Suvla Bay in Turkey and elsewhere.
From time to time, the two enemy sides would stop to pray and bury their comrades, until the commanders ordered them to resume the fight, again turning the sand and water red with blood, and the sky black. of fire. One soldier, who woke up several days later in a makeshift hospital bed, said, in the words of Eric Bogle, that when he saw what the war had done to his body, “I didn’t know there was anything worse than dying. He looked at where his legs were and was glad no one was waiting for him, “to cry, cry and have mercy”. He says a man needs both his legs, to live a free and good life, the life he had lived before they gave him a pewter hat and a gun, and they killed him. send to war. Did it improve anyone’s life? No, not then, not now.
Bob Dylan (b. 1941) asks the same questions in his haunting anti-war song, “Blowin’ in the Wind,” from 1963, in the midst of the Vietnam War (1955-1975). “How many times must cannonballs fly before they are banned forever? And how many ears does a man have to have before he hears people cry? And how many deaths will it take before he knows too many people are dead? The song has become an international anthem for people who have fought against wars everywhere, pacifists and otherwise, even against the American war in Vietnam. It helped people to ask themselves whether war was really a solution to any conflict, any ideological, religious, economic or other difference and misunderstanding.
Each question in Bob Dylan’s symbolic song ends with the phrase “The answer blows in the wind.” It sounds distant and simple, but it’s deeper than that. Bob Dylan tells us that we must listen to the sweet, tender feelings in our soul and heart, which can nurture the spirit, like a sunny, cool spring day, when we gaze up at the sky, seeing the free birds flying, the the light clouds dance and the sacred whispers of the wind tell us happiness, hope and good life for all human beings. God’s response of love and peace is also blowing in the wind, so let’s listen and be faithful.
And then one more song, perhaps the most beautiful, which can give comfort, advice and direction in this time of tragic war in Europe and the world, namely “Danny Boy” by Frederick Weatherly (1848- 1929). His sister gave him the melody, which comes from an old Irish folk song, “Londonderry Air”. Although universal in content, it is often considered the unofficial Irish national anthem. It tells the story of a father who must send his youngest and most beloved son to war, having to comply with the demands of the government, perhaps even of God. He has already lost two sons in the war.
Over time, the youngest son does not come home, and the father lives on dreams and imaginations; his mother sighs and feels so depressed, can’t wait to see the boy’s smile again. “So if you died and crossed the stream before us, we pray that the angels will meet you on the shore. And you will lower your eyes, and softly you will implore us to live so that we may see your smiling face once again more, once more.
The song is about the loss of three senseless and useless sons in war, with a solace only found in dreams and imagination, in the beauty of nature, and in unwavering faith. The song is also about other losses and loves, as the Irish know so well from recent history with famine, starvation, emigration and overseas work. Many left their homeland for America, never to see their loved ones again. Today it is the same for many Ukrainians, but also for Russians, who now become internally displaced persons within their own country and refugees abroad.
By opening our hearts and minds to poetry and songs, and learning other facts and messages, we must work more actively for disarmament and peace. Some will be pacifist, some will not, but all can work to change the current military defense system so that it becomes more humane, focusing on conflict resolution and war prevention. Poetry helps us to create peace in people’s hearts, openness of mind and thought. Now we have to go from there and create peace in people’s minds.