The Terrapin Poem

The Terrapin Poem
A hatchling eastern box turtle cautiously crawls along the ground looking for food, and exploring the world.

Another poem post. Now, this is not about anything historical, its actually my first non-history related post since my first one. Nor is it looking at an artifact in a different way. “The Terrapin” is just a fun little poem I recently wrote at my girlfriend’s house, after finishing painting with her. It was a sort of challenge. We were trying to see what kind of poem I could just write out in my little notebook without much thought or planning in a short period of time. Below is what I got. I also did one about a sea horse, but that will take lots of work to polish up. I hope you enjoy!

"The Terrapin"
By: Daniel Derasaugh

A rock?
No, a nice smooth stone.
Rounded and painted by God.

It moves!
A small, cautious step.
It looks around after a pause.

It sees me!
Don’t be scared.
In its head and legs go!

Now again;
a round, painted stone.

Historical Poetry: Connecting to History Through Poetry – The First World War

Historical Poetry: Connecting to History Through Poetry – The First World War
A graveyard of sorts stands where a lush forest once grew. Broken and burnt trunks of trees stand as markers with smoke rising in the background. Haze, or more smoke, drift among the markers. Soldiers walk in the foreground with experiences detained as memories in their minds; experiences we could never fully understand, nor would we wish to. Yet we should seek to empathize with them as much as we can, to not just learn about history, but connect deeply with it, to understand the consequences of the past to help us prevent such tragedies from occurring again.

Emotion and visualization are the best tools we can use to connect to a historical period or event. In my second post I included a quote by David McCullough, which I will include again because it works so well here:

History is about people. History is human… You have to get to know the people. You have to get inside their lives.

-David McCullough

The purpose of the following two poems is to inspire an emotional connection to the tragedy of the First World War. These are poems that describe a basic overview of the war itself, nothing specific about a person or event, so they do not go as deep as other poems about similar topics have, but it is a start for me, anyway.

The Great War
By: Daniel Derasaugh
A false calm hides resting chaos.
While forces build their strength.
Ignorant of their new power;
such destructive might.

Pressure mounts, peace strains.
Then a spark; a tiny yet terrible flash.
The vortex forms and rapidly death begins its spiral.
Churning and cranking.

Slowly, flesh is drawn to the grinder.
Faces and futures.
Torn and tattered.
Crimson to bone, bone to powder.

Only Echoes remain…

Marching British soldiers, 1917.
Field of Battle
By: Daniel Derasaugh
It is silent now.
The earth is still, the air is calm
the last echoing moan has now ceased.
Succumbed, and silenced;

Yet hours before,
Beneath a dark sky cloaked in clouds,
the ground rumbled with deep concussions.
Far away thunder and nearby blasts
cracked the air.

Doom, not weather.
Death, not rain.
The Earth lay torn and burning.
Rifles sang out their chorus,
Munitions burst with atmospheric flashes,
like lightening upon the horizon.

Death stood tall,
casting a cloaking shadow upon her spoils.
Trenches and the destroyed road to Bapaume.

The understanding that people experienced and endured periods we study is essential to making it matter. It allows us to connect to what ordinarily we can only know through a photo, or perhaps a video or written/verbal first hand accounts.

French soldiers in the ruins of a cathedral during the Second Battle of the Marne, 1918.

We have to tap into the emotions of those who experienced what we are studying, and to do that we have to tap into our own emotions in order to empathize as much as we can. We can never really match their experiences, but we should try to make our understanding as profound as we can.

The further the event was in the past, the more guesswork it becomes, but we can make educated guesses. The real goal is to seek that connection; make it matter, then get into the content and facts of the subject area.

Historical Poetry: Pottery Fragment

Historical Poetry: Pottery Fragment
Above is a structural foundation that is found in front of the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall in Philadelphia. As with the pottery fragment the poem below is about, these two creations can be a conduit to the past. Someone who lived long ago skillfully crafted these with their hands. Ponder it some. An artifact held in the hand and looked upon by the holder as more than just an old item with or without historical significance can open up a new way of thinking about history. With a little background knowledge and some creativity, the artifact can come alive and a discussion develop. Below is the result of my first attempt at such a practice: A conversation with history written in poetic form.

Israel Pottery Fragment
By Daniel Derasaugh

Beneath the sands,
covered and lost;
you rested alone.
without worth.

Small, square, copper-toned piece;         
Whose sure hands crafted you?
What purpose did you hold?
Who relied upon you?
And how did it end?

“Pulled up and fashioned from the Earth.
Water for a lone potter’s widow, then,
a young family with a little girl.
A trip to the Jordan,
and a careless step.”

How long was the wait?
“Two millennia? Two days?”
Was there relief to be found?
To be held with purpose, prized?
“No, there was nothing. A numbness.”

You should now know,
There is new worth in you.
Appreciated and valued by One,
Cherished by Another

“I feel now. I know.”

The Actual Pottery Fragment

Pottery Piece 1
Front view of the pottery fragment which is the subject of the poem.

It really is just a small piece of broken pottery, isn’t it? Seemingly insignificant in its importance. There are, after all, an untold number of these fragments. However, it was part of someone’s daily life at one point, or several points, in time.

The two poetic devices prominently used for this poem are personification and point-of-view. Personification is used to allow the conversation by giving the fragment the ability to listen and respond to the questions asked from a realistically imagined point-of-view. Content knowledge is important, but the degree can be variable depending on whether you are just trying to look at inanimate objects in a difference way, or promote your own or others interest in a historical topic.

In truth, I have no way of knowing if anything in the poem actually pertains to this fragment. But this is where schema and imagination work together to create logical meaning where none may exist at first.It is logical to assume this was a vessel for carrying water, and since it was found by the Jordan River, it probably somehow met its demise there.

Pottery Piece 2
Side view of pottery fragment.

Mixing a bit of creativity with history can help make it come alive for those who are not too fascinated with the topic. Doing so allows for something like this fragment to have some kind of importance that can be grasped, making a seemingly worthless piece of clay far more significant. However, remember that whatever is conjured up in the mind, no matter how backed by content knowledge, cannot be taken as historical fact.