Historical Poetry: Memorial

Historical Poetry: Memorial
Weathered grave markers at Christ Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In this peaceful cemetery lies the remains of Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin Rush, and other well know people both in their time and in ours. Here, too, there are markers where time and the elements have rendered unreadable.
Memorial
By: Daniel Derasaugh

Here; a crafted stone once stood.
Now weathered and leaning.
Beneath which rests an anonymous life.
How it began, how it was lived;
Now as mysterious as the craftsman,

And how it ended?
Dissolved into the abyss of time.

When looking at old grave markers where the inscriptions have been worn away by time and the elements, it is natural to be curious about who is buried beneath it. Perhaps, too, it is natural to easily dismiss these people as not likely having any historical significance. Yet, they were important enough at least to someone who saw it fit to ensure the location of their burial was marked. We can not simply dismiss them. Their life, whatever it may have been, did have some impact on history. In some way, no matter how small, everyone who has lived has contributed to where we are today.

I wrote Memorial a few months before my trip to the Northeast, but it was not until this trip that I found a perfect location to take a photo for the featured image. Christ Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania has many markers that fit the theme of “Memorial”, so this provided the appropriate subjects. The hardest part was trying to decide on which photo was better. I wanted to choose one that honors the poem’s theme, carries a mixed sense of wonder, mystery, and a hint of sadness, along with maintaining a respectful nature.

Benjamin Franklin, the most famous and well known resident at Christ Church Burial Ground, along with Benjamin Rush; another signer of the Declaration of Independence among other significant achievements. Franklin attended  services at the church as well, and his pew is a draw for tourists. While the Benjamins are two of the most famous people buried here, there are others of historical significance. I think will further explore this burial ground in a later post.

The point here is to wonder and lament for the unknowns. Not just weathered markers in Christ Church Burial Ground, but everywhere. My inspiration for “Memorial” came from seeing multiple markets in several cemeteries that have weathered to the point of just being a stone jutting from the ground with surfaces worn away, or the carvings of words so faint they are illegible.

These markers are also a way to put time into perspective with our lives, or our lives into perspective with time. They are reminders that sometimes, despite our best efforts not to be forgotten, time eventually forces the issue.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Poetry: Idea Like a Cloud

Poetry: Idea Like a Cloud
Our ideas can be like clouds in the sky being shaped by the currents of thought within the mind. They form unique shapes, but those shapes are ever changing, even if in the most minute details. Every second brings change and the cloud that once was will never be again. Unless recorded, the unique form is lost forever.
A Lost Idea
By: Daniel Derasaugh

It was there.
Swirling inside with everything else.
Radiant in unique yet brief flare.
Notice was drawn to its beauty.

I had it!
Undeveloped, yes, but it was there,
Standing out, shinning with potential,
Yet only for a brief moment.

A morphing shape.
It changed to something similar,
But not the same. What was it?
Now just a shadow in my mind.

I chase it.
The ever-changing cloud drifting across the sky.
I have not the tools to catch it;
Remember it, record it, mold and craft it. 

Its gone now.
Never again to return exactly as it was.
Words scattered into the breeze of other thoughts.
A lost idea.

I think I’ll start carrying a journal and pen.

The subject of my previous post was about the importance of morality in the way our ideas can impact the world. I am at this time focused on the first act of creativity, and since I seem to be fixed with exploring my interests poetically, a particular thought came to mind.

I have recently began to wonder how many poems (published and unpublished) have been written. The answer is likely in the billions throughout history, far more than any of us could read. But then I try to add to that the number the poems people have composed within their minds, yet for whatever reason, failed to write down.I find it a sort of tragedy that such creativity should disappear into the void of forgetfulness as if it never existed to begin with. Chances are that such an arrangement of words will never again come together precisely as the initial creator had crafted them.

Our minds can unexpectedly and spontaneously create amazing organizations of words with meaning. There were times when that happened to me and I struggled to remember lines that would have been great for poetry, stories, or quotes. There was nothing available for me to use to write them down, or record in some way. As I went over them in my head, trying to memorize the lines I discovered that the organization of the words would often change, and sometimes degrade in their quality until the initial meaning was lost.

So now I try to carry a little journal and pencil or pen wherever I go to record and catch them when they appear in kind of my own personal version of Pokemon Go.

Poetry: Course of an Idea

Poetry: Course of an Idea
Crafted from thought and imagination, an idea is born, and if fostered and nourished can change the world in minor or drastic ways. It is the beginning of creation, the point where thought transforms into a plan with the potential for execution. To leave the confines of the human mind to be shared with others, to take form, and to perhaps set on a path or transformed by controlling forces to something unintended by the creator.  What governs how an idea develops and the path it should take?
Course of an Idea
By: Daniel Derasaugh 

To create or destroy.
Encourage or push down.
Free or enslave.

An idea. A thought born,
a growing light,
Or a gathering darkness.

To improve the world,
Or to grasp power.
The choice is not its own.

The creator guides it,
But cannot control it forever.
For ideas, once born, outlive the architect.

Others will take command.
Where will it go? What will it cause?
Ah! My dear friends; we shall soon see;

the importance of ethics and morality.

An idea is a burst of new thought, or old thought renewed in a different way. This alone does not determine a positive or negative effect on the world, but all ideas have one of the the two, or even a mixture of both. The idea itself is usually not the deciding factor if it is to be positive or negative. Instead it is the force that is in charge of it, guiding it to whatever purpose they desire.

But people do not really steer an idea in one direction or another, either. It is the ethics and moral code that they live by that does that. The architect may or may not be aware of it, but whatever moral principles they live by will determine the course of all ideas they create or take charge of. Ethics and morals that are firmly adhered to take on a great importance as they are the shields against allowing an idea to be utilized as a destructive element.

Guide them well.

 

Historical Poetry: Connecting to History Through Poetry – The First World War Part 2

Historical Poetry: Connecting to History Through Poetry – The First World War Part 2
A medal designed by Karl Goetz to commemorate the Battle of Verdun; a terrible battle fought from February to December in 1916 in which over 300,000 soldiers were killed and hundreds of thousands more wounded. This battle had as many losses as most wars saw in their entirety up to this point in history and it was still not the worst of the First World War. Death personified is shown whisking away a woman; an accurate and disturbing testament to the war that was supposed to end all wars.

For the last few months I have been gripped with a fascination of the First World War. It was one of the last topics in United States history I taught at the end of this past school year. As I have said before, I want to try to create an emotional connection to the war to help make learning about it matter. I hope I have, in some small way at least, achieved that with “Death Dances Across the World”.


"Death Dances Across the World"
By: Daniel Derasaugh

Within dark clouds and flashing light,
moving behind such a veil; a ghastly sight.
Tearing ground with every swipe.
Her gleaming scythe gathers from every type.

She looms over all,
as millions die and nations fall.
A towering wraith with a shroud of soot.
Broken bodies wail under foot.

She harvests, she gathers,
the ground breaks and taters.
Still millions more are sent.
Have not enough souls been spent?

Death dances across the world.
Incinerating peace and the last of hope.
Bursts of light from mortar shells,
reveal her form, the horror tells.

On November 11th her blade grows dull.
Blunted from many a reaped soul.  
Of this, the first of two great harvests ends,
as souls to heaven or hell the reaper sends.

“Death Dances Across the World” is my attempt to sum up the level of destruction and loss of life as a result of The First World War, while at the same time acknowledging in the last stanza that such a horrific global conflict would not be the last.

Personification of Death

I used the personification of death as a way to connect to the period. Death is not an unusual image used in relation to the First World War, or any event that causes such massive loss of life.

scan0007
Obverse of the British Recreated Version of Karl Goetz’s Lusitania Medal.

Goetz’s Verdun medal, shown in the featured image, and his Lusitania medal shown to the right, are just two of many examples that show death personified. It is this morbid theme that I am attempting to carry on with this poem.

The Goetz medal; the one shown here, is a British recreation that was produced as a propaganda piece to show the brutality of the German U-Boat attacks against civilian ships. Goetz’s original was made as a German propaganda piece to show disregard of the warnings of using passenger ships to transport arms and supplies to the Allied Power nations. The ticket salesman on the right side who is selling civilian passengers their tickets to the ship is shown to be a skeleton.

Using death as a character also carries another purpose. As fantastical as it is to imagine a monstrous skeletal figure hidden in the smoke of burning cities and battlefields walking across the land to reap the lives of soldiers and civilians, it is also not pleasant. It is supposed to be unsettling, but interesting as well.

Poetry as a Lure

The base purpose is to help readers visualize the consequences of the war and to build interest in the period and hopefully study it deeper. Perhaps using the creative avenue of poetry can help spark that interest. Some people do not need this, but others may. “Death Dances Across the World” and the two poems from  Historical Poetry: Connecting to History Through Poetry – The First World War are written to be lures to build interest. They are not something to study, but to be read before asking: “Do you/I want to know more?”

If we wish to the learn from the consequences of previous generations; good or bad, making it matter is key.  But we can not do any of that unless we know and understand the past.

I hope this helps.

Landscape
Ruins of Vaux, France in 1918

 

 

 

 

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…

…echoes.
1024px-British_Troops_Marching_in_Mesopotamia
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;
quiet.

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.
WWImontage
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.

1024px-General_gouraud_french_army_world_war_i_machinegun_marne_1918
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.
Forgotten,
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.