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.
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.