Canto 51: Manoueverings

It is Magnificent, but it is not war

Marshall Canrobert


A New Rome

He had, yet wanted all Releefe.
The Prop & Ruin of the State;
The People’s violent Love & Hate
John Cleveland

The Generalissimo took supper,
Settl’d in his leather with Chianti,
Imagining sat with Calphurnia
Discussing tribal Gaul’s hostility;
His brilliance
Unecho’d in the field,
Valletta’s fine defence offers the meagre yield.

Churchill builds strength in wily stealth –
East of Cyrenaica
The pieces of the Commonwealth
Force Egypt’s ancyent border,
In fiery line & perfect health
To claim an Uttica –
When Italy’s panic-stricken warbands
Flee Bardia & dune-sunk, lunar sands.

Pride-swallowing Mussolini
‘Neath Hitler’s stern voice squirms,
“Fuhrer! help me! my grand army
Rack’d with retreat & worms!”
“Of course, my friend, but in the end it must be on my terms.”

Rome
December
1940


Churchill’s Stoicism

Come bombs, & blow to smithereens
Those air-conditioned, bright canteens,
Tinned fruit, tinned meat, tinned milk, tinned beans
John Betjeman

Those fairy-lights which grace Piccadilly
Each Christmas are, this year, black’d-out bomb-rough,
Who’d have thought that war could raze a city,
The shape of things to come comes soon enough;
Up Churchill rose,
In him all hope intern’d,
Thro’ him resistance flows, thro’ him the worm has turn’d.

Aft breaking fast with steak & wine,
He inspects old London town,
Whose passage clapping people line,
A rallying, “Are we down?”
On all sides, “NO!” “We shall be fine!”
“God bless King George’s crown!”
“Whatever Goering hurls us from the air,
We’d rather die in London than despair!”

P.M. returns to pens & lamp,
Still sirens stretch & roar,
The shelter damp, an aide-de-camp
Asks how they’ll win the war,
“Fight on & hope America walks thro’ our open door.”

Whitehall
December 10th
1940


A Daring Escape

I’d sooner sleep on the moor
in a lonely snug hollow
a clump of rush at my side
An Ciaran Mabach

“I must away into the big wide world!”
Sang survivors of the down’d Luftwaffe,
Beyond the wire the last soil layers curl’d,
Uncorking Oberleutnant Von Werra;
Fellow escapers
He bids auf weidershein,
Then offs for fresh capers, to steal himself a plane.

Brassy bold down the police station,
“Sir, my name is Captain Van Lott,
I’ve crash-landed my Wellington,
Another plane must be got…”
To an airbase promptly driven,
Suspicions grew awfully hot,
“I’ll check your credentials with Aberdeen,
There’s a war on you know…” Werra, unseen,

Slips thro’ the toilet window slick,
Sprints to a Hurricane,
Whose mechanic flicks engine’s tick,
Its pilot mounts the plane
“Get out!” the Duty officer’s aimed pistol halts the train.

RAF Hucknall
December 20th
1940


Death of Eleanor Stemmler

Darkness more clear than noon-day holdeth her,
Silence more musical than any song :
Even her very heart has ceased to stir
D.G. Rossetti

“I’m delighted to tell you Frau Stemmler
A sanatorium has been founded
With facilities to help your daughter…”
“They will take good care of my beloved?”
“I’m sure they will,
All prospects beckon fine,
Now if you could just fill these forms in & then sign…”

Eleanor enter’d the abbey,
Breathing air quite crisp & clean,
Hippocratic morality
Sacrificed to cleanse the gene,
Guaranteeing supremacy,
Small matter of hygiene –
When feeble-minded deem’d unfit to live
By eugenists no doctor could forgive.

She went out her for a country ride
With excited patients,
Cool monoxide hard pump’d inside,
When closed the precious vents,
She died crying, “Momma!” desp’rate fingers scraping dents.

Hessen
Christmas Day
1940


Eastern Lights

One within in a crimson glow,
Silently sitting;
One without on the falling snow
Isa Craig

Yuletide comes in bells & yet no victor,
Der Fuhrer spends it with his Channel troops,
Thought sunken dark increasingly in Russia,
No more to leap thro’ Molotov’s tight hoops;
The time feels right
To cross the Rubicon,
Drafting all thro’ the night, ‘Directive Twenty-One.

Egoist Napoleonic
Spurtles, “This Soviet threat
Let us stem all thro’ the Baltic
Both sides of marsh-wide Pripet,
Surrounding armies wolfhunt quick
Shall close all in a net;
Moscow has grown whore-rotten with intrigue,
Crumble she must before our bold Blitzkreig.”

Turning his back upon the West
He faced the dawning lights,
With Budapest & Bucharest,
His Axis satellites,
Advancing legions shall surpass Alexander’s Hoplites.

Eurasia
January
1941


Bombing Malta

in this bleak rain
even the monkeys seem to want
little straw cloaks
Basho

As when warm muskets curb’d an Age of Swords
Henceforth sealanes control’d from shifting air,
Where swooping hawks patrolling old whale-roads,
Drop lethal loads on all who’d venture there;
’Illustrious,’
The Axis lust to sink,
Now batter’d furious but one blow from the brink,

She limps into the Grand Harbour
& sleeps a sitting target,
Regia Aeronautica
For the coup de grace was set;
But breaching Malta’s theatre
By hell-let-loose them met –
Attack after ack-ack attack was made,
More brave, more foolish than the Light Brigade.

The heart of all hostilities
Bomb-pounded long & hard,
The Three Cities’ Fatalities
List round a wreck’d dock-yard –
What took the Turks three months to raze one night has equal scarr’d.

Senglea
16th Jan
1941


A Second Daring Escape

Vagrancy and imprisonment
Have deprived me
Of my best days of my youth
Ai Qing

Train scythes thro’ Canada’s Arctic semblance,
Its German inmates clamouring for ‘go,’
Persistence pays, Von Werra sees his chance,
Knocks black bars out, dives head-first into snow;
Such moments come
For those who dare be bold –
The frail breath of freedom turns misty in the cold.

Trekking thro’ freezing wilderness,
Warm’d by determination,
Light-twinklings his endeavours bless,
From the banks American,
The long Saint Lawrence thaws her dress,
Channels ‘tween ice floes run;
A rowing boat stolen, lacking an oar,
Now set out drifting for the safer shore.

Footfall… to some old folk he drew,
“Is this Amerika?”
“Why yes, but who the hell are you?”
“I am an officer
Of the German Air Force… I am… I was a prisoner!”

Ogdensburg
January 24th
1941


Desert Fox

how voracious time is, the herd of bodies
has gone for a moment, disappeared
among the rowboats and schooners
Olga Khvostova

As Rommel took first steps on Afric sand,
All about servants of the fiasco
Load ships, evacuation was at hand,
Arms strewn as if by Trasimene’s flow;
He cocks his cap
Thigh-cracks a riding whip,
“Someone get me a map, I want to take a trip.”

His plane flew lofty on the tour
Of simmering hot Syrte,
Sang some nomadic troubadour,
“What beauty & how ghastly!”
Italians straggling the shore
Yon mud-baked Benghazi,
With British flags proud flying everywhere,
“We shall build our fresh defences down there!”

Between palm-leaf lined boulevards
Parades the Werhmacht grey,
Like picture-cards, ev’ry ten yards
& what a hand to play,
When his aces, the Panzers, have arrived to join the fray.

Tripoli
February 14th
1941


Allies

Man now his Virtue’s diadem
Puts on & proudly wears
Great thoughts, great feelings came to them
Lord Houghton

Great Britain spends the last of her dollars,
Threadneedle’s twinkling bullion bled dry,
If ever should she be victorious
Give her the means for bartering supply;
What vision rests
In Rooseveldt’s rare brain,
“Tis in our best int’rests the battle to sustain.”

The policy that was lend-lease,
Pleasant child of the New Deal,
Reflected climes of prosp’rous peace;
Aircraft, shermans, ships & steel,
Minerals, cereals, obese,
Serve up  a vital meal,
Providing Britain’s back bone with its meat
Cost waiv’d until Old England’s on her feet.

Without warfare’s foremost sinew
All bids for triumph fails,
Magnate & Jew stitch wealth into
Britain’s heroic sails…
Tis not the longest sword but deepest purse that e’er prevails.

USA
February
1941

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