Poems on war: Paul Muldoon is inspired by Rupert Brooke
Muldoon writes new poem "Dromedaries and Dung Beetles" in response to Brooke's "The Soldier"
The Guardin, Saturday 26 October 2013
Paul Muldoon. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod for the Guardian
I'm a huge fan of Rupert Brooke, one of the first poets I read. In fact, the only poet whose work was in my childhood home. I thought it might be interesting to rejig Brooke's idea of the corner of a foreign field and make it "forever Ireland" rather than "England". I also recently visited the battlefields of Gallipoli, not far from where Brooke died, as well as Morocco. I traced what must have been a distant relative who died in the second world war somewhere in north Africa. All of these ideas came together in the poem "Dromedaries and Dung Beetles".
An eye-level fleck of straw in the mud wall
is almost as good as gold . . .
I've ventured into this piss-poor urinal
partly to escape the wail
of thirty milch camels with their colts
as they're readied for our trek
across the dunes, partly because I've guzzled
three glasses of the diuretic
gunpowder tea the Tuareg
hold in such esteem. Their mostly business casual
attire accented by a flamboyant
blue or red nylon grab-rope
round their lower jaws, dromedaries point
to a 9 to 5 life of knees bent
in the service of fetching carboys
and carpetbags from A to B across the scarps.
Think Boyne coracles
bucking from wave to wave. Think scarab
beetles rolling their scrips
of dung to a gabfest. These dromedary-gargoyles
are at once menacing and meek
as, railing against their drivers' kicks and clicks,
they fix their beautiful-ugly mugs
on their own Meccas.
The desert sky was so clear last night the galaxies
could be seen to pulse …
The dromedaries were having a right old chinwag,
each musing on its bolus.
Every so often one would dispense some pills
that turned out to be generic
sheep or goat. The dung beetles set great store
not by the bitter cud
nor the often implausible Histories
of Herodotus but the stars
they use to guide
themselves over the same sand dunes
as these thirty milch camels
and their colts. They, too, make a continuous
line through Algeria and Tunisia.
Dung beetles have been known to positively gambol
on the outskirts of Zagora, a boom
town where water finds it hard not to gush
over the date-palms.
Despite the clouds of pumice
above Marrakesh even I might find my way to Kesh,
in the ancient Barony of Lurg,
thanks to Cassiopeia
and her self-regard. Think of how there lurks
in almost all of us a weakness for the allegorical.
Think of a Moroccan swallow's last gasp
near the wattle-and-daub oppidum
where one of my kinsmen clips
the manes of a groaning chariot-team . . .
Think of Private Henry Muldoon putting his stamp
on the mud of Gallipoli
on August 8 1915. It appears
he worked as a miner at Higham Colliery
before serving in the Lancasters and the 8th Welsh Pioneers.
His somewhat pronounced ears
confirm his place in the family gallery.
'It's only a blink,' my father used to say . . . 'Only a blink.'
I myself seem to have developed the gumption
to stride manfully out of a Neo-Napoleonic
latrine and play my part in the march on Casablanca
during the North African campaign.
"The Soldier" by Rupert Brooke
If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England's, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.
And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.