30 May 2010

Vale from Carthage


Vale From Carthage

 Peter Viereck, 1944
 I, now at Carthage. He shot dead at Rome.
Shipmates last May. "And what if one of us,"
I asked last May, in fun, in gentleness,
"Wears doom, like dungarees, and doesn't know?"
He laughed, "Not see Times Square again?" The foam,
Feathering across that deck a year ago,
Swept those five words-like seeds-beyond the seas
     Into his future. There they grew like trees;
     And as he passed them there next spring, they laid
     Upon his road of fire their sudden shade.
Though he had always scraped his mess-kit pure
And scrubbed redeemingly his barracks floor,
Though all his buttons glowed their ritual hymn
Like cloudless moons to intercede for him,
No furlough fluttered from the sky. He will
Not see Times Square-he will not see-he will
Not see Times change;

at Carthage (while my friend,
Living those words at Rome, screamed in the end)
I saw an ancient Roman's tomb and read
"Vale" in stone. 
Here two wars mix their dead:
     Roman, my shipmate's dream walks hand in hand
     With yours tonight ("New York again" and "Rome")
     Like widowed sisters bearing water home
     On tired heads through hot Tunisian sand
     In good cool urns, and says, "I understand."
Roman, you'll see your Forum Square no more;
What's left but this to say of any war?

A poem I remember in detail from high school days- this Vale from Carthage, by Peter Viereck, a haunting reminder that some things do not change- as we pass this Memorial Day 2010. 

A necessary evil in such a world the American Battle Monuments Commission site HereWhere we honour our dead.
Over 125,000 American dead lie on foreign soil from three wars. Many more must be lost to the decaying earth-never claimed or marked.

These remembrances must be kept and their significance never lessened in the Hope that someday we will come to mark them with no countryman's blood shed away from Home. 

Where we are needed we should go-where we are not and do not understand a culture thousands of years older than our own-We should not go. We are not marked there with stones--but unwelcome-Our living and Our dead. Now in this year of 2010- a generation as young and beautiful as any- dwindling in numbers and expectations.

about Peter Viereck Here
Read the back story of the poem (in brief) Here
Phototgraph 1 Monument facade from the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery Here
Photograph 2 US forces in the Piazza del Popopo, Rome from HERE
Ruins at Carthage, Tunis 3 Here
Times Square 4 Here


  1. The monument facade from Sicily-Rome American Cemetery & Memorial simply takes my breath away. Thank you, Gaye.

  2. Quite beautiful. I have always remembered this poem 33 years- Some things do stick. pgt

  3. Have not read this poem before, but agree with your sentiments.

  4. Thank you for sharing this beautiful poem. My step-father is a 2 star general in the army. He will retire next year and has given his life's work to our country. I'm immensely proud of him and know, first hand, how many funeral services he has attended to honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. It's real and affects real American families. We should honor our military more often. They protect us daily. Hope you are having a great weekend.

  5. Wonderful post, Little A. I read about Professor Viereck's views on conservatism - about societal evil and mankind. I just finished reading CANDIDE again, like you it has stayed with me for a long time. I am planning to post about it. Some things, I fear, will never change.

  6. Thank you, Gaye. This is incredibly moving.

  7. an important day to remember and learn great lessons and remember that so many of the lost are the youngest. pgt

  8. Although I probably wasn't the only high school teacher who used "Vale From Carthage" for writing assignments 33 years ago, it is a startling coincidence. You weren't one of my students were you? (Tucson High School, Arizona 72-91) Either way,thank you for posting this remarkable, moving, and largely fogotten literary masterpiece. E. J. McGill (mcgilwe@comcast.net)

  9. Unknown, EJ,this would have been 35 years ago and in NC- I had a very young teacher at the time she would have been about 25. It is a poignant yet stark accounting. I kept the paper I wrote on this poem,and the remarks my teacher made that gave me encouragement to write.It seems every 30 years or so there is a new generation of war boys-and girls. That mine escaped it is comforting, but to see the very young now maimed with such childlike faces and hearts of steel is painful to me.I thank you for stopping in and appreciate the comment.



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