Poems don’t stop a war!

In the midst, and in the wake of war, a whole genre of poetry has emerged over many hundreds of years which we sweepingly call “war poems”. Let us be honest, poems don’t stop a war! Yet such poems often carry within them four characteristics that it is important to observe. Above all they form a “lament” – this is not how life is supposed to be. Secondly, they are clear eyed to tell it as it is. Thirdly, these poems bear witness, they raise up speech, they allow the small voice to speak and to be heard, and become a voice act as protest to war. Lastly, such poems often hold out a hope for change, often in the form of penance and the acknowledgement of our own weakness and morality. Ilya Kaminsky was born in Odessa, then part of Russia in April 1977. He lost most of his hearing at the age of four when mumps were misdiagnosed as a cold. In 1993 his family was granted political asylum by USA. He graduated from Georgetown University. In his poem “We Lived Happily during the War (2009) Kaminsky is asking us who read the poem to feel implicated in the question about civic life, who is comfortable while other people aren’t, and how can you remain comfortable while other people are oppressed? These lines echo the words of the German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemoller who wrote during WWII …”First they came for the socialist, and I did not speak out – because I was not a socialist, then they came for the trade unionists, …then they came for the Jews… then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me. ” Together, we stand convicted by our complicity. Listen carefully to Kaminsky’s poem , note the pronouns, we/they/others. Note also how so much money can be made from war. Observe the moment when we try to look the other way, to take a chair outside and watch the sun! Then comes the penance and plea for forgiveness. Poetry asks us to pay attention. Pause, ponder, and pray.

We Lived Happily during the war

We Lived Happily during the war

And when they bombed other people’s houses, we


but not enough, we opposed them but not

enough. I was

in my bed, around my bed America

was falling: invisible house by invisible house by invisible house.

I took a chair outside and watched the sun.

In the sixth month

of a disastrous reign in the house of money

in the street of money in the city of money in the country of money,

our great country of money, we (forgive us)

lived happily during the war. Ilya Kaminsky from Deaf Republic

Holy God,
We call upon you The Prince of Peace,
come to our aid we cry.
For the people of Ukraine we ask your grace
to grant them the courage they need,
the comfort they require, and the hope they seek to hold.
Our words are not enough, yet with words we ask
for war to end, for the invader to leave.
Might we as people of love and truth ever seek
to right the wrong, to comfort the broken hearted,
to bind up the weak.
Lord God save us from our foolishness that tells us
we are immortal, all powerful and all knowing.
May Right overcome might.
May Love overcome evil.
May Truth overcome lies.
May Good overcome evil. Amen

One thought on “Poems don’t stop a war!

  1. I am reminded of a poignant moment when as a teenager in the early years of the Vietnam War I caught a glimpse of my parents watching the news, both teary looking. My mother turned to my father and said, “All those kids, all those kids. War makes me feel so helpless.” I have never forgotten that statement nor the looks on their faces. I am guilty of turning off the news, of not watching, of looking the other way. And perhaps that is because I feel so helpless.

    Liked by 1 person

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