1914: The Name Game

Amit Majmudar

Asquith had it from Haldane,
Who had it from Poincaré,
While Viviani’s tête-a-tête
At tea with Edward Grey
Revealed that Bethmann cabled
Paléologue to say
The very thing Sazonov said
To Moltke’s attaché.

I see London,
I see France,
I see Clio’s
Underpants:
Muse of History,
Muse of the Meuse,
Pardon my French,
But Muse, j’accuse.

It’s time for the name game, children, the blame game.
Come get your clues. Now what begins with B?
Beginnings, Baghdad, Balfour, Bosch, Berlin, let’s see:
It’s time for the name game, children, the same game
That launched a thousand dreadnoughts
That launched a thousand dead men on the oil-dark sea.

The innominate equal the innumerable.
Statisticians do their Sommes,
But the nom de guerre and the nom de plume
Leave all but the scholars numb.
Remarque, Barbusse, Sassoon, and Graves
Saw through a sniper-scope
Their future lines, as fine as crosshairs
Trained on the Death of Hope—
Surely an epic theme, in time,
Source of their deathless fame.
Collar a scholar, you find a schoolboy
Out to make his name.

Joffre muttered to Lanrezac
During the Marseillaise
The same thing Falkenhayn confided
To Ludendorff the day
Kitchener cabled French what Haig
Was told without delay,
Rational actors, learning their lines
For Passchendaele’s Passion play.

Marnefully sobbing, hiccuping Ypres Ypres,
The mum of the lad (she unidentified, he unidentifiable)
Expects no Clemenceau from stern War.
A nor’waster pulls into the Gare de L’Waste.
Don’t worry, O generic Mum-of-Lad, O mute
Liverpudlian Hecuba in your unisex ankle-length
Gabardine coat: Bad news has Gavrilo-Prinzip aim.
The War Office telegram will target you by name.

The names, the names, the names remain,
These letters, nailed in place,
Though soldiers down in the soiled earth
Though Tommies drowned in the solid earth
Vanish without a face.

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