“Memorial Rain”

In honor of Memorial Day, a heartbreaking World War One poem. It’s by Archibald MacLeish, whose “Not Marble Nor the Gilded Monuments” I posted during poetry month. He wrote it for his brother.

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Memorial Rain
For Kenneth MacLeish, 1894-1918

Ambassador Puser the ambassador
Reminds himself in French, felicitous tongue,
What these (young men no longer) lie here for
In rows that once, and somewhere else, were young…

     All night in Brussels the wind had tugged at my door:
     I had heard the wind at my door and the trees strung
     Taut, and to me who had never been before
     In that country it was a strange wind, blowing
     Steadily, stiffening the walls, the floor,
     The roof of my room. I had not slept for knowing
He too, dead, was a stranger in that land
     And felt beneath the earth in the wind’s flowing
     A tightening of roots and would not understand,
Remembering lake winds in Illinois,
That strange wind. I had felt his bones in the sand
     Listening.

         …Reflects that these enjoy
Their country’s gratitude, that deep repose,
That peace no pain can break, no hurt destroy,
That rest, that sleep…

         At Ghent the wind rose.
     There was a smell of rain and a heavy drag
     Of wind in the hedges but not as the wind blows
     Over fresh water when the waves lag
     Foaming and the willows huddle and it will rain:
     I felt him waiting.

         …Indicates the flag
Which (may he say) enisles in Flanders plain
This little field these happy, happy dead
Have made America…

                  In the ripe grain
     The wind coiled glistening, darted, fled,
     Dragging its heavy body: at Waereghem
     The wind coiled in the grass above his head:
     Waiting—listening…

         …Dedicates to them
This earth their bones have hallowed, this last gift
A Grateful country…

                  Under the dry grass stem
     The words are blurred, are thickened, the words sift
Confused by the rasp of the wind, by the thin grating
Of ants under the grass, the minute shift
     And tumble of dusty sand separating
     From dusty sand. The roots of the grass strain,
     Tighten, the earth is rigid, waits—he is waiting—

     And suddenly, and all at once, the rain!

     The living scatter, they run into houses, the wind
     Is trampled under the rain, shakes free, is again
     Trampled. The rain gathers, running in thinned
     Spurts of water that ravel in the dry sand,
     Seeping in the sand under the grass roots, seeping
     Between cracked boards to the bones of a clenched hand:
     The earth relaxes, loosens; he is sleeping,
     He rests, he is quiet, he sleeps in a strange land.

2 thoughts on ““Memorial Rain””

  1. After reading, several times, Memorial Rain by Archibald McLeish, I couldn’t help feeling a certain kinship. This poem written to memorialize his brother reminded me of a poem written by my father. He served in WWII in the Pacific and witnessed the horrors of war, saw many friends perish including his favorite brother. I served as a pilot in Vietnam and also witnessed events I don’t like to think about. In a tribute to his brother dad wrote the following poem that has never been published:

    White Crosses in the Moonlight
    William Tyler Miller
    1944-5

    I saw these snow-white crosses
    In the moonlight on the hill;
    I heard soft voices singing,
    I hear them singing still.

    They sing a song of triumph,
    Their battles have been won,
    They shoulder no more weapons,
    Sweat out no tropic sun.

    I saw these endless crosses
    In Doulag’s coral sand;
    I heard the hymn of soldiers’
    Who loved their native land.

    I did not see them dying,
    I could not feel their pain,
    I only know they loved us,
    And that love was not in vain.

    It is for us remaining;
    Our efforts to increase
    In view of what they died for—
    A universal peace.

    If we would shirk our duties,
    Let ignorance tempt our will,
    We’ll see these snow-white crosses
    In the moonlight on the hill.

    Still brings a tear to the eye….

    John Miller

    1. Sorry it’s taken me so long to moderate this comment–I wanted to wait until I had time to do it justice, but I am still speechless, to be honest. Thank you for sharing this with me. What a beautiful and complicated thing to have from your father. My grandfather also served in World War II and shared some very painful stories with us–I know there were many more he never shared. ♥ I hope you are safe and well, and that you had a good Memorial Day.

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