The German invasion of Poland on September 1,1939 was the opening of the Second World War. The articles in the Autumn issue of PR are marked throughout by the sense of its inevitability permeating Europe and the world at large that summer. I will return next week with the “This Quarter” report from the Editors of the journal, but am starting with the first poem of the issue, a “Pastoral for Poland” by Clark Mills.
PASTORAL FOR POLAND
Now have the cries of bombed and drowned
a gentle, elegiac sound;
rumour of grief and news of pain
drench the drunk mind like autumn rain.
And now the innocent and wise
crouch from the menace of blue skies
till they lie broken, or in flight
towards the ignorant shield of night.
The burning forest of the nations
wheels under the constellations;
the iron birds roar the bomb-routes; deep
in the explosions children sleep.
Together in the cold of day
the placid, great-limbed beasts of prey,
strong at the twilight hour, and feeding,
rend the sweet flash before them bleeding,
and formless forms in slippers and cowl
watch with the still, round eyes of the owl,
soar from the tree of faith to bless
the perfect act of ruthlessness,
and crickets ring the leafing fire
chirping with terror and desire,
and the rest, under the shadowed hill,
rustle and scurry and are still.
–In the exhausted hour of peace
whom shall we honour among these?
The martyrs bleeding by the wall,
the humble, who cry out and fall,
and these are all, and these are all..
So, who was Clark Mills? Its hard to find an image of him on the internet — here is the best I found — Clark Mills –and there hasn’t been much written about him to my knowledge, but if you know different, please let me know.
Born Clark Mills McBurney in 1913, he became friends with Tennessee Williams, when Williams, then Tom, and a group of fairly like-minded young writers became a group hanging around The Old Courthouse near Washington University in St. Louis, and much of what I learned about him comes from books that are about Tennessee Williams. Clark Mills was pointed out to Williams as that student who writes “crazy modern verse nobody understands but God and himself!” Tom, who had just had his own verse published in four literary magazines, was instantly attracted. Mills would become a prime influence for his next few years, introducing him to the poetry of Rilke, Rimbaud, and Hart Crane, who became Williams’ idol.
This poem is littered with Audenesque phrases and it sounds Blakean as well. There is nothing particularly innovative about it, but it figures as a type for an anti-war poem written by a 26-year-old poet who is a Leftist without being a Stalinist, and so capable of judging the ‘placid beasts of prey’ who devour the ‘martyrs’ and the ‘humble’ — beasts of prey who include fascists and liberals alike.
next week “This Quarter” Editors, Partisan Review