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The Question -- Wilfred Gibson

       
(Poem #830) The Question
 I wonder if the old cow died or not.
 Gey bad she was the night I left, and sick.
 Dick reckoned she would mend. He knows a lot--
 At least he fancies so himself, does Dick.

 Dick knows a lot. But maybe I did wrong
 To leave the cow to him, and come away.
 Over and over like a silly song
 These words keep humming in my head all day.

 And all I think of, as I face the foe
 And take my lucky chance of being shot,
 Is this -- that if I'm hit, I'll never know
 Till Doomsday if the old cow died or not.
-- Wilfred Gibson
Note:
  Gey (adj.): Considerable, `tolerable', `middling': esp. of quantity or
  amount. Scots, variant of 'gay'. -- OED

We've run a lot of war poems, but nothing quite like today's. Which is
rather surprising - in retrospect, this ought to be a more common
perspective on the subject. Gibson's portrayal of the soldier - who, in the
midst of the battle, and with death a distinct possibility, can only think
of an minor unresolved matter that he will now 'never know till Doomsday' -
is incongruous, yes, but definitely not unconvincing.

The language has an appealing quality to it, too. Overlaid upon the
deliberately rustic sound are some wonderfully flowing phrases, like

   Dick reckoned she would mend. He knows a lot--
   At least he fancies so himself, does Dick.

and the unexpected 'lucky chance of being shot'. The rhythm also follows the
'over and over like a silly song' nature of the poet's obsessive thoughts,
as do the several repeated phrases.

Biography: poem #622

Links:

  I did think of rounding up all the war poems we'd run in Minstrels, but
  there were just too many of them. We are working on categorising the
  archive, at which point there will indeed be a complete list of war poems.

-martin

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