Contributor: Sean Morrissey
As we commemorate the 75th anniversary of VE Day on May 8th, a poem from World War II veteran Alan Dugan is appropriate. Dugan served in the U.S. Air Force during the last stages of the war, an experience he described as “crucial” to his own life’s trajectory and development.
Dugan’s “Aubade: Chant of the Innocents” lays out the gentle reflection of its speaker, a serviceman long-home and looking back on those crucial years when tomorrow’s fate remained an open question. It reads as if from the other side and yet, at the time of writing and the poem’s first publication in January 1945, the world and this soldier-poet were both still very much at war.
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I shall arise in the morning and make my bed.
I shall walk to the door and admire things.
I shall remember neither the sick mornings
When eyeballs grated on the lid,
And the mind clenched, refused to breathe,
Or mumble and cough over small indigestible portions of dreams,
Nor your frayed voice, speaking also in the morning
To the mirror of its self, saying,
What terrible days we must expect to endure
As a price for this decay around us;
For these contortions we have,
Until the time that I can say;
All in all I remember it (and you)
With a good deal of nostalgia,
I shall mop the floor and stand reveille,
And when the hangar doors open in a huge yawn
I shall enter its noisy intestines
To perform the function for which I am best fitted.
I shall stand with mechanics, grouped like surgeons
Over the engine. (whose black blood
Will camouflage fumbles, delicacy,
Waving of words and change all hands
Into ratchets, wrenches and soft, ineffectual mallets.)
I shall work with pleasure in great intensity.
I shall say, Good morning. Good morning. What a fine morning.
Note the even keeled tone of the poem and its focus on those mundane domesticities of life; the simple joy of labour and one’s being part of the big picture (standing “with mechanics, grouped like surgeons / over the engine). Above all, though, Dugan’s poem speaks to the innate resilience of humanity, that even during periods of great fear and uncertainty we hold out hope toward the light.