Thursday, November 12, 2015

Poetics of H.G. Wells

I am posting this the day after Remembrance Day. (In the U.S. it’s been called Armistice Day and Veterans Day)

As you know, any of my blog posts with “Poetics” in the title mean a poem I’ve memorized, presented with a related essay. Today the poem is un-memorized: It’s one I wrote myself, with the italic verses being a paraphrasing of the words used by Wells in his late 19th century novel, which takes place in the “future,” the early 20th, called The War of the Worlds.

If Well’s novel is still in print after a hundred years, it’s not because he knew science, but because he knew people. He was more courageous than you and I about seeing human character, and seeing society. I think now that while every generation “forgets” about the horror of war, so too does each generation go into denial about “Vietnam veteran syndrome” or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. If Wells knew, then we in the Nineteen-sixties could have known, and should have known.

But I’m not bitter; I know we all deny things. Right now, for example, I see us all perched on the edge of business-as-usual, OR facing up to the fact of childhood bullying. Since the Columbine school massacre, I think progress is being made—but I think we could still slide back. I read where a bully, at his recent high school ten-year reunion, was truly amazed that an adult he had bullied when they were kids still remembered, still resented. I think so far, as new schoolchildren are forgetting the word “Columbine,” society is not going back into denial, (“Bullying is normal, kids will be kids”) not like that grown-up bully did. Not like we naturally used to.

Yesterday was Remembrance Day. Let’s not, even though it’s tempting, forget the big things: wars and crimes against humanity. I remember a Nazi hunter being asked why he exposed poor tottering senior citizens as being hidden Nazi war criminals. He replied the criminals of the next war are already living among us, and he wants them to see there will be consequences.

I suppose Remembrance Day is a gentle, non-glorious way of avoiding war by not forgetting. Humble is good. I guess I’m in the minority for seeing the day as important, and I guess I should humbly accept that normal people see it as merely a statutory day for shopping. During boyhood, my family despised how Yankee chain stores stayed open on the eleventh. Today I could be pleased it’s a statutory holiday for others, although this year at my job we all had to come to work, including a young mother who’s son, in cadets, was speaking at the ceremony. (No, she wouldn’t pretend she was sick that day)

Bless H.G.
God bless Herbert George Wells,
a man who
on the night of Vietnam
would not deny three times,
as the goddam surgeon general did,
the fact of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Never mealy-mouthed,
Wells wouldn’t curl his lips over
combat fatigue or operational exhaustion.
Wells would have spoken loud and clear: Shell shock.

But there was no such word
when Well was writing his Martians,
before the Great World War.
Wells had the courage to know things.

I am sitting by lamplight in my study, abruptly
out my window I see again the valley in flames.

I am walking.
The butcher boy passing on his bicycle vanishes
and I hurry again in the dark with the artilleryman
 …past dog-eaten corpses
that rise up and gibber at me.

Wells knew, God bless him,
that fighting,
even alongside the angels,
leaves deep, deep scars.

Sean Crawford
November 12, 2015
~An anti-bullying resource book, with the above reunion anecdote, is referenced in my essay Saving Tomorrow Land, archived August 2015.

~ Some Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder resource books are referenced in my essay Voices of PTSD, archived June 2012.

~For schoolteachers who want a discussion resource, I am enjoying a manga (translated Japanese comic book) about bullying called A Silent Voice, where the viewpoint character bullies a deaf transfer student. I’m still only half way through volume one, but it’s looking good. From Kodansha Comics, by Yoshitoki Oima, it’s rated for ages 13+

~My poem won’t be available for purchase until 2016, as part of my book of poetry, Tracing the Martians of H.G. Wells.


  1. I love the H.G. Wells poem and I look forward to the publication of your book of poetry. Sean, you rock!

  2. Thank you. As Mark Twain would say, "I can go all day on a single compliment."

  3. I like the poem :) I'll have to dig up my copy of War of the Worlds and re-read that part, but I'm sure you're right, PTSD is probably as old as warfare.