ROBERT PINSKY: In a time of war, those who fight make
some balance in their minds
between the cold facts of killing, pain and destruction on one side
the notion of purpose or even glory on the other side. How much
spiritual energy goes to the sense of mission and how much to an
awareness that force is a last resort? Presumably, in a democracy, each
of us may feel some of that double consideration.
Wallace Stevens wrote a poem called "Examination of the Hero in
of War," in which he tries to approach that question. What psalter,
prayer book, should our sybils or prophets use? What do the values of
civilizations and cities mean when what seems necessary is force?
Here are some lines from the poem's first stanza, suggesting the harsh
brutality of warfare as a mission:
Force is my lot and not pink-clustered
Roma ni Avignon ni Leyden,
And cold my element. Death is my
Master and, without light, I dwell. There
The snow hangs heavily on the rocks, brought
By a wind that seeks out shelter from snow. Thus
Each man spoke in winter Yet each man spoke of
The brightness of arms.
And the stanza ends with the other side of the matter, repeating that
phrase, "the brightness of arms":
The brightness Of arms, the will opposed to cold, fate
In its cavern, wings subtler than any mercy,
These were the psalters of their sibyls.
What I take from that is that the heroic course is keeping your
balance. May it be so.