Towards Better Democracy

Good words, well written, better the world. Good literature betters the world immeasurably.

Soldiers Bathing, F T Prince


The sea at evening moves across the sand.   Under a reddening sky I watch the freedom of a band   Of soldiers who belong to me. Stripped bare   For bathing in the sea, they shout and run in the warm air;   Their flesh worn by the trade of war, revives   And my mind towards the meaning of it strives.

All’s pathos now. The body that was gross,   Rank, ravenous, disgusting in the act or in repose,   All fever, filth and sweat, its bestial strength   And bestial decay, by pain and labour grows at length   Fragile and luminous. ‘Poor bare forked animal,’   Conscious of his desires and needs and flesh that rise and fall,   Stands in the soft air, tasting after toil   The sweetness of his nakedness: letting the sea-waves coil   Their frothy tongues about his feet, forgets   His hatred of the war, its terrible pressure that begets   A machinery of death and slavery,   Each being a slave and making slaves of others: finds that he   Remembers his old freedom in a game   Mocking himself, and comically mimics fear and shame.  He plays with death and animality;  

And reading in the shadows of his pallid flesh, I see   The idea of Michelangelo’s cartoon   Of soldiers bathing, breaking off before they were half done   At some sortie of the enemy, an episode   Of the Pisan wars with Florence. I remember how he showed   Their muscular limbs that clamber from the water,   And heads that turn across the shoulder, eager for the slaughter,   Forgetful of their bodies that are bare,   And hot to buckle on and use the weapons lying there.  –-

And I think too of the theme another found   When, shadowing men’s bodies on a sinister red ground  Another Florentine, Pollaiuolo,   Painted a naked battle: warriors, straddled, hacked the foe,   Dug their bare toes into the ground and slew   The brother-naked man who lay between their feet and drew  His lips back from his teeth in a grimace.  They were Italians who knew war’s sorrow and disgrace   And showed the thing suspended, stripped: a theme   Born out of the experience of war’s horrible extreme   Beneath a sky where even the air flows   With lacrimae Christi.

For that rage, that bitterness, those blows,   That hatred of the slain, what could they be   But indirectly or directly a commentary   On the Crucifixion? And the picture burns   With indignation and pity and despair by turns,   Because it is the obverse of the scene   Where Christ hangs murdered, stripped, upon the Cross. I mean,   That is the explanation of its rage.  And we too have our bitterness and pity that engage   Blood, spirit, in this war. But night begins,   Night of the mind: who nowadays is conscious of our sins?   Though every human deed concerns our blood,  

And even we must know, what nobody has understood,   That some great love is over all we do,   And that is what has driven us to this fury, for so few   Can suffer all the terror of that love:   The terror of that love has set us spinning in this groove   Greased with our blood.  …………………………..

These dry themselves and dress,  Combing their hair, forget the fear and shame of nakedness.  Because to love is frightening we prefer  The freedom of our crimes. Yet, as I drink the dusky air,  I feel a strange delight that fills me full,  Strange gratitude, as if evil itself were beautiful,  And kiss the wound in thought, while in the west  I watch a streak of red that might have issued from Christ’s breast.

F.T. Prince, 1954

F.T. Prince Reading Soldiers Bathing

Malcolm D B Munro
Friday November 27, 2020


Filed under: art

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