Sunday, February 26, 2012

The annoying thing about history books

One of the things that I find unutterably annoying about history books is their insistence upon dwelling on wars.  To read most history books, you would think that nothing of importance ever happened without battles, bloodshed, people dying. And yet the advance of the human race from bare survival to thriving as the most successful species on the planet has been the result of a much quieter revolution and evolution. The advance from wandering around gathering wild fruits and roots and seeds to settling down and growing them in one spot. The invention and development of tools and shelters and medicines to make life easier. For the most part, you don't see monuments to those kind of things. No, such edifices are only erected for battles and for the men who fight them. And so, when I read this poem today, I thought, "There are places like this all over the world. Places where no battles happened and the 'only heroic thing is the sky'."

At the Un-National Monument Along the Canadian Border


by William Stafford 


This is the field where the battle did not happen,
where the unknown soldier did not die.
This is the field where grass joined hands,
where no monument stands,
and the only heroic thing is the sky.

Birds fly here without any sound,
unfolding their wings across the open.
No people killed—or were killed—on this ground
hallowed by neglect and an air so tame
that people celebrate it by forgetting its name.

It seems to me that the most hallowed ground should be that on which nobody died and where the air is tame and birds can fly unfettered and in peace. An un-monumental place.

2 comments:

  1. How sweet. The fading memory of this retired history teacher tells him that there is a monument &/or garden someplace on the Canadian/American border in North Dakota that fits this poem well. On the worlds longest unfortified border

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  2. I believe there may be several places along that border that would fit the description, troutbirder. It makes me very happy to think that anyway.

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