"The Unheroic Dead Who Fed The Guns"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: The town of Menin, in Belgium near the French border, was occupied by the Germans during World War I in 1914 and again in 1918. Located at an important crossing of the Lys, it was the scene of much heavy fighting. The sentiments of this poem are concentrated around the implications of one aspect of this particular battleground. On the road into the town stands a memorial gateway, commemorating the dead. On the gateway are the words: "Their name liveth forever." Apparently a list of names is included. The poet is provoked by the bitter irony of these words when he thinks of the senseless, unheroic tragedy which they commemorate. This gate cannot even guarantee that the "unheroic Dead" will be remembered. It far from compensates or answers for the crimes done against those who died. "Here was the world's worst wound," he says. Now the gateway seems to proclaim the honor of the dead with pride! "Well might the Dead who struggled in the slime/ Rise and deride this sepulchre of crime," he concludes. The first stanza begins:

Who will remember, passing through this Gate,
The unheroic Dead who fed the guns?
Who shall absolve the foulness of their fate,–
These doomed, conscripted, unvictorious ones?