Carentan O Carentan

By Louis Simpson 1923–2012 Louis Simpson
Trees in the old days used to stand   
And shape a shady lane
Where lovers wandered hand in hand   
Who came from Carentan.

This was the shining green canal   
Where we came two by two   
Walking at combat-interval.   
Such trees we never knew.

The day was early June, the ground   
Was soft and bright with dew.   
Far away the guns did sound,
But here the sky was blue.

The sky was blue, but there a smoke   
Hung still above the sea
Where the ships together spoke   
To towns we could not see.

Could you have seen us through a glass   
You would have said a walk   
Of farmers out to turn the grass,   
Each with his own hay-fork.

The watchers in their leopard suits   
Waited till it was time,
And aimed between the belt and boot   
And let the barrel climb.

I must lie down at once, there is   
A hammer at my knee.
And call it death or cowardice,   
Don’t count again on me.

Everything’s all right, Mother,   
Everyone gets the same   
At one time or another.   
It’s all in the game.

I never strolled, nor ever shall,   
Down such a leafy lane.
I never drank in a canal,
Nor ever shall again.

There is a whistling in the leaves   
And it is not the wind,
The twigs are falling from the knives   
That cut men to the ground.

Tell me, Master-Sergeant,   
The way to turn and shoot.   
But the Sergeant’s silent   
That taught me how to do it.

O Captain, show us quickly   
Our place upon the map.   
But the Captain’s sickly
And taking a long nap.

Lieutenant, what’s my duty,   
My place in the platoon?
He too’s a sleeping beauty,   
Charmed by that strange tune.

Carentan O Carentan
Before we met with you
We never yet had lost a man   
Or known what death could do.

Louis Simpson, “Carentan O Carentan” from The Owner of the House: New Collected Poems 1940-2001. Copyright © 2003 by Louis Simpson. Reprinted with the permission of BOA Editions, Ltd., www.boaeditions.org.

Source: Collected Poems (BOA Editions Ltd., 1988)

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Poet Louis Simpson 1923–2012

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Subjects Death, Heroes & Patriotism, War & Conflict, Love, Living, Relationships, Social Commentaries, Heartache & Loss

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 Louis  Simpson

Biography

Poet, editor, translator, and critic Louis Simpson was born in 1923, in Jamaica, to Scottish and Russian parents. A contemporary of Confessional poets like Robert Lowell, John Berryman, and Sylvia Plath, Simpson’s early work followed a familiar arc. In the New York Times Book Review, critic David Orr noted its highlights: “Simpson has followed a path lined with signposts sunk so deep in our nation's poetic terra firma that . . .

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SUBJECT Death, Heroes & Patriotism, War & Conflict, Love, Living, Relationships, Social Commentaries, Heartache & Loss

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Poetic Terms Ballad

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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