September 11, a sonnet

This was written on Bonfire Night, 2006. I watched the fireworks with the children, then came inside to warm up and read some of the history of Guy Fawkes and his plot.

History can be as comforting as it is unsettling.

In time, September the eleventh night,
The kids will watch the rockets fill the air.
They’ll OOH and AAH in multicoloured light
With bioluminescents in their hair.
Our tragedies will be reduced to rhyme:
Some half-remembered, mistranslated song
And jumping dance, its meaning lost to time,
Details missing, names and places wrong.
Though self-renewing terror haunts our lives,
Our children, staring upward at the sky,
Remind us that their innocence survives
While we, and they, and generations die.
Resist with decency when terror stalks
It’s stronger than Bin Laden, Marx or Fawkes.

In technical terms, this is an okay sonnet. There is very little “turn” in this one, between the octave and the sestet. The only real transition is from the scene at the start to the message in the conclusion. The couplet does sum things up nicely. But the language is never clever, or particularly powerful.

In terms of content, this is a sonnet I believe in very deeply indeed. I think we exist in a historical context, and that it is important for us to remember that in the choices we make. I think (looking backward) civilisation has faced worse challenges than we face now, and (looking forward) that we owe it to the future not to overreact, or sell out our principles.

5 thoughts on “September 11, a sonnet”

  1. Yes, civilization has indeed faced worse challenges (the Second World War, for example), but something is different this time around. ‘They’ are using fear again and again and again, fanning its flames, for their own evil gains. Still, it does seem like the fear-mongering isn’t working quite as well as the way it used to. About time too.

  2. Serge, I honestly don’t think that we lack historical precedents for people, both politicians and outsiders, using terror to their own ends.

    For the use of constant fear to keep people in check, think of the Jewish population of Europe in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, kept in check with the constant threat of pogrom by the Gentiles. Or the campaigns of ETA and the IRA, or the history of Communist guerillas in south and central America. (For politicians, think of the Red Scares of the 50’s.)

    All that’s really new is that it’s in widescreen on the evening news. But even that has a precedent – think of the impact of the 35mm camera on war reporting in Vietnam, bringing the war into the same mental space as people’s holiday pictures.

  3. “…All that’s really new is that it’s in widescreen on the evening news…”

    And that is the big difference, which makes it easier to keep the flames of fear burning hot(*). Well, it looks like they overdid it and have reached the stage where they’re trying to make ashes catch fire so I’ll be cautiously (very cautiously optimistic) about November 2008.

    (*) Sorry for the purple prose.

  4. “makes it easier to keep the flames of fear burning hot…”

    I don’t think so, Serge. It allows for greater fear with fewer victims, true, but that’s just numbers. If you have a less media-orieented society, you can still instill terror, when everyone knows a bereaved family. The citizens of Baghdad aren’t watching the militia raids on the evening news, but the fact that every family has lost near kin has the same effect.

  5. the choices that we make are always hard
    but guns and butter that one should not be
    as difficult even an aristocratic fool can see
    that few wars are worth the young lives marred
    and the kindred sitting outside in the yard
    weeping hot tears that could fill up a sea
    then there are those with minds and bodies scarred
    we see them begging on the winter street
    their rags of uniform no longer the clean proud
    symbol of a democracy with values of bright gold
    in each face there’s a personal defeat
    that tells us volumes though not one is loud
    and all they ask is shelter from the cold

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