It's a queer sensation, this secret belief that one stands on the brink of the world's greatest catastrophe. For it means the fall of Western Europe, as it fell in the fourth century. It recurs to me every November, and culminates every December. I have to get over it as I can, and hide, for fear of being sent to an asylum.
AUTUMNAL Pale amber sunlight falls across The reddening October trees, That hardly sway before a breeze As soft as summer: summer's loss Seems little, dear! On days like these. Let misty autumn be our part! The twilight of the year is sweet: Where shadow and the darkness meet Our love, a twilight of the heart Eludes a little time's deceit. Are we not better and at home In dreamful Autumn, we who deem No harvest joy is worth a dream? A little while and night shall come, A little while, then, let us dream. Beyond the pearled horizons lie Winter and night: awaiting these We garner this poor hour of ease, Until love turn from us and die Beneath the drear November trees.
Every November of my boyhood, we put on red poppies and attended highly patriotic services in remembrance of those who had 'given' their lives. But on what assurance did we know that these gifts had really been made? Only the survivors the living could attest to it. In order to know that a person had truly laid down his life for his friends, or comrades, one would have to hear it from his own lips, or at least have heard it promised in advance. And that presented another difficulty. Many brave and now dead soldiers had nonetheless been conscripts. The known martyrs those who actually, voluntarily sought death and rejoiced in the fact had been the kamikaze pilots, immolating themselves to propitiate a 'divine' emperor who looked (as Orwell once phrased it) like a monkey on a stick. Their Christian predecessors had endured torture and death (as well as inflicted it) in order to set up a theocracy. Their modern equivalents would be the suicide murderers, who mostly have the same aim in mind. About people who set out to lose their lives, then, there seems to hang an air of fanaticism: a gigantic sense of self-importance unattractively fused with a masochistic tendency to self-abnegation. Not wholesome. The better and more realistic test would therefore seem to be: In what cause, or on what principle, would you your life?