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D-Day 1944 Reminiscence

  I'll be seeing you

 

Most folks over sixty-five years of age remember where they were and what they were doing when they heard that President Kennedy had been assassinated, and many of us yet older codgers recall their first reactions to the news from Pearl Harbor and, a bit later on, from D-Day.

 

Early on the morning of June 6, 1944, I was in a car heading east on a brand-new turnpike, having spent the night in a tourist home in Bedford, Pennsylvania. My brother, who had just turned 17 the week before, was driving and my mother was sitting beside him on the front seat. I, who would be 15 in two months, had the backseat to myself.  We were driving to Philadelphia after having spent two years in Mobile and New Orleans, where my father, an Army physician, had been stationed. Now he was overseas in Bari, Italy, and my mother had decided to get back North and leave the South behind. Both parents had “C” ration cards that made our long trip possible.

 

Mother was 45-years-old and, after night school at the U. of Alabama, had spent a year as a safety engineer working for Higgins, a company which made landing craft as well as the famous PT boats. She would soon be using her skills at the Philadelphia Navy Yard until the war ended. My brother was able to finish a year of college before joining the Navy, and my oldest brother would become an Army doctor after he finished a residency in psychiatry. At war’s end, I was the only family member not engaged in the war.

On that lovely morning in the Alleghenies, we were listening to music on the radio. “Long ago and Far Away” was a new hit, but “I’ll Be Seeing You” was leading the hit parade, and when it came on, all three of us burst into lusty song as we sped by banks of mountain laurels in bloom.

I’ll be seeing you

In all those old familiar places

That this heart of mine embraces

All day…

In mid-verse, the music rudely stopped, and a broadcaster came on, telling us that in confirmation of earlier reports from German sources, the Allies had indeed landed in France and that the long awaited second front was in the offing. The commentator pointed out the time difference of some 6 hours and that despite heavy fighting, the beachhead now seemed to be secure. It was heady news, and we hung on every word.

 

We had seen film footage of the deadly amphibious assault on Tarawa in the Pacific, where one out of four marines were killed or wounded. If the Japanese could inflict such costly losses, how much worse would it be facing the vaunted Wehrmacht?

“Those poor kids,” my mother sobbed, “many won’t be seeing anyone any more, let alone the old familiar places."

“Maybe it’s just another Dieppe.” my brother said, “maybe it’s another dry run, where they won’t get beyond the beach.” He was referring to the 1942 commando raid-in-force that ended with the Allies –mostly Canadians—losing 60% of their men, a shocking disaster that sent a warning about the invulnerability of German defenses. “If they could throw us back two years ago, just think how much stronger they are today,” he went on.

"Yes, and maybe this is just a feint, “I piped in. “Isn’t that exactly what Churchill said the other day?”

 

But as we weighed the possibilities, the radio crackled, and the Supreme Allied Commander, General Eisenhower, came on the air and verified that this was indeed the much anticipated invasion and the first step in an Allied Crusade to defeat Hitler. Ike gave a real Knute Rockne pep-talk. We spent the rest of the trip listening to nonstop radio bulletins that convinced us that D-Day was a success after all and that the Allies now had a firm foothold in Europe.

Yet, with all the hope the landings promised, we were deeply apprehensive about the lives such an undertaking would cost. We knew high school friends s who had been killed in training flights. We knew others who had been lost at sea. We knew young couples who possibly would never see each other again. Thousands of  families paid a high price for the carnage of D-Day.

 

At the end of the war, the totality of personal tragedy was immense. War, no matter how just the cause may seem, is a meat grinder that pulverizes the hopes and dreams of its participants in and out of uniform.

Every anniversary of D-Day wrenches my heart as I reflect on the misery it caused in families all over the country. And still today I hear the strains that bring a lump to my throat because it describes what for many would never come true:

I’ll be seeing you

In every lovely summer’s day,

In everything that’s light and gay,

I’ll always think of you that way,

I’ll find you in the morning sun,

And when the night is new,

I’ll be looking at the moon,

But I’ll be seeing you.

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August 16, 2020

Troubadourables

From the eleventh through the thirteenth century, the Midi of what is now Southern France was renowned for its troubadours who produced poems and songs about love and the joys of living that drew much of their inspiration and techniques from the rich Moorish culture on the other side of the Pyrenees. The Midi became the cradle of Western European secular literature and music and gave rise to similar movements in the West. In his Divine Comedy, Dante celebrated and quoted its poetry. He even considered writing his opus in the lenga d’oc instead of Italian.

   The first known troubadour was Duke Guilhem IX of Aquitaine, whose poetry had a jesting, Rabelaisian flavor that anticipated Boccaccio and Chaucer by some two hundred years and Rabelais himself by some three hundred years.

       At the bid of the established Church, the Albigensian Crusade put an end to the troubadours and their patrons’ courts by changing their passion and desire into spirituality and allegory Nevertheless, the basis of our modern culture in the West is the very same individual choice the troubadours celebrated 800 years ago. They passed along "the idea that nature is good and love is an end in itself, not something to be denied or escaped from, not a trap, not an object of shame, but a source of joy.”

   So, when you read – in Wikipedia, for instance – that the theme of troubadour poetry is “courtly love,” just grin and peruse some of the troubadour songs sung by characters in my books or available on line in translations by A.S. Kline. You’ll find that the desire of the troubadour (or trobaritz) far surpasses the moderation required by courtly love.  We are talking about passion, not psalmody.

    A millennium ago, Duke Guilhem joked about sexual prowess in his poems. To characterize his themes as courtly love is like resetting A Streetcar Named Desire from the New Orleans French Quarter to a nunnery.

 

 

 

 

Aust 16, 2020

The Myth of Courtly Love in Troubadour Verse

The notion that troubadours worshipped unattain-able women with a hopeless, unrequited love is gospel for many twentieth century literary critics as well as historians. But what if this entire belief system is the brainchild of Gaston Paris, a chauvin-istic philologist from northern France? What if he coined the term “courtly love” to describe his own far-fetched concept of the troubadours’ fin’amor poetry, rejecting its obviously earthy qualities? As an avatar of a notably nationalistic period of French history (the late 19th century), Paris's fatuously stated, “literature, like the French language, belongs to northern France.”

   In their heavily annotated volume  “Love and its Critics (2012),” Michael Bryson and Arpi Movsesian trace the history of love through poetry as it met the challenges of laws and customs drawn from time and place. It also tells how critics viewed this liter-ature and how they often tried to stifle these challenges. The authors argue that :

    "the poetry they explore celebrates and reinvents 

    the love the troubadour poets of the eleventh and

    twelfth centuries called fin’amor: love as an end in

    itself, mutual and freely chosen even in the face of     social, religious, or political retribution….Along- 

    side this tradition has grown a critical movement

    [claiming] that passionate love poetry is not what 

    it  seems, and should be properly understood as

    worship of God, subordination to Empire, or an

    entanglement with the structures of language

    itself – in short, the very things it resists.

    "The poems by the troubadours, even the myths

    that surround them, belie any notion that the love

    of which they write is a decorous matter of rules

    and codes, of obedience demanded and given.

   Their poems are filled with desire, frustration, joy,

   despair, and the tantalizing possibility of freedom

   of choice, of life lived, not spent in mechanical

   compliance with the expectations of others. These

   are poems of rebellion, not obedience, of chaos, not

   conformity."

   If you have any doubt that “courtly love” is a lot of

malarkey, please read the poems yourself and

decide.

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