The Global Peace Index indicates that the world is less peaceful today than it has been in over a decade. Of the last 3,400 years of recorded history, we have only had periods of true peace amounting to 8% of that time. Perhaps it is a fundamental longing for peace that connects poets, lyricists and artists. Pete Seeger, Edward Thomas and Sean O’Casey certainly shared an anti-war sentiment, while two out of the three share an adoration for socialism. Edward Thomas and Sean O’Casey share a secondary theme pertaining to Easter.
Each poet/author come from different backgrounds and may have had opposing viewpoints.
Pete Seeger was an American folk singer, an anti-war and social activist with a long history of writing and performing political protest songs. He was born a mere six months after WWI ended on May 3, 1919 and died January 27, 2014. Pete Seeger’s song “Waist Deep in The Big Muddy” released in 1967 when the U.S. was in the midst of the Vietnam War.
The song begins with “It was back in 1942, I was a member of a good platoon” which points to a time when Seeger served in WWII. Even though the song itself isn’t about WWII, it is mentioned as a point of reference to illustrate a flashback in time, mentioned later in the poem and is of comparative significance…both wars were lengthy with a high number of casualties. The Big Muddy mentioned is an alternative name for the Mississippi river, but could also signify the route of attack and environmental conditions that required soldiers to wade through waist-deep, muddy rivers in Vietnam.
This politically charged song was Seeger’s way of expressing his personal contempt for the Vietnam War. The theme of war is represented in the imagery of soldiers following their incompetent Captain, each verse repetitively ending with the phrase “the big fool said to push on” then foolishly forges on to his own demise “We heard a gurgling cry. A few seconds later, the captains helmet was all that floated by.” The big fool in this case is a reference to Lyndon B. Johnson, who was President at the time and was a driving force behind the seemingly never-ending war. He had promised to remove the U.S. from the Vietnam war and is mirrored by the line “It’ll be a little soggy but just keep slogging. We will soon be on dry ground.” Johnson did just the opposite, recommitting more than half a million Americans to the war effort in the name of assisting a nation in need. “We were neck deep in the Big Muddy and the big fool said to push on” This was done without formally declaring war through the gulf of Tonkin act. This war was considered a proxy war, with America supporting the Southern Vietnamese government and the Soviet Union supporting the Viet Cong, which is symbolized by the line “Another stream had joined the Big Muddy ‘Bout a half mile from where we’d gone.” The lines “Maybe you’re still walking, you’re still talking… But every time I read the papers” references the 58,220 casualties and high number of combat-incurred limb loss that was published weekly in the newspapers. (Archives) Many Americans felt that our involvement in the Vietnam War was futile and we were in over heads, hence the lines “Waist deep! Neck deep! Soon even a tall man’ll be over his head! We’re waist deep in the Big Muddy!”
Edward Thomas was born in London in 1878 and often wrote about the English countryside in a colloquial style. He enlisted in the Artists Rifles in July 1915 on his own accord and may have been influenced by his friend Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken”. In Memoriam (Easter 1915)” is an elegiac stanza that blends themes of war and the flower covered countryside. “The flowers left thick at nightfall in the wood” paints a spring time picture of a bountiful field of flowers that gives the reader almost a feeling of longing for what was, but no longer exists. Considering the time, the English landscape was likely decimated, turned into a wasteland. Spring time and Easter go hand in hand and has religiously been a time for reflection of sacrifices made. For Thomas, this was a moment mourn 700,000 Englishmen who sacrificed their lives in WWI, which is evident in the line “This Easter Tide call into mind the men”. Soldiers who are far from home, who should have gathered flowers while spending time with their sweethearts, but “will never do again”. The presence of flowers indicates an absence of lovers, as the flowers would have been picked. . Thomas became a casualty of war himself, coincidentally killed in action on Easter Monday, April 9th, 1917, or rather during the Tides of Easter. *****Symbols of rebirth and renewal due to the time of year. While Edward Thomas’ poem references Easter 1915, Sean O’ Casey’s Plough and the Stars, references Easter Rising during 1916.
Sean O’ Casey was born in Ireland on March 30, 1880 and died September 18, 1964 in the UK. He was an Irish playwright, memoirist and committed socialist, who wrote about the Dublin working classes. Sean O’Casey is known for “The Plough and The Stars”, which takes place during the Easter Rising 1916. ***** World War I fostered the Easter Rising, which was an Irish Republican Brotherhood’s movement, attempting to gain Independence from British rule, and began on Easter Monday, April 24, 1916.
Conclusion – Tied together with activism and anti-war themes, casualties of war.