Friday, November 12, 2010

"The Unconquered Dead" by John McCrae

Source: LibriVox (mp3)
Length: 2 minutes, 19 seconds
Reader: Joseph Finkberg

The poem: I know from personal experience how hard it is to write a eulogy. To write a eulogy for several hundred men must be more difficult by a factor of several hundred. On this day after Veterans Day (or Remembrance Day/Armistice Day, depending on where you are), I'll let John McCrae, author of "In Flander's Field" say what I wish I could.

Traditional war eulogies have either honored the dead for fighting to uphold a righteous cause or extolling their bravery in victory or defeat.  In the First World War, with no clear righteous cause and victories measured in the temporary gain of few miles of trench, neither approach seemed appropriate. Instead, McCrae freely admits that the soldiers in his poem may have surrendered or fallen back, had they not been killed. He asserts that, in death, they are victorious, having achieved the goal of staying put. Touchingly, McCrae honors the fallen soldiers for their death alone.

Rating: 9/10

The reader: The LibriVox page linked to above offers several readings of this poem, many of them quite good, but none pack the emotional punch of Finkberg's reading. He reads with a warm, somber voice, dropping to a whisper for emphasis. I think one of the most difficult parts of reading poetry is in placing pauses effectively. Here, Finkberg excels, keeping the rhythms of the poem without sounding unnatural. This is a masterful reading of an effective poem.

Photo of Ypres cemetery by Redvers. Creative Commons attribution license.

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