The Bigness of Small Poems – # 6 in a Series – Sean O’Brien

U.K. poet, Sean O'Brien ( 1952 - )

U.K. poet, Sean O’Brien

The Lost War

The saved were all ingratitude,
The lost would not lie down:
Reborn, their sacred rage renewed,
They razed the fallen town.

And in the graveyard made their stand
Just east of heaven’s gate.
We are the same. It is all one
Whom we exterminate.

Sean O’Brien (1952 -) from The Drowned Book, Picador, 2007

We live, not where I live, but where too many live in this planet, in the madness of war. This small poem, punches way above its weight and captures the madness of war fueled too often by sacred rage. This poem grabs me by the throat! What a wonderful poem should do!

We are the same. It is all one
Whom we exterminate.

This, for me, says it all. It is all one/ Whom we exterminate. And yet, we persist on pretending the “other” is an “other” and the killing goes on.

This “perfect” poem stirs an anger inside me. Not just because what O’Brien says is true. But because I, too, am part of the problem. I too, nourish my sacred rage but pretend not to. A friend once told me: Richard, we are badly made. Sean O’Brien seems to agree. What could we ever do to ourselves to make this poem untrue? How can we make ourselves better? All of us.

Sean O’Brien, poet, critic and playwright, is a professor at Newcastle University, U.K. and in 2007 had the singular distinction of winning both the T.S. Eliot and Forward Prizes for The Drowned Book which includes The Lost War.