Friday, November 7, 2008

Gary Dop's On Swearing

This week's post from American Life in Poetry has a moving poem about World War II veterans. I thought I'd pass it along ...

American Life in Poetry: Column 189


In celebration of Veteran's Day, here is a telling poem by Gary Dop, a Minnesota poet. The veterans of World War II, now old, are dying by the thousands. Here's one still with us, standing at Normandy, remembering.

On Swearing

In Normandy, at Point Du Hoc,
where some Rangers died,
Dad pointed to an old man
20 feet closer to the edge than us,
asking if I could see
the medal the man held
like a rosary.
As we approached the cliff
the man's swearing, each bulleted
syllable, sifted back
toward us in the ocean wind.
I turned away,
but my shoulder was held still
by my father's hand,
and I looked up at him
as he looked at the man.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright (c) 2007 by Gary Dop. Reprinted from "Whistling Shade," Summer, 2007, by permission of Gary Dop. Introduction copyright (c) 2008 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

Celebrating Veteran's Day to me almost seems an oxymoron. Perhaps it is technically correct, but commemorating I believe is the finer term.

The moment captured in those last 5 lines ...



Charles Gramlich said...

I agree. Commemorating is the right word.

Doug P. Baker said...

What an awesome intense poem! I'm going to print it out!

Issa's Untidy Hut said...


I think commemorate still keeps honor and respect, and has room for love, as I'm sure was intended by celebrate. Just, sometimes, the wrong word with such an important, emotional issue, can be devastating. I hesitated to point it out because I know the intent was pure; glad you agree.


Really glad the poem hit you. Such an intensely personal moment, a moment without words somehow captured with words - a true rarity. Everyone who had a father, grandfather etc who served cherishes a moment like this when truth shines through.