Number 19 / Summer Solstice 2013
he following is the full version of Gen. George S. Patton, Jr.'s "Through a Glass, Darkly." Abbreviated versions of the poem are usually anthologized, emphasizing especially the final three stanzas. It was supposedly composed on 16 September 1922, but certainly after his experiences in the Mexican Expedition against Villa in 1916 and 1917 and his experiences in WWI (1918). Some few individual pieces of Patton's verse were published prior to the posthumous volumes of collected poems, and I have been trying to discover whether: 1) this piece was published during Robert E. Howard's lifetime, 2) if so, when and in what publication, and 3) if so, could Howard possibly have read it and thereby have been in some way(s) influenced by the confluent themes of Reincarnation and The Eternal Warrior. It's certainly the case that, as a few of Howard's poems (included below) show, these were themes that REH shared with Patton and in which he—evidently—believed. Patton and Howard also shared a great interest in history, and in military history especially. Patton's poem covers a great deal more of human history than Howard's shorter narratives, but the themes are strikingly similar.
Through a Glass, Darkly
by Gen. George S. Patton, Jr.
16 September 1922
Through the travail of the ages,
Midst the pomp and toil of war,
Have I fought and strove and perished
Countless times upon this star.
In the form of many people
In all panoplies of time
Have I seen the luring vision
Of the Victory Maid, sublime.
I have battled for fresh mammoth,
I have warred for pastures new,
I have listed to the whispers
When the race trek instinct grew.
I have known the call to battle
In each changeless changing shape
From the high souled voice of conscience
To the beastly lust for rape.
I have sinned and I have suffered,
Played the hero and the knave;
Fought for belly, shame, or country,
And for each have found a grave.
I cannot name my battles
For the visions are not clear,
Yet, I see the twisted faces
And I feel the rending spear.
Perhaps I stabbed our Savior
In His sacred helpless side.
Yet, I've called His name in blessing
When after times I died.
In the dimness of the shadows
Where we hairy heathens warred,
I can taste in thought the lifeblood;
We used teeth before the sword.
While in later clearer vision
I can sense the coppery sweat,
Feel the pikes grow wet and slippery
When our Phalanx, Cyrus met.
Hear the rattle of the harness
Where the Persian darts bounced clear,
See their chariots wheel in panic
From the Hoplite's leveled spear.
See the goal grow monthly longer,
Reaching for the walls of Tyre.
Hear the crash of tons of granite,
Smell the quenchless eastern fire.
Still more clearly as a Roman,
Can I see the Legion close,
As our third rank moved in forward
And the short sword found our foes.
Once again I feel the anguish
Of that blistering treeless plain
When the Parthian showered death bolts,
And our discipline was in vain.
I remember all the suffering
Of those arrows in my neck.
Yet, I stabbed a grinning savage
As I died upon my back.
Once again I smell the heat sparks
When my Flemish plate gave way
And the lance ripped through my entrails
As on Crecy's field I lay.
In the windless, blinding stillness
Of the glittering tropic sea
I can see the bubbles rising
Where we set the captives free.
Midst the spume of half a tempest
I have heard the bulwarks go
When the crashing, point blank round shot
Sent destruction to our foe.
I have fought with gun and cutlass
On the red and slippery deck
With all Hell aflame within me
And a rope around my neck.
And still later as a General
Have I galloped with Murat
When we laughed at death and numbers
Trusting in the Emperor's Star.
Till at last our star faded,
And we shouted to our doom
Where the sunken road of Ohein
Closed us in it's quivering gloom.
So but now with Tanks a'clatter
Have I waddled on the foe
Belching death at twenty paces,
By the star shell's ghastly glow.
So as through a glass, and darkly
The age long strife I see
Where I fought in many guises,
Many names, but always me.
And I see not in my blindness
What the objects were I wrought,
But as God rules o'er our bickerings
It was through His will I fought.
So forever in the future,
Shall I battle as of yore,
Dying to be born a fighter,
But to die again, once more.
As noted above, the last three stanzas are often quoted as a general overview of the poem, and they contain both the poem's title and also the famous allusion to 1st Corinthians 13:11-12:
11 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
Whether or not Bob Howard ever read Patton's poem, there is
an undeniable kinship of spirit and, seemingly, belief in both reincarnation
and in the notion that one is reincarnated in a special way—that is with
certain traits and tendencies invariable.
Patton does a chronicle of himself as an ever-returning warrior, with
the curious contradiction between "É I cannot name my battles /
For the visions are not clearÉ." and thenceforward naming a few specific battles or episodes: the Persians against the hoplites, the Crucifixion, Tyre, Crecy, pirate battling, prehistoric killing over "fresh mammoth," etc., even knowing he was a general with Murat. So, the characteristics of Patton's vision of reincarnation is at least threefold: first, he is always reborn as a male; second, he is always reborn as a warrior/fighter; and finally, he is to some degree aware of his previous existences and former myriad-times reincarnated selves.
This seems to be the case with Howard's vision of reincarnation as well. The three poems included below are by no means the entirety of Howard's verse about or literary and epistolary references to reincarnation, but they are to various degrees in the spirit of the Patton poem.
The Guise of Youth
—Robert E. Howard
Men say my years are few; yet I am old
And worn with the toil of many wars,
And long for rest on some brown wind-swept wold,
Unknown of men, beneath the quiet stars.
These greybeards prattle while I hold my tongue,
And flaunt their callow wisdom drearily —
White-headed babes to me, whom they brand Òyoung,Ó
With knowledge gained through ages wearily.
I cannot well recall what shapes I bore,
What spears have pierced me, or what axes gashed,
Yet through my dreams there runs the endless roar
Of nameless battles where lost armies crashed. (emphases added)
Shape upon shape returning, land on land,
Loosed by the ripping axe, the arrowÕs tooth,
Through endless incarnations, till I stand,
A scarred old man, masked in the guise of youth.
Of special interest in this important poem is the third stanza, and especially in that the first two lines. Is it a just a curious coincidence that the notion of not being able to "well recall what shapes I bore" and the reference to "What spears have pierced meÉ," perhaps echoing Patton's "rending spear" and "Perhaps I stabbed our SaviourÉ?" Whatever the case, clearly this old warrior in "the guise of youth" has always been a warrior in all of the "shapes [he bore]".
In another poem, "White Thunder," the narrative voice recalls specific details about earlier incarnations—not merely who he had been, but many particulars about those existences:
—Robert E. Howard
I was a child in Cornwall where the mountains meet the shore;
I lay on the cliffs at even and I heard the combers roar.
It was thunder, high white thunder, leaping oÕer the tossing ridges;
Roaring down the jade green valleys, wild as Neptune and as free;
Spanning wave and shore and sky rim with a million unseen bridges
Till the booming cliffs re-echoed to the thunder of the sea.
I was a boy in London, timid, callow, amazed
But I heard beyond the city when the lights through the night fogs blazed;
Heard the thunder, high white thunder, booming far beyond the sky line,
Roaring up the restless vastness of the globe encircling sea,
Spray bejeweled, white and sapphire, gleaming in the topaz sky shine;
Through the mutter of the city high white thunder called to me.
I was a youth in Delhi and I left the brooding walls
For the hills that are gods of twilight where the wind forever brawls.
There was thunder, high white thunder, where the northern crags were looming,
Smiting on the reeling mountains with the hammer blows of Thor,
Fraught with lore of rugged ages, shouting wonders in its booming
Till the clashing crags re-echoed like a planetary war.
Now I am a man in Flanders; I crouch in the mire and see
The white smoke leap and billow to the shout of the shells that flee;
See the thunder, high white thunder through the screaming air come soaring,
Swirling like white clouds at even when the breakers rock the seas.
Let me revel in its fury, let me triumph in its roaring
Ere the high white thunder bear me into high eternities.
The last incarnation noted is, of course, that of a soldier at Flanders Field in WWI, only a few years past as Howard penned (more likely penciled) these verses. The first two sections reference Howard's sea love and his internal yearning for voyaging and adventure, the third turns to the "white thunder" of "planetary war." Finally, we arrive at the reincarnation of the warrior at Flanders. [in this poem the notion of always returning as the warrior is replaced by a sort of culmination as the warrior, for whom the "white thunder" has been beckoning for lifetimes]. The Flanders battles have been documented by several poets over the decades since. Most famous is Canadian poet John McCrae's "In Flanders Fields":
— Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae,
In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
—Robert E. Howard
At the dawning of Time when the world was young
And men not long from the tree
I lived in the hills where the east winds sung
On a crag overlooking the sea.
And my arms were long and my thews were strong
And I lived like an ape on the lea.
And that was the first of my world-life rhymes,
(Though the planets could tell their tale)
And since I have lived a thousand times
In a thousand lands and a thousand climes
Mountain, desert and vale.
I lived in dim Atlantis when the mountains of today
Were the shoals and the islands of the jade-green sea,
And I saw the mermaids flashing amid the sapphire spray
And I sported with the mermaids on the lea.
I wooed the queen of Gaza and I drank the Sidon wine,
I lusted and I revelled in the ways of Askalon;
The sins of all of Nineveh and Babylon were mine
And of Lesbia and Gath and Amazon.
IÕve plundered all around the world, its rubies, gold and pearls,
IÕve guzzled crimson wine and IÕve seen the moonlight shine
On the jeweled harem gardens where I walked with dancing girls;
IÕve sailed the flashing Main with the galleons of Spain
And I climbed the Asian mountains where the driving snow-rift whirls.
IÕve bought at Eastern slave-block a girl with rose-bud lips.
A maid of the Circassians, as slender as a fawn;
IÕve known the roar of sea-winds and the thunder of the ships
When I swept along the Baltic, a bearded god of brawn;
And I sailed from port of Tyre when the waves were red with fire
And the sun from greater Africa was beating up the dawn.
Here we have a more general set of "thousands" of reincarnations, containing the elements of (strongly) masculine reincarnation and awareness of previous lives, but not insisting on the catalogue of wars or the ever-returning warrior theme. The Tyrian influence could very possibly be from Talbot Mundy's adventure stories. It's hard to imagine that the refrain of Kipling's poem "Mandalay" ("On the road to Mandalay,/Where the flyin' fishes play,/An' the dawn comes up like thunder outer China/'crost the Bay!")— had no influence upon Howard's last line.
Howard's poem, "The Follower," is also in the spirit of the Patton poem, although it combines in the theme of the lack of fame and recognition afforded followers and seconds-in-command and powers-behind-the-throne, but it keeps some sense of the aspects of male-reincarnation, warrior, and recognition. It could, perhaps, be argued that Howard in this poem is having the narrative voice speak in the hypothetical and is merely figuratively taking on the personae of the "followers" mentioned, trying to generalize the situation in which the follower finds himself. I would offer no great dispute against that optional interpretation—but the first stanza holds a strong argument against it.
—Robert E. Howard
I am the man who followed,
Never the man who led,
Many a chief IÕve followed,
In many a fray IÕve bled. (emphasis added)
I was with Sargon of Akkad,
When he hurled his nomad hordes,
Against the host of Sumer,
And they fell before his swords.
Armor-bearer and captain,
Councilor to the king,
Never my praise they utter,
When the monarchÕs name they sing.
Who speaks of Aristotle,
Before Alexander the grand?
Shades of Le Chutsai Mingan,
Councilor of Genghis Khan.
No fame to the man who followed,
Unknown on land and sea,
Yet the kings of all the ages
Have owed their thrones to me.
There is one book on the subject of Patton's poetry and an article or two written by the same author—likely early works toward the final tome he put together on the subject, but they are pricey ($200+ for the book: Carmine Prioli's The Poems of General George S. Patton, Jr.: Lines of Fire [great title, huh?]). Likely this book could answer my first question about whether this poem was published in a journal during Howard's lifetime. Any other suggestions or information from youz mugz and mugettez would be much appreciated.