Omnia Mutantur, Nihil Interit

by Robert Graves

What’s all this hubbub and yelling,
      Commotion and scamper of feet,
With ear-splitting clatter of kettles and cans,
      Wild laughter down Mafeking Street?

O, those are the kids whom we fought for
      (You might think they’d been scoffing our rum)
With flags that they waved when we marched off to war
      In the rapture of bugle and drum.

Now they’ll hang Kaiser Bill from a lamp-post,
      Von Tirpitz they’ll hang from a tree….
We’ve been promised a ‘Land Fit for Heroes’—
      What heroes we heroes must be!

And the guns that we took from the Fritzes,
      That we paid for with rivers of blood,
Look, they’re hauling them down to Old Battersea Bridge
      Where they’ll topple them, souse, in the mud!

But there’s old men and women in corners
      With tears falling fast on their cheeks,
There’s the armless and legless and sightless—
      It’s seldom that one of them speaks.

And there’s flappers gone drunk and indecent
      Their skirts kilted up to the thigh,
The constables lifting no hand in reproof
      And the chaplain averting his eye….

When the days of rejoicing are over,
      When the flags are stowed safely away,
They will dream of another wild ‘War to End Wars’
      And another wild Armistice day.

But the boys who were killed in the trenches,
      Who fought with no rage and no rant,
We left them stretched out on their pallets ofmud
      Low down with the worm and the ant.

About JE

James Enge is the author of the World-Fantasy-Award-nominated novel Blood of Ambrose (Pyr, April 2009). His latest book is The Wide World's End. His short fiction has appeared in Swords and Dark Magic (Harper Collins, 2010), Black Gate, the Stabby-Award-winning anthology Blackguards and elsewhere.
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10 Responses to Omnia Mutantur, Nihil Interit

  1. csecooney says:

    I’ve not read that before. I’m all over in chills.

    • JE says:

      And he didn’t even put it in his “Collected Poems”! Graves was pretty ruthless about his own work (especially his early career as a “war poet”) but he’s always amazing. I’m still scrounging around for a “Complete Poems”.

      • Looks like I should have tried something other than The White Goddess for my first introduction to Graves. It turned me off so badly, I’ve read almost nothing else of his. I’ve been missing out.

        • JE says:

          I know what you mean. That book almost drove me crazy–not speaking at all metaphorically. But his lyric poetry is genuinely great, and some of his fiction is really wonderful, too: the Claudius books and his short stories. He seems to have been an odd man: part hack, part scholar, part genius, part nutcase.

          • Because TWG was such a big influence on the development of Wicca, I felt I had to put it on my required reading list for coven students, which meant I had to read the darn thing more than once. Our discussion began with the question, “So, how many times did you throw the book against the wall?” All of our answers were larger than zero.

            It was the moment when Graves asserts that Brighid and Belial must really be the same goddess because their names both begin with the letter B that did it for me. But then, my old apartment was nicknamed the Avery Memorial Research Center for Bad Book Ballistics. Derrida’s The Gift of Death left the deepest of the permanent dents in the plaster–surprising for such a small volume.

            Owning my own home has made a more generous reader of me. Sounds like I should start with the poetry.

          • JE says:

            He did write some great poetry, and his demented ideas do actually seem to have helped him generate some of the imagery in his later poetry, so who am I to criticize how he courted his Muse. But the “The White Goddess” is a genuinely terrible book. His book on the Greek myths is as bad in some sections, brilliant in others. He really did know the myths and their literary sources; it’s a great place to go to find some of the lesser known variations. But, in the interpretive sections, everything turns out to be a religious-political allegory of a very specific set of events in prehistory, about which he has no evidence whatsoever. It’s like reading Bible commentary by a Biblical literalist. Urgh!

            The short stories might be the best place to sample him: he didn’t write many, but they suggest the range of his crotchets and talents.

  2. madwriter says:

    You posted this on the heels of me thinking how much I’d love to read Graves’ WWI-centered autobiography, Goodbye To All That.

    • JE says:

      Wonderful book. There’s a good bio of him in that period, too: “The Assault Heroic” (by his nephew, Richard Perceval Graves).

  3. scbutler says:

    A great example of why I love the war poets.

    • JE says:

      They were great about cutting through jingoistic fluff and talking about things as they actually were. Maybe my single favorite from that group is probably Siegfried Sassoon’s “Base Details,” but that’s not really a Veterans Day poem.

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