In PRAISE Of HEROES
By ALEXANDER KARANIKAS
To All Who Fought
That Our Nation
About the Author
Alexander Karanikas, a resident of Goffstown, New Hampshire, and
an honor graduate of Harvard College, Class of 1939, was a Staff
Sergeant in the Army Air Forces. He was stationed for two years at
Ladd Field, Alaska, the crossroads of Asia and America, where Soviet
pilots took over Lend-Lease planes for the long flight through Siberia
to the fighting fronts.
Most of the poems in this volume have been printed in various military
journals and have won high praise for the author from soldiers and
civilians alike. They represent the sensitive reaction of a keen mind
and an understanding heart to the "soul turmoil" that is war - the
hidden price our young men have paid in heart anguish and lost
dreams, all bound together and made meaningful by a strong faith
that the sacrifice was not made in vain, that now a triumphant
democracy will truly bring peace and happiness to all mankind.
Sergeant Karanikas is well-known among progressive circles in
America and is highly respected as a leader of the new generation.
Much more will be heard from him in the coming years. Since our
first meeting during his student days at Cambridge I have found
him constantly and deeply motivated by a Christian love for his
fellow man, a concern eloquently expressed in his poetry.
IN PRAISE OF HEROES is a powerful and moving tribute to all
who contributed, by blood and tears, work and hope, to the over-
whelming victory of the United Nations.
STEPHEN HOLE FRITCHMAN
Editor, The Christian Register
When the last red tank has grumbled
Through the fortress of the foe
I shall return, my dear,
Full of the vast accumulated love
That from my silent longing
In the southern isles I gathered
As a future gift for you.
What desolation passed before my eyes
I counted but a dream
That history in her fetid torment
Passes on to man;
I know that from my faith in you
New cities will be born
Where they dug graves for hostages.
Though soil may bitter grow from all
That youthful flesh and blood,
I doubt not that our love
Shall bring a harvest to the world
That will efface the ruins of war,
With grain and joy in such abundance
That men shall once again be free.
So wait, my dear, until my task
Is done, the last attack repulsed,
My bayonet in sheath;
Wait till the earth reconquered rise
To bring me on its shoulders
Back to you, while crowds in glee
Yell loud and wild in victory.
America awaits you from your battle cry,
The streets and valleys that you love, the faces
That will look so good in Kansas and L.A.
America salutes you, not with martial bands,
But with the silent, grateful heart,
The gentle smile, the long prayer
Of giving thanks; for you shall be the heroes
Who lit candles in the frantic blackout
Of her vast, pulsating, democratic soul.
In this dim hour before the dawn America
Prays for you: Oh God, our cause is just,
Our honor firm, our conscience clear:
To us belongs the victory!
TO THE GREEKS AT MT. OLYMPUS
Again the transient tyrant clutches
At the jewel of the ages, Greece,
Fatherland of all republics and creator
Of the arts, island universe
Where liberty is nourished by the blood
Of fallen sons among the rocks and olives,
Nation where the spears of modern Persians
Shatter on the dreams, the thundering hearts,
Of Hellenes once again in arms.
What evil conscience rides the world
That death should stalk the home of gods?
That planes like harpies fire the hills
And cannon break the mountain walls?
What savage passion risen in the night
Sends maidens screaming from the well
And brings a blackout over old Thermopylae?
Be once again the vanguard of mankind;
Let torches blaze from Olympus to herald
For all time the peace of brotherhood
To all the sad and bleeding world.
SWASTIKA ON OLYMPUS
Trees became serpents and brooklets blood
When the gods on Olympus were shot;
The devil rode high on a Panzer Division,
The angels in heaven were not.
Above the cannon, beneath the planes,
In the vast meridian of life,
The people of Greece again grew great
In the grandeur of noble strife.
All through the world like a rising tide
Rose hope that athwart defeat
Would strike the thunder of freedom won,
"No more shall the truth retreat!"
What breath could inspire and flesh conceive,
What passion and mind could dare,
The Greeks did double until their blood
Was one with the mountains there.
Some day the serpents and blood will go,
The swastikas and bars
Will ride the wave of the peoples' wrath
Beyond and above the stars.
And then will liberty come again
From Olympus to the sea,
And daughters and sons will love again
With the love of the brave and the free.
MYTHOLOGY FOR A CONQUERED LAND
Since greater dragons have declared a war
Tell Theseus that he spare the Minotaur,
Leave Ariadne to her pain and woe
For into Athens has arrived a foe
Demands a tribute to make Midas seem
A thirst for water in a dream;
Comes with tongue bleeding from the feast
Of tender nations in the East,
With bits of human flesh about his chin
To show the depths where fangs dug in;
With eyes that glare like lynx at bay
In fear of what his slaves might say.
Return, dear Theseus, that your giant fist
Might strike like thunder from the mist,
To save your sister's menaced home
From the flames that ruined Rome,
From the blow and rape of Hun;
Come, my lad, and make him run.
O fool Odysseus, may your body rot
Where clever Circe has enswined your lot!
While clouds of grief besmirch your city
You wander hypnotized by woman's ditty,
Leave Penelope in moan and tears
To play with dreams for ten long years,
Gone to fight the myth of Troy
When you were still a robust boy;
Now that Nazis fester in our land
And we have need of your brave band,
You still chase wind and boodle,
Man without a soul and noodle,
Absent when your nation
Groans in blood and devastation.
Fool Odysseus, will you always be
Lost when your people struggle to be free?
Good Hercules, fine classic Greek in truth,
Here lies another burden for your youth.
Let Atlas take his worldly load,
For while you walked the Carthage road
A tyranny vaster than we've ever seen
Has overwhelmed us in a Noah's flood of spleen;
Men weep at dawn, and under olive trees
Die from their sorrow on their knees.
Come, that you may really test the length
And breadth of all your strength,
Face with your usual derision
A German mechanized division,
Sweep out the Luftwaffe from the skies
As if it were a cobweb on your eyes;
Stand upon Acropolis and roar
Defiance toward the North, and more,
Stay from your travels that fair Greece
May from this day remain at peace.
THE HERITAGE OF ATHENS
Ages have come and gone since Athens reared her sons
Beneath the gaze of Pericles; the years
Of bitter wind and ice have battered down
The timberlines; the tiny stream
Has nestled deeper in the rock; the forest soil
Has buried countless generations of the oak and pine.
Yet every year has cut in deeper vein
Your memory upon the heart of man.
Egypt has come and gone, and Babylon,
And where the song of Homer filled the Aegean winds
Great cities like great roses once were new,
Saw springtime, and have since left nothing
But their thorns. Rome fell the friendless
Lion in the night; and Charlemagne; and Cromwell,
Napoleon, Kaiser Wilhelm, all
Empire-builders came to leave a wealth of pain
In human hearts. Yet every year your glory rises,
Makes men dream, "If ancient Greece could be so great,
Then surely we shall learn to build Olympia again."
Another age has come.
New Caesars flash their sabers in the face of time.
New bloodshed crusts the soil, new tempests
Thunder through the world. Yet there will come
The day, when man will shake the dust that clouds
Him, grasp again the torch of liberty,
And make the world a mighty Athens for all time!
SONG OF THE NEW YEAR
Sing of the anguish that has passed like fire
to scorch the pastures of our brain, and leave
our lives like blackened stumps; of young
desire that grew as fragile ferns to curl
before the flame and die; of tears upon
the broken branches of our dreams.
Sing of our vengeance that destroyed the foe with
phantoms in the sea; with mighty carriers that
stung him like a hive of bees; with bombers
blazing like electric storms and fighters
spitting adder tongues; with red-eyed tanks
and guns and knives that came upon him as he
feasted on his love, to save her from
the thrust and venom of his greed.
Sing of our men who dropped to earth with death
a busy burden in their blood; who caught
the lightning in their teeth at sad Bataan;
who drained like lemon juice the poison
from Pacific isles; and through the
long-toothed shores of Europe plunged
a naked hand to grip the monster by the throat.
Sing of the coming home, the year's enormous hope,
when famished lips will kiss our famished
lips; when aching hands will meet and join
with aching hands; when eyes shall mate
with eyes, and breast with breast, to start
a new world growing in the womb of time.
THE CROWDS OF FRANCE
They called me hero, but my hearts was dead,
Until the crowds of France uplifted me:
So like a bold and eager girl
That unashamed of open lips and eyes
Will love you anywhere at anytime,
France hugged my head
And licked my face;
She did the rhumba,
The filthy garments of the Nazi occupation,
To bare her famous figure,
The sweetheart of the world!
Not passion-wise alone that Dame LeFarge,
With new perfume in hair but bomb in hand
To blast a path beyond the barricades.
She might have terrified
The weak, the lame,
For what in anger can surpass a tigress
Caught, enraged, then free to rend
The captor's heart?
The blood that Danton let is flowing still
Across the fields of Normandy,
The poppies crushed and ruined
As the heavy-bodied men cast fleeting shadows
On the stump and rubble of the land.
THOUGHTS BEFORE BATTLE
While I lie darkly in the pit of night
Alert for what grim fate might be in store,
I seem to hear an avalanche of sound
And then, I hear no more;
Till softly, like a vast advancing host
To find me in the darkness where I lie,
A million peepers as in boyhood days
Arrive to sing their old sweet lullaby.
Upon my shoulders where the straps cut deep
To etch their patterns of dull pain,
I feel the gentle touch of something warm,
And very kind, like rain;
Then joyfully she laughs with lips of rose
To kiss my wild and unbelieving eyes,
To whisper life and home and kids
And fill with song the menaced skies.
One hour to go before the great barrage
Will cut the heavens with a sword of flame,
Yet strange that I should dream askance
Of nothing but my own forgotten name,
To see it as I carved it long ago
On that great oak upon the hill,
And feel the bark's strong fingers hold me,
Hug me, want me, love me still!
Speak no more of solitary leaves,
No more of buds like arrowheads on twigs;
No more of tiny wisps of fog, no more
Of dew upon a petal's face;
Tell us no more of single vine-prop in a single
For these are the blizzard days
When bombers sprinkle death-flakes
Over land and sea;
These are the pain-cleft, birth-pang days
When the body of society aches
With kicking baby curled
Like sickle in her womb;
When fire in geyser volume gushes
Through her bowels her scream is
The united eloquence of flesh and bone,
Think not of song as sparrow's solo, crow's
Lament, as yours to squander like a grunt;
But think of mighty choruses, united.
All birds, all winds, all storms, all trees
Before the wind; all man, and all the powers
Of wood and steel that man makes move;
All night, all stars, all soft-veiled echoes
From the roar of space…and you will hear,
And love, and claim your own
The life song that was once a groan.
END OF MY LIFE
This is the end. In this immense calm
I enter my private oblivion, a window closed
On that enormous house, my life.
Here the river dries, dust's flower blooms
In the broad stillness of my mind;
Like an exile lost in sand my throat burns
With the thirst for one wet stone.
Yet I die not like a battleship that sinks
To be another shadow on the sea's floor,
Nor as an oak that falls to let
The coming seasons cover it with soil:
Nor yet like a bear that fiercely tears
His talons toward the wounded heart.
I die young. I am not really dead.
I lie richly like a field with stalks
Of corn. Tomorrow rain shall fall to burst
The soggy, seeded brain;
My life is ruined like Amsterdam,
But it shall rise again in spring
When love shall break my bonds
To give me freedom and a song.
Be still awhile, for human flesh revolts
Against the obstinate desire, the lust
Of power for rule of Fate;
Tomorrow we shall walk in sun across
Earth's lawn, where grasses will not tell
Of battlefields, and winds
Dare never whisper of the dead.