To the Indians who died in Africa
T. S. Eliot
A man’s destination is his own village,
His own fire, and his wife’s cooking;
To sit in front of his own door at sunset
And see his grandson, and his neighbour’s grandson
Playing in the dust together.
Scarred but secure, he has many memories
Which return at the hour of conversation,
(The warm or the cool hour, according to the climate)
Of foreign men, who fought in foreign places,
Foreign to each other.
A man’s destination is not his destiny,
Every country is home to one man
And exile to another. Where a man dies bravely
At one with his destiny, that soil is his.
Let his village remember.
This was not your land, or ours: but a village in the Midlands,
And one in the Five Rivers, may have the same graveyard.
Let those who go home tell the same story of you:
Of action with a common purpose, action
None the less fruitful if neither you nor we
Know, until the judgement after death,
What is the fruit of action.
Another of these ‘soldier dying far from home’ poems – except this one is, in a way, a neat inversion of Brooke’s The Soldier. What resonates for me from this poem is Eliot’s talent for the prophetic tone, his ability to invest the simplest phrase with meaning, make it seem profound and absolute. But I also love the way the poem starts so calmly, in the dreamlike adagio of a distant sunset, and it’s only half way through that the first minor chord ushers in that aching sense of loss, that note of tragedy. There is no bragging here, no fanciful imagery: Eliot is uncompromising about the truth (“This was not your land, or ours”). This is a poem about a sadness that cannot be justified, but must be accepted. And I love the way that Eliot, ever the erudite master, ends the poem with a line and a sentiment that comes almost straight out of the Bhagavad Gita.