Pershing at the Front (by poet Arthur Guiterman) a student recitation favorite…

Back in the day students were required to memorize poems and recite them in class.  For most the process was torture—memorizing a poem from a list of “suggested” poems, working up the nerve to stand up in front of the class for the recitation, and enduring the embarrassment from  snickers of buddies in the audience.

Here’s one that was a favorite of the day, passed around on typewritten and mimeographed “ditto machine” purple-ink copies.     It is appropriate now, among all this false rhetoric about General Pershing, who was a World War I American general, with a long and distinguished reputation as a good, tough cookie among military Historians.

It’s a great poem…rhythm and meter perfect in my book, and well worth reading out loud and all the way through.     Thanks to the folks at\guiter8.htm for posting it on their site.

Pershing at the Front


Arthur Guiterman


The General came in a new tin hat
To the shell-torn front where the war was at;
With a faithful Aide at his good right hand
He made his way toward No Man’s Land,
And a tough Top Sergeant there they found,
And a Captain, too, to show them round.

Threading the ditch, their heads bent low,
Toward the lines of the watchful foe
They came through the murk and the powder stench
Till the Sergeant whispered, “Third-line trench!”
And the Captain whispered, “Third-line trench!”
And the Aide repeated, “Third-line trench!”
And Pershing answered- not in French-
“Yes, I see it. Third-line trench.”

Again they marched with wary tread,
Following on where the Sergeant led
Through the wet and the muck as well,
Till they came to another parallel.
They halted there in the mud and drench,
And the Sergeant whispered, “Second-line trench!”
And the Captain whispered, “Second-line trench!”
And the Aide repeated, “Second-line trench!”
And Pershing nodded: “Second-line trench!”

Yet on they went through mire like pitch
Till they came to a fine and spacious ditch
Well camouflaged from planes and Zeps
Where soldiers stood on firing steps
And a Major sat on a wooden bench;
And the Sergeant whispered, “First-line trench!”
And the Captain whispered, “First-line trench!”
And the Aide repeated, “First-line trench!”
And Pershing whispered, “Yes, I see.
How far off is the enemy?”
And the faithful Aide he asked, asked he,
“How far off is the enemy?”
And the Captain breathed in a softer key,
“How far off is the enemy?”

The silence lay in heaps and piles
And the Sergeant whispered, “Just three miles.”
And the Captain whispered, “Just three miles.”
And the Aide repeated, “Just three miles.”
“Just three miles!” the General swore,
“What in the heck are we whispering for?”
And the faithful Aide the message bore,
“What in the heck are we whispering for?”
And the Captain said in a gentle roar,
“What in the heck are we whispering for?”
“Whispering for?” the echo rolled;
And the Sergeant whispered, “I have a cold.”


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41 thoughts on “Pershing at the Front (by poet Arthur Guiterman) a student recitation favorite…

      1. I noticed that you write poetry. I don’t know much about poetry so please don’t be offended if I don’t comment on those posts a great deal. :/


      2. Last year WordPress had a poetry class, each week a different form of poetry. I absolutely loved that class. Some of my favorite blogger-links come from that era. I am In love with some of my own poetry…mostly free-form. did the daily lessons, but veered off into flights of fancy. My all-time favorite of mine is called: hmmm…I forget. Ill look it up.


      3. I’m kind of choked up. I just left a comment. Thank you. Sometimes seeing something through a stranger’s eyes can bring all the wonder flooding back.


      4. -grin- I just checked it out, but…I tried to leave a comment before and it’s still showing as under ‘moderation’. Did I do something wrong?


      5. hmmm, I don’t see any comments, and only eight of my followers “liked” it…although I did read comments from other-where, including yours. Sometimes WP acts mysteriously. ooooo


      6. i’ll check again, that gmail addy is one I’m trying to use for personal mail…one I have is for my blog/word press … and one I use for my book business venues and bill statements. If I have too many I lose some mail. I like the way gmail works better than yahoo.


      7. my own personal favorite is called “May in Bombay.” It is the poem I put the most actual thinking into… other poems especially the short ones and Haiku are usually off-the-cuff.


      8. I studied Japanese for a few years at university so of course I love Japanese haiku. Sadly I don’t understand much of the meaning these days but I still love the sound.


      9. Speaking of haiku, I just looked up that Japanese language one I mentioned.

        Fu-ru (old) i-ke (pond) ya,
        ka-wa-zu (frog) to-bi-ko-mu (jumping into)
        mi-zu (water) no o-to (sound)

        I’ve forgotten more Japanese than I ever knew but in the last line ‘no’ wasn’t translated but it’s important. ‘no’ means ‘of’ in the possessive sense. So the last line should be
        ‘water of sound’ = sound of water
        A lot of English translations go one step further and make that into ‘plop’ or ‘splash’ but the real meaning is more open to imagination.
        -cough- in my not so humble opinion -cough-


      10. interesting. Is that Basho’s? I love the impression of the jumping into sound i.e. water. I think real Japanese haiku in the original characters captures more precise meaning than when englishized, which would explain why some haiku doesn’t make any sense.


      11. Yes. Absolutely. I know so little but I’m convinced the form works best in the original Japanese. They just have everything going for them. And yes, it’s Basho.


      12. I admit I never liked Haiku much because much of it doesn’t have any point…not rhyme nor reason literally. “real” poets sneer at me I think, but who cares?


      13. I like writing Haiku because I can go there quickly, count some syllables, and pour something out of my heart. Sometimes its dumb, but that’s it’s nature. 🙂


      14. That website is new to me but very interesting, and I really like some of his haiku – it really seems to capture the spirit of the form. Honestly though, I really know nothing about haiku in general. The little I know I learned at uni. while studying Japanese language and lit.


      15. this site is great…and the detailed discussion about haiku and Basho, et al, is fascinating. The mindlovemisery site also hosts the Wordles that I enjoy so much. I post there a lot.


      16. I wrote a haiku yesterday on the way to my granddaughters birthday (30!) but didn’t write it down…in the back seat pretending to be asleep. scribbled it in a notebook when I got to our destination…but it lacks something


      17. oh the site theme today/this week is the eclipse of the sun last week. I missed it, but the effects may remain. I have neglected CarpeDiem… but I am going back right away…moping and fretting about our #45 destroying the world in his madness has taken its toll on my creative bent. alas!


      18. Yes, he seems to have had that effect on almost everyone. Excuse the French but during the pissing war with ‘him’ in Nth Korea, I kept wondering, ‘is this the beginning? the thing we feared all through the Cold War?’


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