Its vivid portrait of sacred violence captures how Americans fight wars, from the minié balls of the Civil War to the shock and awe of Iraq. It would endure as America’s wartime anthem long after the guns fell silent in 1865. Sebald was born in Germany just a year before the end of World War II, and grew up in the conflict’s long shadow.Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord: He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored; He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword: His truth is marching on. In his prose, he explored the landscapes of postwar Europe—the ruined cities, the lethal machinery of the Holocaust, the vast collections of records—and the themes of memory, loss, and decay that they embodied.In six increasingly short couplets, the poem lays out a bare-bones guide for mourning, or moving forward, or a little of both.Translated from the original German, here’s “Memo” in its entirety: Do you remember our earnestness our sincerity In first grade when we learned to sing America The Beautiful along with the Star-Spangled Banner And say the Pledge of Allegiance to America We put our hands over our first-grade hearts We felt proud to be part of America It felt a little strange to celebrate my country’s Independence Day this year, as the Trump administration remains under investigation for possible collusion with Russia and obstruction of justice, millions of Americans await the possible loss of health-care coverage they’ve come to rely on, and the country stays mired in a Middle Eastern conflict that’s already spanned most of my lifetime and cost trillions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives.As Dominic Tierney wrote in 2010: The story of the “Battle Hymn” is the story of the United States. is a hallowed treasure and a second national anthem.We have turned to it repeatedly in national crises.
He captures the experience of standing among the redwoods that I can still clearly recall from when I was younger: the incredible vastness of the trees; the mist and the light filtering through their close-grown trunks; the resounding sort of quiet they exude, so ancient and so far removed from anything man-made.
Then suddenly on a Sunday, talking recklessly while eating brunch, a gristly piece of meat lodges in my throat. Pity makes pride, and hate breeds hatefulness, And both are poisons. Immensity, that seems To drown the human life of doubts and dreams.
Far off the massive portals of the wood, Buttressed with shadow, misty-blue, serene, Waited my coming.
These forests were not destroyed by the clearings Muir denounced—by which, he wrote, “these vigorous, almost immortal trees are killed at last, and black stumps are now their only monuments over most of the chopped and burned areas.” Instead, when I was younger I was able to walk into much the same woods as Sill and Muir described in the late 19th century, and stand at the foot of some of the world’s tallest and most ancient trees.
I can read these old writings and find something familiar, some sense of home.