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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & General Editor
Volume 6, Number 4, December 2012

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Glenn G. Coats
Prospect, Virginia, U.S.A.


On “Honour and Glory” by Ken Jones from Bog Cotton

It is the eighteenth century in Great Britain and soldiers are marching up low hills toward a fort. Smoke from guns fired by flints fills the air. Soldiers fall on the green grass of spring, never reaching the outer walls and ditches that guard the fortification. They are easy prey. Farmers dress as soldiers and leave farm and family behind. They follow orders made by wealthy rulers who issue commands from the safety of distance.

The language, the cadence and structure of the words are all new to me: ravelins, counterscarp, behest, badinage, besiegers. As I read “Honour and Glory” by Ken Jones again and again, I am each time swept into the historical scenes that he captures. I know that the action takes place hundreds of years ago but Jones’ words transport me across an ocean to witness the siege of an unnamed fort somewhere in Great Britain. A note at the end of the haibun states that the descriptions are based on a fragment found on the body of an officer after the storming of Fort S.

I live in rural Virginia in a state once decimated by Civil War. Remnants of its destruction are never far away. I thought of that as I read through this haibun.

Ravelins and counterscarps
clad all in sweet green grass
mown ready for the dead

Here it is dense pine forest, blistering heat, insects, and snakes. Gaunt soldiers in ragged uniforms who, like the soldiers in “Honour and Glory,” were mainly farmers who long for home. They, too, march through open space; instead of grass they fall in fields of corn.

Dawn chorus
abruptly halted
by a cannonade

Is the dawn chorus birds or insects? Or is it the soldiers singing as they prepare a morning meal or clean their guns? This image too is striking. How the sound of a cannon can silence any semblance of order, any sense of normal in a day. For me, that is the power of Jones’ words, the way the message is universal to all wars.

When I read letters by soldiers who fought in the Civil War, I hear their voices, I hear them talking. I hear the voice of an officer in “Honour and Glory” and it sounds authentic and honest.

The commandant assures me that as soon as matters become seriously heroic he will feel free to negotiate an honourable surrender. And so I pen a letter to my wife regarding the spring sowing on my estate.

There are seven haiku in this piece and each one brings the reader to another level of understanding. They do not simply continue the story:

Clockwork soldiers
lost in their own smoke
they blaze at one another

War is not neat and tidy. In the midst of noise and smoke mistakes are made. Jones captures the confusion of the moment—war, where lines of right and wrong blur in the smoke. Who is it that we send off to war? Is it always the young, the poor? They are the ones who are dependable and constant as hours on a clock.

There is humor in all of this as the officer writes a letter to his wife as well as one to his mistress. “And another to my mistress offering a little badinage in well-turned couplets.” And again as a white flag is raised:

Eau-de-Cologne and powdered wigs
exchanging snuff
and prisoners

It is in the journals and letters of enlisted men, women, and officers that we learn of the day to day lives of soldiers. That is what Jones’ haibun does—brings moments of battle down to earth. From across an ocean I can find links in the words to other wars, and in the end that is what history leaves us, lessons to learn from. Jones concludes his haibun with perhaps the most poignant of his haiku. He shows us that in the midst of the clamor, soldiers still share the same dreams and hopes for a future.

Beneath a low slung moon
besiegers and besieged
dream each others’ dreams

There is a line of prose in the final paragraph that makes that reality clear: “Beyond the encirclement a farm dog is howling.” Those words bring us back to the day to day, to what is obliterated for a time by war. Home.

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Honour and Glory

Hee-haw ! hee-haw!
saluting the imperial standard
a brazen ass

The Journal of a Siege: 1st May 17—

Written in a dank, iron casemate. Only on a peaceful summer do these forts, so artfully conceived by Monsieur de Vauban, look their most elegant. All was prepared before the investment, now in its second month, had begun.

Ravelins and counterscarps
clad all in sweet green grass
mown ready for the dead

They have yet to bring up their siege guns; their cannon balls disturb us little.

Dawn chorus
abruptly halted
by a cannonade

The commandant assures me that as soon as matters become seriously heroic he will feel free to negotiate an honourable surrender. And so I pen a letter to my wife regarding the spring sowing on my estate. And another to my mistress offering a little badinage in well-turned couplets. The latter end in a scrawl. as the earth shakes beneath me. A mine! A mine! The insistent bugle. The clatter of ammunition boots. I buckling on my sward I hasten to my post.

Here they come, plodding up the glacis. A turkey shoot, just as Monsieur de Vauban had planned.

Across the future dead
he lays his rule
his fields of fire

After the dense black smoke has cleared we see the execution our flintlocks has wrought amongst them. The living are struggling back up the counterscarp. They leave behind the grotesque dead and the screaming wounded. Poor fellows! We either work them to death at home like horses or else we enlist them to be shot at the behest of other well-mannered gentlemen.

Clockwork soldiers
lost in their own smoke
they blaze at one another

I am ordered to arrange a parlay for the recovery of the wounded, the burial of the dead and the exchange of prisoners. With shivers down my spine, I step out with a little drummer boy and a tall serjeant bearing a white flag. Their officers are grand fellows and invite me to their mess. An excellent claret. Toasts to their king and our empress.

Eau-de-Cologne and powdered wigs
exchanging snuff
and prisoners

Protected by the Articles of War I am duly returned to our lines. A calm, clear night. Beyond the encirclement a farm dog is howling.

Beneath a low slung moon
besiegers and besieged
dream each others’ dreams

Note: This fragment was found on the body of an unknown officer after the storming of Fort S— ended a prolonged and destructive siege.

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