Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries

Responding to my post about the De Maistre Drones, Larry Houghteling, a reader, directs me to this poem of A. E. Housman. Seems appropriate for our “all-volunteer army.”

Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries

These, in the day when heaven was falling,

The hour when earth’s foundations fled,

Followed their mercenary calling,

And took their wages, and are dead.

Their shoulders held the sky suspended;

They stood, and earth’s foundations stay;

What God abandoned, these defended,

And saved the sum of things for pay.


  1. Bill August 1, 2012 at 4:36 am | #

    Housman was a Tory.

  2. John MacKay August 1, 2012 at 12:37 pm | #

    Hugh MacDiarmid, the great Scottish (and Communist!) poet, wrote a famous rejoinder:

    Another Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries

    It is a God-damned lie to say that these
    Saved, or knew, anything worth any man’s pride.
    They were professional murderers and they took
    Their blood money and their impious risks and died.
    In spite of all their kind some elements of worth
    With difficulty persist here and there on earth.

  3. Simon August 1, 2012 at 5:58 pm | #

    Corey, no offense, but these posts are really stupid. Comparing Bush quotes to Hitler. Saying enthusiasm for Corey Booker is equivalent to Stalin’s cult of personality. I’ve read your books so know your capable of much better.

    • Simon August 1, 2012 at 6:09 pm | #

      I’d like, for example, to hear you talk about gun control and how it does or does not fit into the framework you introduced into reactionary mind.

  4. bevin August 1, 2012 at 7:36 pm | #

    It might be appropriate if your “all volunteer army” were fighting the modern equivalents of the German Army. And were outnumbered by about twenty divisions to one. And were killed, defending France from invasion, on the Marne.
    But it aint. It is eating surf and turf in air conditioned billets in the Hindu Kush or Kuwait or Nevada. And it fights no regular forces.

  5. slr August 2, 2012 at 9:54 am | #

    What about Democracy?

    “The flag’s off to that filthy place, and our speech drowns the sound of

    The drum.

    “In the metropolis we’ll feed the most cynical whoring.

    We’ll smash all logical revolts.

    “On to the languid, scented lands!-in the service of the most gigantic

    industrial or military exploitation.

    “Farewell here, anywhere. Conscripts of good intention, we’ll have

    savage philosophy; knowing nothing of science,

    depraved in our pleasures; to hell with the world around us…

    This is the real advance. Forward… march!”

  6. slr August 2, 2012 at 2:34 pm | #

    The “logical revolt” the poet is referring to was massacred here and his country’s exploitation of the “languid, scented lands” ended 8 decades later.

Leave a Reply