[Another pass at a song I’ve previously mounted on this site. This time, I’ve built up the guitar a bit, and dialed down the vocal drama somewhat. Not the final version, but I’m far happier with this.]
Another Housman setting, this time from Last Poems. Very rough, since I was literally making up the tune as I went along, but I’m seeing whether it will fit into a sequence of songs I’ve been working on. (See Soldier (You Come, You Go) and Soldier of Fortune.)
The 1917 poem refers to the British Expeditionary Force, which German propagandists referred to as ‘mercenaries’ because at the outbreak of war, Britain’s army consisted of professional soldiers rather than conscripts or the later volunteers of ‘Kitchener’s Army‘. The BEF was practically wiped out by 1916.
A poem by Hugh MacDiarmid, ‘Another Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries’ takes a very different view, regarding the BEF as ‘professional murderers’.
The setting by Geoffrey Burgon sung by Gillian McPherson on the soundtrack to the Dogs of War is much more dramatic, and very effective (even though some might doubt whether the poem is entirely appropriate in terms of this particular novel and movie). This is much simpler and fits the cycle I have in mind better. Still, I might rethink that. This is definitely a work in progress.
Here’s the Housman poem:
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.