Sunday, September 11, 2016

only the dead have seen the end of war

I wrote this during the Chinese 7th month, otherwise also known as the Ghost Month in the Chinese calendar. My mind can act in funny ways, it wanders. Like those spirits.

Or maybe I have watched too many wuxia or Sengoku period movies.

image from

only the dead have seen the end of war

when i returned in the dead of night
to our little house
you were sleeping, holding our child
your eyelids trembled, just slightly
that cold draft of air
that ruffled your hair
is the howl from my throat
as an arrow pierces my breast.

you rose in the smoke-filled dawn
when the sun had not yet risen
over the rice fields,
the tiled roofs of the town.
you went to the Wall with our child
scanned the stone towers
with your eyes still red with pain.
you read every weary face
every returning warrior
and with each passing day
the smoke rose higher from the rains.

only the dead have seen the end of war.
only the dead see what your tears are for.

written : 26/08/2010
revised : 16/04/2014

The title is a quote often attributed to Plato, but possibly written by George Santayana.

Shared on Poetry Pantry #319 at Poets United.

© cheong lee san ( dsnake1 ) 2016

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Blogger brudberg said...

I love the point-of-view in the first stanza, the soldier returning as ghost, it feels like a parting, the short moment before the ties are cut forever. So sad and poignant.

11 September, 2016 23:57  
Blogger SuyashJ said...

very true.. that is just how wars go...very fitting

11 September, 2016 23:59  
Blogger Sumana Roy said...

a poignant note is palpable....

12 September, 2016 01:11  
Blogger Jae Rose said...

Not a funny way at all - a touching and chilling thought and a poem full of imagery and real emotion

12 September, 2016 03:02  
Blogger Sherry Blue Sky said...

You have captured the pain of war so vividly with your words. I can see her, carrying her child. Surely the worst part of war is the suffering of children. Your title, and the quote, is sadly very true. This is a very moving poem, that makes one stop and think.

12 September, 2016 03:04  
Blogger Truedessa said...

This part is very profound

"only the dead have seen the end of war"

but, I think the living still feel the pain

12 September, 2016 03:21  
Blogger Mary said...

What strikes me is that only the dead have seen the end of war.....I think you are right. Wars always go on...for the living.... As long as people live, there (unfortunately) are wars. But in death one escapes them all...sigh.

12 September, 2016 04:32  
Blogger Wendy Bourke said...

Powerful! Beautifully rendered! Wonderful writing!

12 September, 2016 09:30  
Blogger dsnake1 said...


yes, it is a parting in a way. glad that you like the tale. :)


any culture, any era, it's the same. :(


thank you!


thank you.
chilling in a way, but i also wanted to make it touching.


yes, it's true, the worst part of war is the suffering of children, as they are the most vulnerable. i have put the setting of this poem in ancient China, but i wondered if the image get across.


thank you.
i think it always will, the living still feeling the pain. the pain of displacement, the loss of loved ones...


when i came across the quote, i thought i had to write something on it.
i think wars will always be there, human nature being what it is. it is just how the conflict can be avoided, or the damage and pain minimised. :(
or do we agree with the Latin adage Si vis pacem, para bellum , "If you want peace, prepare for war"?


thank you!

12 September, 2016 10:15  
Blogger Luk Lei said...

Beautiful tidy story woven in wonderful lines! Crushing in a way.
The 7th month is beautiful affair. I hadn't visited Singapore in that time so I'm curious how the atmosphere is. Here in Macau it does have a bit of a haunting feel as the alleys and streets are filled with paper smoke and ash, while make shift alters line the curbs with fruits and other food offerings. The city will put out community barrels for burning so as to try the keep the streets clear but inevitably most use their own containers. But it's the odd combination of humidity and smoke that adds a bit of noir style mystery and flare that I love.

12 September, 2016 11:16  
Blogger J Cosmo Newbery said...

"Only the dead have seen the end of war."
Aint that the truth.

12 September, 2016 17:07  
Blogger dsnake1 said...

Luk Lei,

Over here, the mood is more subdued nowadays. there will be burning of paper offerings, mostly on the first, last and middle days of the month. it wasn't like that in the past, when it was a big deal. however people, especially the Chinese, still avoid moving house, doing renovations or getting married during the month.
Macau is predominantly Chinese, so perhaps it is observed in a bigger way there. demographics change so perhaps traditions shifted too.

i like how you described the month's nights as "noir style mystery". :)

J Cosmo Newbery,

sadly, that's the truth.
thanks for the visit! :)

12 September, 2016 18:38  
Blogger Magical Mystical Teacher said...

Only this: Our world needs no more war dead. Ever. Amen.

13 September, 2016 02:35  
Blogger dsnake1 said...

let's pray to that.

13 September, 2016 23:27  

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