To Irushka at the Coming of War by Frank Thompson
If you should hear my name among those killed,
Say you have lost a friend, half man, half boy,
Who, if the years had spared him might have built
Within him courage strength and harmony.
Uncouth and garrulous his tangled mind,
Seething with warm ideas of truth and light,
His help was worthless. Yet had fate been kind
He might have learned to steel himself and fight.
He thought he loved you. By what right could he
Claim such high praise, who only felt his frame
Riddled with burning lead, and failed to see
His own false pride behind the barrel’s flame?
Say you have lost a friend and then forget.
Stronger and truer ones are with you yet.
Frank Thompson went to war as a young man after his first year at university. He ended up with partisan fighters in Bulgaria, where he was captured by the Nazis and murdered together with his Bulgarian comrades. Irushka was Iris Murdoch, his beloved.
The poem is not about Irushka at all, but about himself, ‘Seething with warm ideas of truth and light’, enough to send him to war in the romantic spirit of Rupert Brooke. It hardly mattered that he would be killed, ‘his help was worthless’. No question in this poem of the rights or wrongs of Nations going to war, nor his duty or otherwise to go there and steel himself to fight against physical deprivation as well as the enemy.
War as romantic but empty of meaning, only false pride.