Former U.S. poet laureate Billy Collins said poetry preserves events "so that they don't slip into the waters of amnesia."
On Memorial Day, it's fitting war poetry and verse comforts a grieving public, especially in light of the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In Alan Bennett's play, "The History Boys," the eccentric Hector teaches a young student the meaning of Thomas Hardy's poem "Drummer Hodge." It is about the death and burial of a young, unarmed drummer boy during the Boer War. The poem describes how the boy's remains are casually thrown into a grave, and Hodge becomes a teenage stranger in a strange land, lying cold under a mound of foreign earth. Few mourn his death.
In Walt Whitman's "Vigil Strange I Kept on the Field," a father tends to his soldier son's wounds for hours, then goes off to fight himself, and returns to find his son dead.
Such glimpses of everyday life remain unchanged over time, while powerful nations and leaders rise and fall, long after wars have been forgotten. People remember their loved ones lost. They often care little for the reasons why the wars were fought.