It Is Nothing
But one single bullet, from barrel to throat,
Choked and opened the wounds of the world,
Unfurled in the seat of a phaeton,
Played on like the most tragic of tragedies,
Greek in essence but eastern in substance,
As Sophie wilts in the lap of Austria,
A single shot through the heart of a continent,
The blood racing fast to the carriage beneath,
Signals the start of relentless war lines,
It is nothing, he repeats, until the death knell chimes.
Pour forth these men, to the scars of the earth,
Deep as the river, but flowing with blood,
Buried in the lands of no man's choosing,
The losing of souls now but courses to follow,
Do not wallow and weep, cheap the sacrifice made,
A cascade over mountains of wire and mud,
Falling gracelessly, endlessly, faceless the flood,
Rot in graves dug by Lyddite, the sight of these men
But the relics of conflict, fragments of then;
It is nothing, repeated, there is nothing to stem.
Man and metal befriend, cross the boundaries encased,
The race is irrelevant, shrapnel cares not who it cuts
And at the slightest of touches, ceases the breath,
Death is plentiful, served up with little rebuff,
On a platter of hate, a dish served so cold,
Old and meaningless now, for one hundred long years
Has left nothing but tears, a fragment of bone,
Unknown soldiers sleep restlessly in misplaced graves,
Marched to battle so recklessly, slaves to the mayhem;
It is nothing, they said, it is nothing to them.
From beginning to end, but a bullet the cause,
A fragment of earth, cast to form, loaded fast,
Took a moment of madness, a split second passed,
But a single voice silenced, saw a violence unbound,
Like a plague it advanced across bridges and borders,
Absorbed cultures and creatures, bodies and blood,
Buried thick in the mud under poppy strewn fields,
Where beneath, the cessation of nine million men
Had heard not the foreboding words of the rend;
It is nothing, he uttered, over, over again.
Copyright © 2014 by Simon Austin
Poem inspired by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria on 28th June 1914, considered the defining catalyst to the beginning of World War One, July 28th 1914, 100 years ago today. By its end in November 1918, over 16 million people had been killed, with a further 22 million casualties. Many of those killed were soldiers on the front line trenches, marched into battle again and again across the lifeless wasteland known as No Man's Land.
An often less known story though is that of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria. In June 1914, Franz Ferdinand along with his wife Sophie were assassinated by members of the Black Hand, a secret military society formed by members of the Serbian army. This act triggered a chain of events which directly led to the start of the war.
What fascinated me most about this event is not only how it led to one of the deadliest conflicts in our history, but also the ominous final words of the Archduke before he died, repeating the words "it is nothing, it is nothing" when asked by his aides of his wound, the wound that claimed his life and ultimately led to the deaths of 16 million people over 4 long years of war.
"It Is Nothing" are perhaps therefore the most foreboding and antithetical words uttered in our history, and the inspiration for this poem.