Sunday, October 15, 2017

Soldier Poet

Front Line Stuff by Claggett Wilson, Smithsonian Museum
The largest battle in the history of the American army is the Meuse-Argonne, yet few Americans know of the offensive that lasted from September 26 to November 11, 1918.  Over 1.2 million U.S. doughboys were involved; 26,277 men were killed, and an additional 95,786 were wounded. In To Conquer Hell, historian Edward G. Lengel writes,

No single battle in American military history, before or since, even approaches the Meuse-Argonne in size and cost, and it was without question the country’s most critical military contribution to the Allied Cause in the First World War. And yet, within a few years of its end, nobody seemed to realize that it had taken place.”*

Hervey Allen, 1917
Hervey Allen, a National Guard soldier from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, never made it to the Argonne forest. Gassed, burned, wounded by shrapnel, and suffering the effects of shell shock from the attack at Fismette, he was evacuated to a military hospital in August of 1918.  Shortly before his part in the war ended, however, Allen met up at the front with his close friend Francis (Frank) Hogan, a fellow Pittsburgher and aspiring poet. Allen and Hogan “peered into each other’s faces in the dark and sat down on a stone together and had a close talk.” The two soldiers promised to try to meet again. Allen remembers, “I had an impulse to take Frank with me, but I only shook hands with him….I never saw him again.  He was a brilliant and promising poet. He was killed in the Argonne in October a few days before the armistice.”**

Liberty Bond poster
Howard Chandler Christy
Corporal Francis Fowler Hogan was 21 when he died.

Soldier-Poet
To Francis Fowler Hogan

I think at first like us he did not see
The goal to which the screaming eagles flew;
For romance lured him, France, and chivalry;
But Oh! Before the end he knew, he knew!
And gave his first full love to Liberty,
And met her face to face one lurid night
While the guns boomed their shuddering minstrelsy
And all the Argonne glowed with demon light.
And Liberty herself came through the wood,
And with her dear, boy lover kept the tryst;
Clasped in her grand, Greek arms he understood
Whose were the fatal lips that he had kissed –
Lips that the soul of Youth has loved from old –
Hot lips of Liberty that kiss men cold.
            —Hervey Allen

What was the goal toward which the screaming eagles flew that Frank Hogan was unable to see at the start? The brutal death that awaited him and so many soldiers of the Great War.  Lured by the promise of chivalrous adventure, men soon came to know intimately the shuddering music of artillery fire that blasted them into mist. 

Allen’s poem in memory of Hogan mixes romantic images of war with depictions of horror: shells drop with the sound of medieval minstrel song, while a soldier’s night-time tryst with his first love, Liberty, is lit by the lurid demon light of fire and explosives. American Revolutionary War hero Patrick Henry cried, “Give me Liberty or give me Death”; soldiers of the First World War learned that the price for loving Liberty often was death.  Hers are the hot lips that “kiss men cold.”

Francis Fowler Hogan
In an earlier, longer draft of “Soldier Poet,” Allen mourns the wasted potential of his friend’s early death and asks,
Where is my youth-crowned friend who went to war,
With his strong body and a golden smile?


Francis Hogan’s own poem “Fulfillment,” written while he was fighting in France, answers,
Think not my life has been futile,
Nor grieve for an unsaid word,
For all that my lips might never sing
My singing heart has heard….
I have made a song of the crescent moon
And a poem of only a smile…

Frank’s mother had his body returned to the United States after the war ended; he was reburied on August 13, 1921 in Pittsburgh’s Homewood Cemetery.***  



*Edward G. Lengel, To Conquer Hell, Henry Holt, 2008, p. 4.
**Hervey Allen, Toward the Flame, Farrar & Rinehart, 1934, pp. 76-77.
***Thanks to Jennie Benford, Director of Programming for Homewood Cemetery, without whom I would not have known of these men and their poetry. 

5 comments:

  1. If there is any doubt that the Yanks fought hard in WW1 look towards Meuse-Argonne for confirmation writ large.

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    1. And written on the headstone inscriptions at home and at the Meuse-Argonne cemetery

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  2. I came across "Fulfillment" in the 2/9/1918 New Republic as part of my reading in 1918 project (www.myyearin1918.com). I've been planning to write about it, and I wondered whether I would be able to find out what happened to Hogan. I came across this post by chance through WWriteBlog on Twitter. So sad to see that he didn't make it.

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    1. Jennie Bedford, Director of the Homewood Cemetery, has extensively researched Hogan's life and would be happy to provide further information.

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    2. Thanks very much, I'll contact her.

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