Naked Warrior

By Herbert Read (1919)

Entry 1522


From: holdoffhunger [id: 1]


Untitled Anarchism Naked Warrior

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(1893 - 1968)

Anarchist Poet and Art Historian

: He was the chief interpreter of modern art movements in Great Britain for much of the 20th century and his influence reached into many fields. He is best described as a philosophic anarchist. (From: William Leedem Bio.)
• "...the institutions of religion and politics are captured by an individual or a class and turned against the group which they were designed to benefit." (From: "The Philosophy of Anarchism," by Herbert Read, Fi....)
• "At certain periods in the history of the world a society has become conscious of its personalities: it would perhaps he truer to say that it has established social and economic conditions which permit the free development of the personality." (From: "The Philosophy of Anarchism," by Herbert Read, Fi....)
• "...the law imposed by the State is not necessarily the natural or just law; that there exist principles of justice which are superior to these man-made laws-principles of equality and fairness inherent in the natural order of the universe." (From: "The Philosophy of Anarchism," by Herbert Read, Fi....)

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Naked Warrior

 Photo by Carsten ten Brink, CC BY-NC-ND License

Photo by Carsten ten Brink,
CC BY-NC-ND License

Naked Warriors

Herbert Read, London: Art & Letters, 1919.


I would like to speak for a generation to following effect:

We, who in manhood's dawn have been compelled to care not a damn for life or death, now care less still for the convention of glory and the intellectual apologies for what can never be to us other than a riot of ghastliness and horror, of inhumanity and negation. May we, therefore, for the sake of life itself, be resolved to live with a cleaner and more direct realization of natural values. May we be unafraid of our frank emotions, and may we maintain a callous indifference to falsely-artistic prettifying of life. Then, as the reflex of such beauty where hitherto it has had no absolute existence. From sickness of life revealed to us turn with glad hearts to the serenity of some disinterested beauty. In that way we may so progress that our ethical rage give us duly aesthetic sanction.



Reule thyself, that other folk may rede And trouthe shall delivere, it is no drede. -- Chaucer

Ernest Kneeshaw grew
In the forest of his dreams
Like a woodland flower whose amaemic petals
Need the sun.

Life was for him a far perspective
Of high black columns
Flanking, arching and encircling.
He never, even vaguely, tried to pierce
The gloom about him,
But was content to contemplate
His finger-nails and wrinkled boots.

He might at least have perceived
A secual atmosphere;
But even when his body burned and urged
Like the buds and roots around him,
Abashed by the will-less promptings of his flesh,
He continued to contemplate his feet.

Kneeshaw went to war,
And they set about with much painstaking
To straighten his drooping back:
On bleak moors and among harsh fellows
He kissed the elemental.

But still his mid reelected things
Like a cold steel mirror-emotionless;
Yet in reflecting he became accomplished
And, to some extent,
Divested of ancestral gloom.

Then Kneeshaw crossed the sea.

Arrived at Boulogne
He cast a backward glance across the barbours
And saw there a forest of assembled masts and
Rather reminiscent of former abodes.
And, Like the sweep from a released dam,
His thought flooded unfamiliar paths:

This forest was congregated
From various climates and strange seas:
Hadn't each ship some separate memory
Of sunlit scenes or arduous waters?
Didn't each bring in the high glamor
Of conquered force?
Didn't each bring in the high glamor
Of conquered force?
Wasn't the forest-gloom of their assembly
A Body built of living cells,
Of personalities and experiences
- A witness of heroism
Co-existent with man

And that dark forest of his youth-
Couldn't he liberate the black columns
Flanking, arching, encircling him with dread?
Couldn't he let them spread from his vision like a
Taking the open sea,
Disintegrating into light and color and the fra-
grance of winds? And perhaps insome thought they would return
Laden with strange merchandise-
And with the passing thought
Pass unregretted into far horizons.

These were Kneeshaw's musing
Whist he yet dwelt in the romantic fringes.

Then, with many other men,
He was transported in a cattle-truck
To the scene of war.

For a while chance was kind
Save for inevitable
Searing of the mind.

But later Kneeshaw's war
Became intense.
Arras was a picnic;
But Ypres . . .
That ghastly desolation Sank into men's hearts and turned them black-
Cankered them with horror.
Kneeshaw felt himself
A cog in some great evil engine,
Unwilling, but revolving tempestuously
By unseen springs . . .
He plunged with listless mind
Into the black horror.

There are a few who will find it hard to forget
The earth was scared and broken
By torrents of plunging shells;
Then washed and sodden with autumnal rains.
And Polygon beke
(perhaps a rippling stream
In the days of Kneeshaw's gloom)
Spread itself like a fatal quicksand,
A sucking, clutching death.
They had to be across the beke
And in their line before dawn . . .
Aman who was marching by Kneeshaw's side
Hesitated in the middle of the mud,
And slowly sank, weighted down by equipment
and arms.
He cried for help;
Rifles were stretched to him;
He clutched and they tugged,
But slowly he sank.
He terror grew-
Grew visibly when the viscous ooze
Reached his neck.
And there he seemed to stick,
Sinking no more.
They could not dig him out-
The oozing mud would flow back again.

The dawn was very near.

An officer shot him through the head;
Not a neat job- the revolver
Was too close.

Then the dawn came, silver on the wet brown

Kneeshaw found himself in the second wave:
The unseen springs revolved the cog
Through all the mutations of that storm of death.
He started when he heard them cry "Dig in!"
He had to think and couldn't for a while . . .
The he seized a pick from the nearest man
And clawed passionately upon the churned earth,
With satisfaction his pick
Cleft the skull of buried man.
Kneeshaw tugged the clinging pick,
Saw its burden and shrieked.

For a second or two he was impotent
Vainly trying to recover his will, but his senses
Then mercifully
A hot blast and riotous detonation
Hurled his mangled body
Into the beautiful peace of coma.

There came a day when Kneeshaw,
Minus a leg, on crutches,
Stalked the woods and hills of his native land.
And on the hills he would sing his war-song.

Listen now to Kneeshaw's war-song:

The forest gloom breaks:
The wild black masts
Seaward sweep on adventurous ways:
I grip my crutches and keep
A lonely view-
In wildernesses I forgot
Gardens immaculate.

I stand on this hill and accept
The pleasure my flesh dictates.
I count not kisses nor take
Too serious a view of tobacco.

Judas no doubt was right
In a mental sort of way:
For he betrayed another and so
With purpose was self-justified.
But I delivered my body to fear
I was bloodies fool than he.

stand on this hill and accept
The flowers at my feet and the deep
Beauty f the still tarn:
Chance that gave me a crutch and a view
Doubtless gave me these.

The soul is not a dogmatic affair
Like manliness, color and light;
But these essentials there be:
To speak truth and from this hill
Let burning stars irradiate the contemplated


And perhaps out horror,
Some hideousness to stamp beauty
a mark
on our hearts.


I.-Villages Demolis

The villages are strewn
In red and yellow heaps of rubble:

Here and there
Interior walls
Lie unpturned and interrogate the skies amazedly

Walls that once held
Within their cubic confines
A soul that now lies strewn
In red and yellow
Heaps of rubble.

II. –The Crucifix

His body is smashed
Through the belly and chest,
And the head hangs lopsided
From one nailed hand.

Emblem of agony,
We have smashed you!


Fear is a wave
Beating throughout the air
And on taut nerves impingeing
Till there it wins
Vibrating chords.

All goes well
So long as you tune the instrument
To simulate composure

(So you will become
A gallant gentleman.)

But when the strings are broken. . . .
Then you will grovel on the earth
And your rabbit eyes
Will fill with fragments of your shattered soul.

IV.- The Happy Warrior

His wild heart beats with painful sobs,
His strained hands clench an ice-cold rigle,
His aching jaws grip a hot parched tongue,
And his wide eyes search unconsciously.

He cannot shriek.

Bloody saliva
Dribbles down his shapeless jacket.

I saw him stab
And stab again
A well-killed Boche.

This is the happy warrior,
This he. . . .

V. – Liedholz

When I captured Liedholz
I had a blackened face
Like a nigger's,
And teeth like white mosaics shone.

We met in the night a half-past one,
Between the lines.
Liedholz shot at me
And I at him;
And in the ensuing tumult he surrendered to me.

Before we reached our wire
He told me he had a wife and three children.
In the dug-out we gave him a whiskey.
Going to Brigade with my prisoner at dawn,
The early sun made the land delightful,
And larks rose singing from the palin.

In broken French we discussed
Beethoven, Nietzsche and the International.

He was a professor
Living at Spandua;
And not too intelligible.

But my black face and nigger's teeth
Amused him.

VI. – The Refugees

Mute figures with bowed heads
They travel along the road:
Old women, incredibly old,
And a hand-cart of chattels.

They do not weep:
Their eyes are too dark for tears.

Past them have hastened
Processions of retreating gunteams,
Baggage-wagons and with horsemen.
Now they struggle along
With the rearguard of a broken army.

We will hold the enemy towards nightfall
And they will move
Mutely into the dark behind us,
Only the creaking cart
Disturbing their sorrowful serenity.


Foule! Tone ame entiere est debout
Dans mon corps.



You became
In many acts and quiet observances
A body souled, entire. . . .

I cannot tell
What time your life became mine:
Perhaps when one summer night
We halted on the roadside
In the starlight only,
And you sang your safe home-songs,
Dirges which I standing outside your soul
Coldly condemned.

Perhaps one night, descending cold,
When rum was mighty acceptable,
And my doling gave birth to sensual gratitude.

And then our fights: we've fought together
Compact, unanimous;
And I have felt the pride of leadership.

And then our fights;we've fought together
Compact, unanimous;
And I have felt the pride of leadership.

In many acts and quiet observances
You absorbed me:
Until one day I stood eminent
And saw you gathered round me,
And about you a radiance that seemed to beat
With variant flow and to give
Grace to our unity.

But, God! I know that I'll stand
Someday in the loneliest wilderness,
Someday my heart will cry
For the soul that has been but that now
Is scattered with the winds,
Deceased and devoid.

I know that I'll wander with a cry:
"O beautiful men, O men I loved,
O whither are you gone, my company?"

This is a hell
Immortal while I live.


My men go wearily
With their monstrous burdens.

They bear wooden planks
And iron sheeting
Through the area of death.

When a flare curves through the sky
They rest immobile.

Then on again,
Sweating and blaspheming-
"Oh, bloody Christ!"

My men, my modern Christs,
Your bloody agony confronts the world.

A man of mine
lies on the wire.
It is death to fetch his soulless corpse.

A man of mine
lies on the wire;
And he will rot
And first his lips
The worms will eat.

It is not thus I would have him kissed,
But with the warm passionate lips
Of his comrade here.

IV. – I

Kenneth Farrar is typical of many:
He smokes his pipe with a glad heart
And makes his days serene;
He fights hard,
And in his speech he hates the Boche:-
But really he doesn't care a damn.
His sexual experience is wide and various
And his curses are rather original.

But I've seen him kiss a dying man;
And if he comes thro' all right
(So he say)
He'll settle down and marry.


But Malyon says this:
"Old Ken's a wandering fool;
If we come thro'
Our souls will never settle in suburban hearths;
We'll linger our remaining days
Unsettled, haunted by the wrong that's done us;
The best world;
The rest will gradually subside,
In unknown lands."

And Ken will jeer:
"The natives of Samoa
Are suitably naïve."


I can assume
A giant attitude and godlike mood,
And then detachedly regard
All riots, conflicts and collisions.

The men I've lived with
Lurch suddenly into a far perspective;
They distantly gather like a dark cloud of birds
In the autumn sky.

Urged by some unanimous
Volition or fate,
Clouds clash in opposition;
The sky quivers, the dead descend;
Earth yawns.

And they are all of one species.

From my giant attitude,
In godlike mood,
I laugh till space is filled
With hellish merriment.

Then again I assume
My human docility,
Bow my head
And share their doom.

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