About Eyewear the blog

Eyewear THE BLOG is the most read British poetry blogzine, getting more than 20,000 page-views a month. It began in 2005. The views expressed by editor Todd Swift are not necessarily shared by the contributing poets and reviewers, and vice versa. Eyewear blog is archived by The British Library. Any material on this blog infringing copyright will be removed upon request.


Friday, 29 August 2014

Hill Climbing

The major English poet Geoffrey Hill is well-known for apparently arguing that confessional poems of the quotidian fail to reach the immense heights of more imaginative, less-self-centred, poetry. From this simplistic position then follows a lot of dismissal of nearly all the poets, poems and poetry since 1945, including Larkin's, Plath's, Lowell's, etc.

It is good for great poets to have their own guiding lights, their own poetics, but is not so good for other readers and poets to believe them when they claim theirs is the chosen path.  Poets do not make good messiahs.

The best thing that poets give us (usually) is their poetry, not their criticism - and we are best to go by that.

In the case of Hill, it is hard to follow his idea of the imagination in his work, which is almost never quite as grandly imaginative in the way that Milton's was.  Hill is a rhetorical poet more like Pope, or Dryden than he might care to admit.  He bases many of his poems on history, theology, and myth, and inter-textually relates his poetry to a certain Tradition of Anglo-centric feeling and thinking.  His poetry about WWII, or the Holocaust, or Anglicanism, for example, are triggered by real events, issues and ideas.  They are perhaps not directly personal, but they are only impersonal on a very simple level.  The choice of theme and subject a poet makes is always a signature, and is a self-revelation.

If a poet writes about being raped or punched, that is no less vital a trigger, than if they write about reading about a German priest dying in the 1940s.  One may be more removed emotionally, but that is hard to prove.  Both subjects are at one remove from the poem which is generated.

The idea that poetry is nowadays quotidian in concern may be the case, but the lofty and distant and unusual are not always the most compelling literary themes.  Much of the greatest poetry, from Chaucer, to Donne to Eliot, is concerned with human circumstances in relation to society - desire, love, fear of death, religious consolation, grief, elation - and emotionality, combined with intellect, is not owned only by those who compose imaginatively and without recourse to self.  Coleridge's famous Xanadu is a rare example of a poem seemingly removed from the common realm entirely, and it is hardly removed from Coleridge's drug dreams.

It may be tedious to read about a poet's love affairs, operations, drunken sprees, divorces, injuries and travel; but too much War of the Roses, WWI, Troy and allusion to Comus can also become stale. As Larkin proved, great poems can come from smaller things (though arguably Larkin's major poems are on the major rhetorical themes).

I remain unconvinced that poems written away from experience and the personal realm are necessarily going to be weaker.  They may be less magisterial.  But some very poor and pompous poetry can be made from the Great Works, as well.

Larkin About

Poetry criticism - that is, writing concerned with poetry, poems, poets and poetics (theory) - seems to have been sent back to the Age of Arnold at the start of the new biography of Philip Larkin, by James Booth, his long-time colleague, and apologist.

Larkin is, I feel, one of the major British poets - and in this I am not alone.  He has influenced, for better and worse, my poetry, as much as did Dylan Thomas, Auden, Yeats, Eliot, Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, Plath, Dickinson, Lowell - in short, his inimitable but seductive diction, syntax and themes tempted my originality.  So I am not attacking Larkin here.

But seriously, some of what is written in these first few pages (all I have read, so far) is balderdash.

Booth states that Larkin is the most popular and greatest English poet of the last century - which may be the case, but this is not easily established by merely saying it.  Kipling, Auden and Ted Hughes, let alone Stevie Smith, Betjeman, Hardy and Housman, are all serious contenders, in terms of sales, popular appeal, influence, and critical study. Booth claims - a la Arnold's touchstones - that Larkin has the most memorable lines and phrases from his poems - and it is true he has three or four lines that are household famous - but Auden and Stevie Smith, at least, are close, and poets are finally great for whole poems, not snippets that journalists prefer.

Then again, it is suggested that, on the subjects of Love, Death, Age, and even Nature, Larkin has not been since bettered, and, may never be - he has almost shut down future discussion, as it were.  It is true that Larkin's poems on Death and Ageing, especially, are among the greatest in the English canon - but it is hardly sure they are definitive statements.  Poetry is inexhaustible.  Love, and Death, come in many varieties, shapes and sizes, and there are always new ways (one hopes) of thinking and writing about them.  Otherwise, might we say Bach completed music?  Or The Beatles the pop song?

Booth also makes an odd suggestion that Larkin was less nihilistic than Graham Greene, the author, and was less despairing.  Larkin was an atheist or agnostic - Greene a Catholic. It is true Greene played Russian Roulette when young - or claimed to; and tried opium, and had affairs.  But being a sinner does not make one a nihilist or a suicide.  It makes one a complex person.

On the subject of Larkin's apparent dislike of Black people (he famously used the N-word in letters), we are reminded that he also listened to Jazz played by African-Americans, and loved it.  This may be the case, but there are many racists who approve of Black athletes and musicians and actors who still wouldn't want them around for tea.

Larkin's use of pornography is softened up by suggesting the images (aside from some light bondage) are mostly of pretty girl-next-door types, and somehow reflect a wholesomeness of desire.  It may be, but it is true he still looked at these sort of images, and they inflected his way of looking at women in his poems.

We are reminded - correctly - that Larkin wanted to be a woman at some stage early on - and it may be he hid a desire to dress like one too - he certainly enjoyed writing in their voices (young women's voices) in stories and poems, often while they faced rape, or deflowering, loss of status, or some other peril, and he had complicated sexual ideas and emotions - nothing wrong there, but why airbrush it?

We are even consoled with the claim he was successful, mostly happy, and very friendly, to women, children, animals - it sounds like an apology for Hitler (who his father incidentally adored).

Apparently, Larkin's grumpy bachelor persona was a fa├žade.  He was fun, hard-working, dated numerous ladies, and genuinely content with life, and his variously crude and angry letters were just a sort of game with pens.

I am looking forward to reading on, but something tells me this is not a hard-hitting analysis that will cut very deep.  It seems mostly a rear-guard attack, meant to re-establish a canonical, pleasant Larkin, a genuine and generous man, a sort of English Heaney - healthy, life-affirming, helpful - but he wasn't, really.  He was, and this is what makes his work astonishing and impressive, a narrow personality, whose focused, neurotic poems startle with their high, narrow effects.

A great poet, but about as healthy as Baudelaire.



Sunday, 24 August 2014

EYEWEAR WILL BE THERE!


POETRY FOCUS: POEM BY PRIYA SARUKKAI CHABRIA

Eyewear is very pleased to feature a poem by the Indian poet Priya Sarukkai Chabria today.



At The Great Wall*

1.

 

Beneath a wind-blown sky

white spring flowers flutter

like prayer flags against the stone

 

wall which serpentines up and down

the hills, its dark density

serrations thrusting from the dragon’s

 

spine --which sleeps beneath the earth

wallowing in  its waste: molten

lament and power. It sighs 

 

as late light’s honey licks

the wall’s charcoal pores and sucks

darkness up its throat.
 

*From the sequence of poems titled China Suite



Priya Sarukkai Chabria is a poet, novelist, essayist and translator with five published books.  Awarded by the Indian Government for her Outstanding Contribution to Literature her works’ translated into six languages & is published or forthcoming in Adelphiana, Soundings ,  South Asian Review, Caravan ,Post Road, The British Journal of Literary Translation , Drunken Boat,  Pratilipi,  Language for a New Century, The Literary Review,  IQ, Another English: Anglophone Poems from Around the World among others. Forthcoming in 2015 are translations of Tamil mystic poet Aandaal (Zubaan) with poet Ravi Shankar, and a short story collection(Niyogi Book). She edits Poetry at Sangam.

Friday, 22 August 2014

On Learning His Godson Has The “Language Gene” Defect FoxP2 - new poem by Todd Swift


On Learning His Godson Has The “Language Gene” Defect FoxP2

 

Unsinging songbird, love’s signals

talon you no tune. The little ring

 

inside your heart never breaks,

won’t know to start. Small wing,

 

refrain-robbed, your language genes

are a muted branching; unheard, seen –

 

bright bird, tongueless, young and wild.

Confusion of syllables, lack of spring

 

upon a surprising note, tender

or offering, means no reason

 

to hear, as no care extends,

hems you in, away from flight

 

of singing, that breaks day’s stems

when we are woken outright

 

from dreaming by fowl stylistics,

their unparliamentary delight

 

in knocking sleep with a beak’s baton,

a symphonic rapping of night’s lectern.

 

O my songbird, I will sing for you,

I have this sprightly chance, Alex,

 

to be the line that runs from your

winged injury to my uncle’s tongue.

 

I’ll swoop and dive, roar the glad

sound we wish all songbirds had,

 

and in your silence key

a dumb way to play your defect

 

to perfection, as if my lyric vocals

shared across the sky to nephew –

 

given as love spreads its feathering.

So our duet is true, even if only

 

unsolo by mechanical virtue;

we break anatomy’s musical bonds

 

unfiring links of dopamine or mind,

to find where upfiring sound can lie

 

beyond its locked places, song-flight

swanning up as kissing makes union

 

and larks bend the sky in a risen two

so notes over notes fall out to ascend.
 
 
Todd Swift, summer 2014
copyright.

PHILIP MARLOWE’S POETICS – A BRIEF ESSAY IN CRITICISM


PHILIP MARLOWE’S POETICS – A BRIEF ESSAY IN CRITICISM

I walked into the office and he looked up like he’d been expecting the Nobel Prize committee, but all that had wandered in was little old me. Marlowe, the spoil sport.

“You aren’t Miss Stein,” he snorted, and I had to acknowledge that.

“Sorry professor, I’m just the detective, come to ask a question or two”.  I showed him my Photostat, and, because he had such thick glasses, followed that with my card.

Universities were obviously doing a big business.  The panelled walls, the rich leather, the mahogany desk, would not have looked out of place in the office of a company fat cat or Louisiana politico.  The only difference was, instead of cigars and wads of cash, there were books piled everywhere.

“Porlock,” he sniffed.  Professor Langwallner seemed to have some sort of deviated septum.

“Oh sure,” I nodded, lazily picking up a book by someone called Adorno, “Coleridge’s unwelcome guest. I read poetry myself. Did I stop your chain of thought?” I expected a snort, but instead, I got an eye-gleam.

“Now that you ask, Marlowe, I was working on this –“ he held up a sheet of paper. In the middle of it was a single word, framed by a small box.  Someone had been very clever with a typewriter to get it all just so. The word was LANGUAGE, except each letter was spaced out, and the typist – probably Miss Stein – had gone to a lot of trouble to keep them apart with equal signs, like somehow a mathematician had gotten drunk at a poetry reading.

“What’s that, a poem,” I sort of chuckled.  It was exactly T.S. Eliot.

“Well spotted, yes.”

“I see I barged in very early, sorry to have ruined your fun.”

“Not at all, Marlowe.  This here is a finished text. The whole kit and caboodle.” He handed it to me gingerly, like maybe it was made with thin radioactive linen. Professor Langwallner didn’t look like a killer.  He didn’t even look old enough to shave without help from his psychotherapist, or nanny, or valet, whatever rich kids from Stanford used as help these days. No, he was young enough to be in a high chair, but he was also hallucinating if he thought this was poetry.

“It doesn’t look like a poem to me, Doc. Sorry.”

“Ah, but you’re expecting something else, more genteel, and romantic, aren’t you, Marlowe?  Something sincere and self-confessional.”

“Sure that’s me all around, sincere and genteel.  Not an ironic bone in my body.”

“Irony is old hat, Marlowe, we go way past that.  What they’re doing in art now – abstract, conceptual, focused on the materiality of the process – that’s what the language poets do now. You should understand – we inquire, like you do, into things.  Poems open out mysteries though, for poets, we don’t close things down with solutions or pat answers.”

I studied him like he was any other lucky stiff I had to come across in the line of work – not quite a duty, not fully noble, but a vocation that didn’t settle for much guff.

“Sure, and you also have some land in Florida to sell me, size of a postage stamp, and only a thousand times the price. Look, when are you academics going to settle down, roll up your sleeves and actually do something for a change? What do you want, a medal pinned on your chest for dreaming up yet another way to confuse the common man?”

“But this is work, Marlowe.  I had to read every French and German text on aesthetics to get this right.  This took months of planning.  You don’t just spill the beans, you know – you don’t just actually express feelings onto paper.  This was as planned and executed as a cold blooded murder.”

This got me interested, so I started on my pipe.  This felt like a pipe place.

“Now we’re talking.”

He gave me a withering glance that might work on a bobby-soxer doing a BA in Arthurian Legend, but it wouldn’t knock me down.  My socks had dials on them, and came all the way from England.

“No, Marlowe, not a real murder. An idea.  Poetry is conceptual now – it’s about the theory behind the language as much as what the poem says or sounds like.  You don’t come to poetry looking for beauty anymore!”

I paused, puffed the pipe, shrugged, and turned to go.  Langwallner was maybe a good teacher, but he was a nutcase, and I wanted back up before I tackled him.

“Professor, it’s a good thing you work here in this ivy tower.  Because where I come from, when you order a cup of Joe, it better look, taste and cost like coffee.  And when you order a whiskey and soda, it better have a kick like a mule.  And when you take a dame out dancing under the stars, she better be Lana Turner, not Mr Peabody the janitor from down the lane. In other words, pal, I stand for a world where men try to be decent, women try their level best to keep up appearances and we all shave and wash our hair once a week.  A place were angels don’t fly off of church windows, and dragons are fat men who run the rackets and the goodtime gals; and life is cheap because life always has been. A place where a good man only has his word.  And it better mean something.  In that world, of slums, and cheap dives, and sawdust whorehouses, poems are things that make people feel better, that they memorise because maybe their mother or Irish granny once whispered it to them, and those poems have a music in them that’s half Armstrong and half Bach. I’m sure what you are doing here is something.  It may even be art. But it’s not a poem if the hair on the back of my neck doesn’t stand up when I hear it.”

And with that, I left him gaping like a guppy in a fish tank without any water.  It only looked like a fish tank, anyway, but was probably a metaphor. Then I went home, poured myself a drink, and never actually wrote this down.

hIStory and evil

Few wars, and few historical moments, present clear cut choices. Especially in the Middle East, a ruined region raped by successive Great Game imperial machinations for over 100 years, whose borders are debatable and often fictively imposed with force, it is unlikely any conflict will present the armchair general and seething metropolitan pundit a black and white cause for just war.  The last Good War was, it seems, WW2 - for though the motives for fighting Germany and Japan might have been imperialistic at core (protection of markets and colonies and borders; and petrol) - the Nazi regime was markedly evil, in ideology, intent, and constant deed. Never mind that Canada was anti-Semitic in the 1940s, and Churchill had mooted winnowing the weak; or that the British invented concentration camps in the Boer War; or that it was the Allies who dropped the doomsday bomb and burned Dresden - even so, the Nazi plan and the Nazi way was - and is - almost the definition of inhumanity.  It had to be stopped, and any killing done to stop Hitler's soldiers was, on balance, sadly justified.

Since then, many politicos and tub-thumpers have claimed new enemies are as validly evil (and hence subject to mass destruction) as the Nazis.  We now know that the Chinese, Koreans, Viet Cong, and even Taliban, let alone the Iraqis, are not, were not, that Great Enemy.  Communism, even radical Islamic thinking, is not quite as profoundly horrid as Nazism - for all their faults, these ideologies retain, normally, some hope for the good.

Not so, however, this new scourge - for, from the rubble of Syria and Iraq has arisen a dedicated, highly-trained, ruthless, wealthy, sadistic, and evil enemy to the West - an army so wicked even the perpetrators of 9/11 have scorned their tactics.  This group is sweeping across a vast arc of territory in the Middle East, carving out a new homeland for a form of belief so cruel, intolerant, and brutal, it staggers the imagination.  They slaughter villages; they behead innocents; they will, if they gain atomic weapons, deploy them. Their hatred of women, the Westerner, the Christian, even their fellow Muslim, is harrowing. They recruit freely from the disaffected youth of a half-dozen of our own nations. They move among us. They speak English even as they murder with a savagery of adroit ease.

They must be stopped.  Air attack will not be enough, nor advisors.  We may need boots on the ground, to save Syria, Iraq, Turkey, the Kurds, Israel, and all our friends (even foes) in the region.  To save ourselves.

This seems like the next clear cut war.  I have sought nuance here, have sought talking room.  These people make the Taliban look like Mickey Mouse.  We need to arm ourselves, and plan for a struggle that may define our age.  Or am I mad? Merely fearful.  A silly man grown long in the tooth?

SCOTTISH POET MARION MCCREADY WILL BE VOTING YES FOR AN INDEPENDENT SCOTLAND - HERE'S WHY


"I will be voting Yes in the Scottish Independence referendum for a variety of well publicised reasons – to kick back against the dismantling of the welfare state by successive Labour and Tory governments; to put an end to being ruled by governments that don’t reflect the Scottish vote; the disarmament of nuclear weapons (as the crow flies, Faslane is around seven miles from where I live).

However the most fundamentally important reason for me as to why I’ll be voting Yes is the hope that the depressing sense of political disenfranchisement I currently feel, and have done for some time, will end with the establishment of a Scottish government invested with the powers essential to listen and ability to act upon the voice of the Scottish people.

As a former politics student and former active member of a political party it is not in my nature to be politically apathetic but the sense that my voice has not been heard, is not heard and, crucially, will never be heard by the Westminster parliament goes straight to the heart of liberal democracy and my right to have a say and influence on the governance of the society I live in.

Also, and undeniably, the rare opportunity to be part of the peaceful birth of a sovereign nation is both exciting and invigorating; the writer in me wouldn’t miss it for the world." - Marion McCready, award-winning Scottish poet.

 

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

SUMMER'S END

I am back from two weeks in Quebec, Canada - time mostly spent in the deep Northern woods of Quebec's Laurentians where lakes and hiking/ ski trails are as common as deer and dragonflies; and everywhere there's the smell of pine. The weather teetered madly between 30 C and 12 C some days, but my family went Nordic, and took even the colder plunges into lac Labelle's clean cold waters.

When it rained, we lit fires in the cottage with its panoramic view of the lake and hills, and read, talked, and played Scrabble, Monopoly, Trivial Pursuit, Risk. Mostly we were vegetarians, and thus the BBQs were often vegetative in nature, but my mother presided over the cooking, which was uniformly superb.  I confess to trying every Quebec snack available, from poutine, to Joe Louis cakes.

I gained a few pounds.  It was a joyous and all-too-brief time together.  I was glad to see my five year old godson, Alex, especially.  His smile and humour delight me. While I read during these weeks (excellent work by Mark Ford, John Banville and Joseph O'Neill, among others), poetry and writing was peripheral - the incontestable priority of nature, so encompassing, was refreshing and moving to me. I loved seeing the chipmunks, wild ducks, hawks, deer, fish, and other beasts in their habitat.

Being well-fed, clothed, and warmed by fire, among those we loved best, able to share stories and hope, even as the young and old among us face challenges, we could count our blessings, but also sense, beyond our small lot, the fragility and terrors of the age, including the deaths in Iraq, Syria, Gaza, and beyond; and the death of tormented souls like Robin Williams, whose work in Good Will Hunting, and The Dead Poet's Society, was so inspiring and humane.  So it was a full fortnight, of discussions about depression, war, peace, environmental degradation and what we can do, memories of childhood - concerns about teaching, autism, publishing, but also kayaking, biking, walking, running, swimming, and being out in the air and the sun and the mist and under the stars.

I love my family, and my Quebec home every much.  I miss them terribly when away from them, as I must be for years at time often. I have made Britain a second home, and have some good friends here, but Quebec evokes very primal, fragile feelings, of love, and what was lost, and gained. Time never felt so full of import - just being together was enough - and I was reminded of the late wise poems of Wallace Stevens, who knew the value of a home amid the natural world, in the gathering darkness.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

SUMMERTIME GLADNESS


Eyewear is going fishing, and won't be posting here at the blog until end of the summer. Don't cry, dear reader - you have over 20 Eyewear titles to read in the meantime and 3,250 (!) previous posts stretching back over 9 years to peruse, revisit, savour, or discover for the first time. Have a good summer, despite the incipient madness of a violent and often cruel world.  We make our heavens and hells here on earth.

Todd Swift, this blog's editor, despite his human troubles, quirks, and challenges, seeks to promote poetry, publish good writing, and write some things of value himself - why?  Because a world with a new-arrived book or poem in it is always a better world than the moment before (even if the book or poem is itself problematic), because the alternative is far worse - a world where new books and poems do not keep arriving for us.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

new poem by todd swift

Ballad of the Non-payment

What we see is burning planes
the compost of sad old refrains
no song collects human remains.

A poem is what is tossed aside
by any reader who aims to glide
above rhyme for a novel ride;

I have some wisdom left apart
for my children never came to start
the acting father in me, so smart

I somehow learned to uncreate
the brood I thought would inundate
our gardens with their fortunate

water pistols aimed at trees;
I've some words to give freely;
these are words like shooting sprees:

there is no God but the god you leave;
there is no loss but that you grieve;
and it is better to love than live;

though living is what love requires;
the world dampens love’s true fires;
for truth and love are not the spires

on which our global good is built;
we rise to worship all that’s gilt;
we mourn fewer than get killed;

if I could warn I’d remove all doubt:
it is better not to write a lot;
and if you do, try not to shout;

they can hear you even though
you never speak above a slow
mourning whimper, asking how

they know you are so beautiful
and yet they’ve had their fill
before they’ve had any at all.

It isn’t lasting but it is the fate
to arrive too early, stay too late
and lean against a burning gate

that soon, low ash, will topple you
for being no more than evening dew;
the night has little else to do

with poems, poets, those who think
their meanings and language sink
ships or move the world to a brink;

the day has even less time for us;
we, to creation, being most useless;
our dry course, and longing curse.

Be a doctor, lawyer, good with sums;
bang pots, pans and goat-skin drums;
garden with a prudent thumb;

no green accrues, no gold arrives,
by writing into being what never lives;
the poet dies each time she gives.

A poet dies because she pays a tax
for which no ruler has ever asked;
she tithes and tithes away the mask

until her body, mind and spirit lie
upon a floor of spilled grain and flies;
but threshes those who aspire to try

enumerating stars, molecules, the ant
across the lintel or the pouring sand;
to count out the illegible plan

nature’s claws, mad Zeus’s design;
refrain, resign, diplomatically decline;
the word’s unwanted in the anodyne.

Knock back a quick one, salute the bar;
where you are going is not that far;
you’ll soon close shut the one true door.

poem by Todd Swift
July 22, 2014; revised July 26.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

ZULU FIFTY YEARS ON

I was always afraid to see Zulu, the British war film "introducing" Michael Caine, which was a big hit the summer of 1964 - I thought it might be bloody, jingoistic, and awkwardly racist. And this despite the fact many movie lists feature it as one of the great films. As a film buff, what was I doing, avoiding it.

So, last night, I finally watched it.

Bloody hell, what a movie.  What a complex, haunting, terrifying, beautiful, horrific, great scream it from the roofs movie.  One of the best I've ever seen, easily now in my top ten.

Why?

Well, firstly, politically, it doesn't go far enough, but, for its time, it's remarkably balanced. The "villains" of the film, the Zulus, are really more like antagonists - but never are they depicted as less than noble, brave, brilliant. I have seen critics say they should have been given more of a voice, less of a communal mass identity, but the point of the film is to recreate an actual military battle, which was - despite and because of its offencive imperialist nature - terrifying. Meanwhile the colonialists, preachers, and British soldiers, humanised as they are, express, in their faces, their eyes, and sometimes their words, a revisionism already - questioning what they are there for, and why they should be killing people to defend a land that isn't theirs.

More to the point - the film's build up of impending doom, and then action sequences, are the most thrilling and dreadful I'd ever seen. I now understand why the film has so influenced the whole Zombie cultural phenomenon - because the only way to recreate the sense of utter horror as a vast human wave descends to crush you - without wading into uncomfortable politics, is to make the Zulus zombies.

But, see above - the Zulus are not mindless, not dead, and not simply motivated by some nameless unspeakable hunger - they are driven by the justified desire to see the occupying British forces thrown out of their country. They have right, and might, on their side - and, if they had had more rifles, they might have fended off the British troops.  As it is, by the time the Anglo-Zulu wars were done, tens of thousands of their people had died, defending a nation that the British stole from them, to give, finally, to the Boers.  Mostly due to diamonds, I should add.

So, yes - the red coated British soldiers are, broadly speaking, utterly in the wrong, the true villains of the piece.

However, as the film reminds us, they were also men who, oftener than not, didn't want to be there (the Welsh farmer who sings for instance, or Hook, the thief and rebel, or Chard, the bridge building engineer).

Regardless of the historical setting, the film unfolds almost entirely, except for the framing narration by Richard Burton, which is pompous and of its time - as a real time exercise in mounting horror - as the very small, mostly injured garrison, of 150 troops at the remote mountain station - realise that the Zulu warriors are marching to destroy them - 4,000 Zulu warriors - led by a tactical mastermind, their King.

And, you are there with them.  What do you do?

Well, some run away, or leave (including the cavalry, one of the cinema's finest downbeat moments), get drunk, rave, - but, in a manner that was borrowed by Robert Redford in All Is Lost (a film that is Zulu with the sea as the warriors) - most of the 150 remain stoic, calm, and professional, and set about preparing for the worst.

Here is where the film becomes the existential masterwork it really is - for the feeble bulwarks, the few sandbags, the plan to move to the redoubt - are all as nothing against the oncoming doom - and yet, still, for the most part, the weary and increasingly terrified men, engineer and plod and button up their uniforms, and - yes, die - many horribly.

It is terrible to see the warriors shot down in their hundreds by the British rifles - and it is terrible to see Zulu spears also kill - and the killing itself is dreadful, and sad, and one realises the carnage is, from one angle, senseless.

But war has an awful logic, and the logic runs like this - why are they coming to kill us, Sergeant?  Because, we are the ones here.

And, if 4,000 people are coming to kill you, what do you do?  If you are the preacher, you do not fight, you leave. If you were a British soldier or officer in the 1870s, you stood your ground, to fight. To not would be to be shot as a traitor.

The film is beautifully shot - and the isolation and weakness of the British position, those few red coats - is hugely evocative.  This is, of course, the best British Western ever filmed - and since it explores class, power, war, religion, bravery, duty, fear, death, and race, unflinchingly, it earns a dignity that so few other war films do.  And, finally, the film is about dignity, torn from the wound of war. I wonder what you think.