At the Un-National Monument Along the Canadian Border (from poetry180)
This is the field where the battle did not happen,
where the unknown soldier did not die.
This is the field where grass joined hands,
where no monument stands,
and the only heroic thing is the sky.
Birds fly here without any sound,
unfolding their wings across the open.
No people killed — or were killed — on this ground
hallowed by neglect and an air so tame
that people celebrate it by forgetting its name.
The line that matters for our purposes is “the only heroic thing is the sky.” How is the sky “heroic?” It allows birds to spread their wings without a care – there’s no sound because there’s no struggle.
The ground is not heroic; it is the “Un-National Monument” that marks heroism. It is neglected by both man and sky, as sky can’t even bother to assault it to mark it in some way. It is frequently forgotten. It is most likely not heroic because it is not completely self-negating: no monument stands there, but the ground is a monument. It stands in contrast to other “fields,” where the “unknown soldier” did die, and the grass did not join hands.
It looks like ground is a monument to the sky, which allows the grass to “join hands” here. Man is emphatically not the issue all throughout the poem: that other fields are marked with blood is not the ground or sky’s fault. But that the grass can’t “join hands” – that birds would be able to spread their wings without any resistance – that’s all a matter of the sky.
So what’s happening? The complete self-negation of the sky brings into the question the reality of heroism (i.e. man’s willing self-negation). Heroism, though, knows itself to be a contradictory thing: one strives both hoping one will be remembered, and if not, knowing that one can live with oneself having done what one wanted regardless. Even the most selfish is compelled to self-sacrifice for the sake of action – I think the Navy runs submarine drills where if a sailor is in a flooding compartment and has no chance of survival, but has to get something done so the whole ship doesn’t sink, it gets done.
To bring forward the notion of complete self-negation is to attempt to make heroism logically sound: this allows for a sphere of total freedom, the self-negation is marked merely by what lies around it. It also implies the end of both nations and heroism: without nations, there can be no heroes, “only” one heroic thing.
But that brings us to “hallowed” ground (cf. the Gettysburg Address). Sure, we’ve traded heroism for a complete peace, but is this the realm of man? Birds unfold their wings across the open, but we don’t fly. More importantly, we join hands: grass doesn’t. That slight opening – “hey wait, how do you know no one was killed at the area you stand?” – makes me wonder whether this is a real peace or not. After all, even our speaker recognizes the “monument” here. In Hesiod, the age of Kronos is when the golden age occurred; all was peaceful and there was no war. But one had to be ruled by Kronos, who dealt with the problems of freedom and change by swallowing his children.