International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies

Trauma and World Literature

Posted 19 January 2014 in StressPoints by Harold Kudler

Many of our readers know ISTSS member Pamela Woll, MA, CADP as an author, educator and consultant who develops reports, curricula, workbooks, self-study manuals, books, articles, booklets and other documents for a variety of human service agencies, organizations and individuals. Her focus is on resilience, trauma, neuroscience, the physiology of stress and trauma, the needs of service members and veterans, modulating and de-stigmatizing post-trauma effects, resilience-oriented systems and communities and trauma-informed healthcare integration. Many of her materials are available for free download at her website, http://www.humanpriorities.com.

What ISTSS members may not yet know is that Pam is also a poet and composer. During a chance conversation at our recent ISTSS Annual Meeting in Philadelphia, she told me about a song she had written about World War I. She has been kind enough to provide her lyric, with a few words of introduction, for this installment of our Traumatic StressPoints column on Trauma and World Literature. In addition, she has created the unusual opportunity for readers to link to an audiovisual presentation of her work complete with period images, contextual remarks, references and musical accompaniment at http://youtu.be/EmWUQ9bRbdk. As noted in the linked presentation, these images and themes of war may be upsetting for some. As an alternative, readers may contact Ms. Woll at http://www.humanpriorities.com/ to hear Pam’s music without words or pictures. Musicians are also encouraged to contact Pam through her website for a download of the sheet music for her song.

I’ll let Pam tell you more in her own words…

With its web of complex alliances and diplomatic catastrophes, World War I descended like a net around Europe, bringing sophisticated weaponry to a civilization ill equipped to protect its forces or heal their wounds. Allied troops were packed into trenches, then sent out in waves to charge the far more advanced German machine guns with only their bayonets, or to be impaled on the barbed wire meant to keep the enemy at bay. Given their overwhelming sense of helplessness and hopelessness, it is no coincidence that those who had served came to be known as the Lost Generation.

I, too was raised in a generation that lost its way on the field of battle, and in a nation torn apart by conflicting convictions about our role in Vietnam. With no knowledge of trauma, I was helpless to respond to the wounds of my contemporaries, wounds that in many cases never healed. Now I watch another generation wrestle with the legacies of war, but this time I’m equipped with a little knowledge of trauma, a belief in the healing power of music, a love of the literature of the Lost Generation, and a firm belief in the strength and resilience of every human being—even the most troubled.

So I’ve written this song. Its epicenter is the Battle of the Somme. Fought on the banks of the French River Somme, that five-month offensive claimed 1.5 million casualties, including the 60,000 British soldiers who died the first day. Survivors reported that the Somme ran red with blood.

The song uses the thoughts of a fictional British soldier to trace the line that runs from his experience of combat through its physical, psychological and social effects, and finally to the difficult healing process that he faces bravely—but does not face alone.

                                                                                  —Pam Woll

The Red Blood of the Somme

I keep my Janie’s picture
In a pocket near my heart
And often try to see her eyes
Before the mortars start
And I must join the waves of men
Who crash upon the guns
And leave their broken bodies
By the red blood of the Somme

I walked with her in Winter
And I kissed her in the snow
And watched the colour leave her face
When I told her I must go
She promised she would wait for me
Until the war was done
Her words were all but washed away
In the red blood of the Somme

My body is a stranger
Since it brought me back from Hell
It cannot laugh, or sleep, or stop
The dreams I dare not tell
I watch my words, a thousand souls
Impaled upon my tongue
Washed down to a whisper
In the red blood of the Somme

Only Janie’s hand can still
The shaking in my bones
And only Janie’s heart can fill
My hunger for a home
I know that she will stay with me
Until our battle’s won
And we have traveled far beyond
The red blood of the Somme

(Words and music © Copyright 2010, Pamela Woll. All Rights Reserved.)