In H.J. Koch poem, THAYER’S RETURN, a West Point cadet is awakened by the ghost of Sylvanus Thayer, the founder or “father” of the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York. He quells the frightened youth’s fears by asking him to discuss the school’s history. Each book–the poem is is divided into four parts–starts with a summary of what the unlikely pair talk about during Thayer’s nightly visits, which is especially helpful to anyone unfamiliar with poetry who may have trouble keeping up with the “discussion.” The cadet combines the history of West Point with concurrent war history, namely the Civil War and how it affected “The Long Gray Line.”
THAYER’S RETURN tells several tales of men letting slip the dogs of war on American soil, soaking it with generations of youthful blood, and provides a unique avenue for learning more about the Civil War and West Point. But it can be somewhat dizzying to read due to the many historical events and related factoids the cadet recites. And while Hoch writes lines such as, “Two sides grapplying within death’s grizzly maw,” and discusses assorted “great slaughters,” the long poem arguably glorifies war. It’s not surprising given the author’s personal history, as his wife and three children are all West Point graduates. As Hoch emphasizes the school’s creed of “Duty, honor, country,” he also draws comparisons between the Civil War and the Trojan War. He refers to the Greek god Zeus by his Roman name, Jove, claiming the deity sat on high watching men’s entrails fly as the North “viciously slew” the South’s “manhood.” The lines are perfect examples of the author venerating war by claiming gods were watching one side overtake the other. Yet plenty of veterans will say that there were no divine interventions on the battlefield, instead only the gruesome savagery of mankind at its worst. Hoch inadvertently reveals one of war’s true colors: that it’s a masculinity contest.
Part ghost story and part war history, author H.J. Koch intersperses bloody realities with fantastical elements via prose in four parts in THAYER’S RETURN.
~Kent Page McGroarty for IndieReader