The War in the Air

By Howard Nemerov

About Howard Nemerov

Born on February 29, 1920 in New York, he displayed early interests in the arts. in 1937, he graduated from the Society for Ethical Culture's Fieldstone School and went on to study at Harvard until he graduated in 1941 with his bachelor's degree. After college, he went on to save as a pilot in the Royal Canadian unit of the U.S. Air Force, until he retired once he got the rank of first lieutenant and got married in 1944. After the war, he was hired to teach literature to World War II veterans at Hamilton College in New York. he had a distinguished teaching career and started to write poetry unit he died in 1991
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The War in the Air

For a saving grace, we didn't see our dead,

Who rarely bothered coming home to die

But simply stayed away out there

In the clean war, the war in the air.


Seldom the ghosts come back bearing their tales

Of hitting the earth, the incompressible sea,

But stayed up there in the relative wind,

Shades fading in the mind,


Who had no graves but only epitaphs

Where never so many spoke for never so few:

Per ardua, said the partisans of Mars,

Per aspera, to the stars.


That was the good war, the war we won

As if there was no death, for goodness's sake.

With the help of the losers we left out there

In the air, in the empty air.

What it means

For a saving grace, we didn't see our dead- Unlike the war on the ground, air battles did not see the bloodshed that the ground battles did because if you were shot out of the air, you would disappear below

The third stanza- The fallen soldiers had no graves, only epitaphs, which is a memorial gravestone with no actual grave. Per ardua per aspera means "Through struggle to the stars" and is the motto of the division Nemerov served in the air force.