Edward Jasowitz, "Courtship in Italy"

Circumstances change the fashion,

flowers and music yield to C-rations.

This modest epigram is from a 1945 anthology of poems published in the Mediterranean edition of Stars and Stripes. I know nothing about Edward Jasowitz, and neither does Google, but I am grateful for these two lines. Most American soldiers in WWII probably had read enough poetry in high school to hack out two rhyming lines, but I am impressed with the way the poem speaks about human adaptability in difficult circumstances, by its suggestion that courtship rituals in particular survive even periods of war, social dislocation, and hunger.

The word “yield” is especially wonderful, enriching its primary reference to changing fashion with a subtle sexual echo (“yield,” of course, meaning to give in to a sexual proposition). To a social historian the imagined encounter between an American soldier and an Italian woman might be simply grim, driven by his lust and her hunger rather than by affection, but the poem generously assumes a courtship decorum that will outlast the current difficult circumstances. This poem offers a sharp, unromanticized understanding of human frailties and human dignity, but it is satire without mockery.

This note first appeared on poetsandwar.com in 2013.

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