Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Sweet breath cut short through pain of hate
Mud and slime their only fate.
no one dared to question why
and with fear they prey and die
in Deus nos inquisitor
(in God we trusted)

scythed and twisted bodies thrown
hell and torture they had known
poppies glow in streams of red
and all around his foe lay dead
permissum Liberi Adveho unto mihi
(let the children come unto me)

through hell they went, in hell they stay
no more harking break of day,
mud and slime is where they lay and all around them rats make play
Abbas , quare have vos relinquo nos
(father why have you forsaken us)

Monday, 16 November 2009

Agnus Dei

Agnus Dei

One never hangs where shelled roads part.

In this war he to lost a limb, but his disciples hide apart:

And now the soldiers bear with him.

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona eis requiem.

Lamb of God you take away the sins of the world grant them rest.

Near Golgotha strolls many a priest,

And in their faces is pride

that they where flesh-marked by the beast

by whom the gentle Christ’s denied.

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona eis requiem.

The scribes on all the people shove

And brawl allegiance to the state.

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi,

But they who love the greater love

Lay down their life: they do not hate.

dona eis requiem sempiternam.

Grant them rest eternal.

Dona nobis pacem.

Last Post by Carol Ann Duffy

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,

He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If poetry could tell it backwards, true, begin

that moment shrapnel scythed you to the stinking mud ...

but you get up, amazed, watch bled bad blood

run upwards from the slime into its wounds;

see lines and lines of British boys rewind

back to their trenches, kiss the photographs from home -

mothers, sweethearts, sisters, younger brothers

not entering the story now

to die and die and die.

Dulce - No - Decorum - No - Pro patria mori.

You walk away.

You walk away; drop your gun (fixed bayonet)

like all your mates do too -

Harry, Tommy, Wilfred, Edward, Bert -

and light a cigarette.

There's coffee in the square,

warm French bread

and all those thousands dead

are shaking dried mud from their hair

and queuing up for home. Freshly alive,

a lad plays Tipperary to the crowd, released

from History; the glistening, healthy horses fit for heroes, kings.

You lean against a wall,

your several million lives still possible

and crammed with love, work, children, talent, English beer, good food.

You see the poet tuck away his pocket-book and smile.

If poetry could truly tell it backwards,

then it would.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

The five acts of harry patch

A curve is a straight line caught bending
and this one runs under the kitchen window
where the bright eyes of your mum and dad
might flash any minute and find you down
on all fours, stomach hard to the ground,
slinking along a furrow between the potatoes
and dead set on a prospect of rich pickings,
the good apple trees and plum trees and pears,
anything sweet and juicy you might now be
able to nibble around the back and leave
hanging as though nothing were amiss,
if only it were possible to stand upright
in so much clear light and with those eyes
beady in the window and not catch a packet.


Patch, Harry Patch, that's a good name,
Shakespearean, it might be one of Hal's men
at Agincourt or not far off, although in fact
it starts life and belongs in Combe Down
with your dad's trade in the canary limestone
which turns to grey and hardens when it meets
the light, perfect for Regency Bath and you too
since no one these days thinks about the danger
of playing in quarries when the workmen go,
not even of prodding and pelting with stones
the wasps' nests perched on rough ledges
or dropped from the ceiling on curious stalks
although god knows it means having to shift
tout suite and still get stung on arms and faces.


First the hard facts of not wanting to fight,
and the kindness of deciding to shoot men
in the legs but no higher unless needs must,
and the liking among comrades which is truly
deep and wide as love without that particular name,
then Pilckem Ridge and Langemarck and across
the Steenbeek since none of the above can change
what comes next, which is a lad from A Company
shrapnel has ripped open from shoulder to waist
who tells you "Shoot me", but is good as dead
already, and whose final word is "Mother",
which you hear because you kneel to hold
one finger of his hand, and then remember orders
to keep pressing on, support the infantry ahead.


After the big crowd to unveil the memorial
and no puff left in the lungs to sing O valiant hearts
or say aloud the names of friends and one cousin,
the butcher and chimney sweep, a farmer, a carpenter,
work comes up the Wills Tower in Bristol and there
thunderstorms are a danger, so bad that lightning
one day hammers Great George and knocks down
the foreman who can't use his hand three weeks
later as you recall, along with the way that strike
burned all trace of oxygen from the air, it must have,
given the definite stink of sulphur and a second
or two later the gusty flap of a breeze returning
along with rooftops below, and moss, and rain
fading over the green Mendip Hills and blue Severn.


You grow a moustache, check the mirror, notice
you're forty years old, then next day shave it off,
check the mirror again - and see you're seventy,
but life is like that now, suddenly and gradually
everyone you know dies and still comes to visit
or you head back to them, it's not clear which
only where it happens: a safe bedroom upstairs
by the look of things, although when you sit late
whispering with the other boys in the Lewis team,
smoking your pipe upside-down to hide the fire,
and the nurses on night duty bring folded sheets
to store in the linen cupboard opposite, all it takes
is someone switching on the light - there is that flash,
or was until you said, and the staff blacked the window.

Monday, 11 May 2009

The One-Legged Man.

Propped on a stick he viewed the August weald;
Squat orchard trees and oasts with painted cowls;

A homely, tangled hedge, a corn-stalked field,
And sound of barking dogs and farmyard fowls.

And he’d come home again to find it moreDesirable than ever it was before.
How right it seemed that he should reach the span Of comfortable years allowed to man!

Splendid to eat and sleep and choose a wife,
Safe with his wound, a citizen of life.
He hobbled blithely through the garden gate, And thought:
‘Thank God they had to amputate!’
Siegfried Sassoon .

Friday, 1 May 2009

Bring on the Dead

Solemnly we remember you but once a year with sullen face,
And reward you with false flowers and prayers.

And as we make our way back to normality without a backwards glance, happy with our conscience! We forget you for another year .

are we the Grateful ones?, happy to breathe the chilled air and hear the lark twitter gay on a cold November morn, to know that there’s always tomorrow for us.

But I would ask you this! Who would trade places with you now
Oh! Grateful dead! And see what you had seen and march on without a fuss ?

And should you speak but once again would you not say “tear down your bloody cenotaphs and give us what is rightfully ours there is no Glory in death, but for blood did we not lust”?

Stolen youth! Oh! Wasted seeds of Europe, no bloodline for you to continue your lineage, just cold earth for now lest greed take away your resting place
And what then do we remember?

Was this reward foretold you by some ancient sage before your supreme sacrifice should you still walk into the teeth of the Hydra before that last November?

And could you speak for one last time should you say “was nothing learnt by our parting, our deaths did you not trust?”

And lastly! Why did God not cry “Enough!, Enough!, Enough!” ?

(Arther dentwood)
Isaac Rosenberg

Louse Hunting
Nudes -- stark and glistening,Yelling in lurid glee.

Grinning facesAnd raging limbs Whirl over the floor one fire.
For a shirt verminously busy Yon soldier tore from his throat, with oaths Godhead might shrink at, but not the lice.
And soon the shirt was aflare Over the candle he'd lit while we lay.
Then we all sprang up and striptTo hunt the verminous brood.
Soon like a demons' pantomine The place was raging.
See the silhouettes agape,See the glibbering shadows Mixed with the battled arms on the wall.
See gargantuan hooked fingers Pluck in supreme fleshTo sutch supreme littleness.
See the merry limbs in hot Highland flingBecause some wizard vermin Charmed from the quiet this revel When our ears were half lulled By the dark music Blown from Sleep's trumpet.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

In Memoriam

by Ewart Alan Mackintosh (killed in action 21 November 1917 aged 24)
(Private D Sutherland killed in action in the German trenches, 16 May 1916, and the others who died.)

So you were David's father,
And he was your only son,
And the new-cut peats are rotting
And the work is left undone,
Because of an old man weeping,
Just an old man in pain,
For David, his son David,
That will not come again.

Oh, the letters he wrote you,
And I can see them still,
Not a word of the fighting,
But just the sheep on the hill
And how you should get the crops in
Ere the year get stormier,
And the Bosches have got his body,
And I was his officer.

You were only David's father,
But I had fifty sons
When we went up in the evening
Under the arch of the guns,
And we came back at twilight -
O God! I heard them call
To me for help and pity
That could not help at all.

Oh, never will I forget you,
My men that trusted me,
More my sons than your fathers',
For they could only see
The little helpless babies
And the young men in their pride.
They could not see you dying,
And hold you while you died.

Happy and young and gallant,
They saw their first-born go,
But not the strong limbs broken
And the beautiful men brought low,
The piteous writhing bodies,
They screamed 'Don't leave me, sir',
For they were only your fathers
But I was your officer.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

In Flanders Field

In Flanders fields the poppies blow Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place;
and in the skyThe larks, still bravely singing,
fly Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days agoWe lived,
felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lieIn Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw The torch;
be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die We shall not sleep,
though poppies grow In Flanders fields.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Dulce et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned out backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame, all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.
Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!--An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime.--
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams before my helpless sight
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin,
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs
Bitter as the cud Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori.
Wilfred Owen
Argonne Forest At Midnight
A sapper's song from the World War 1915

Argonne Forest, at midnight, A sapper atands on guard. A star shines high up in the sky, bringing greetings from a distant homeland.

And with a spade in his hand, He waits forward in the sap-trench. He thinks with longing on his love, Wondering if he will ever see her again.

The artillery roars like thunder, While we wait in front of the infantry, With shells crashing all around. The Frenchies want to take our position.

Should the enemy threaten us even more, We Germans fear him no more. And should he be so strong, He will not take our position.

The storm breaks! The mortar crashes! The sapper begins his advance. Forward to the enemy trenches, There he pulls the pin on a grenade.

The infantry stand in wait, Until the hand grenade explodes. Then forward with the assault against the enemy, And with a shout, break into their position.

Argonne Forest, Argonne Forest, Soon thou willt be a quiet cemetary.

In thy cool earth rests much gallant soldiers' blood.

An unknown German War Poet.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

The Happy Warrior

Herbert Read (1893-1968)

"The Happy Warrior"
His wild heart beats with painful sobs,

His strin'd hands clench an ice-cold rifle,

His aching jaws grip a hot parch'd tongue,

His wide eyes search unconsciously.

He cannot shriek.Bloody salivaDribbles down his shapeless jacket.

I saw him stabAnd stab againA well-killed Boche.

This is the happy warrior,This is he...