Been a few weeks since I wrote to you a letter about a book Pogue, but I have been reading.
It’s a particular time of year in England. November, the leaves are vacating the trees, the air has a chill in the morning and we remember. We’ve just passed by Remembrance Sunday. We’ve worn our poppy’s on our jackets and we been called to think of all those who lost they lives in the wars gone by.
My mind goes to the First World War, where the poppies originated as a symbol, over a hundred years ago now, but still I think of a generation of young men from around the world who died. Then I find myself reading and rereading the works of the so called War Poets who wrote poems that linger on, poignant, haunting, telling of the horror of that war fought in the trenches.
Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,Dulce Et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen.
Fitting the clumsy helmet just in time;
But someone was still yelling and stumbling,
An floundering like a man in fire or lime…
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
And under a green sea, I saw him drown.
Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sasson, Robert Brooke, Charles Sorley, Alan Seeger, John McCrae, the list is long. But of all the poems that were written, many read annually around the world and recognised readily, my favourite poem is not actually about the trenches, or about the Front where two armies of young men awaited death. The Teams Head Brass by Edward Thomas who wrote for only three years before dying in 1917 at the Battle of Arras.
As the team’s head brass flashed out on the turn
The lovers disappeared into the wood.
I sat among the boughs of the fallen elms…
…’Have you been out’ ‘No’ ‘And don’t want to, perhaps?’As the team’s head brass by Edward Thomas
’If I could only come back again, I should.
I could spare an arm. I shouldn’t want to lose
A leg. If I should lose my head, why, so,
I should want nothing more…Have many gone
From here?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Many lost?’ ‘Yes, a good few.
Only two teams work on the farm this year.
One of my mates is dead. The second day
In France they killed him. It was back in March,
The very night of the blizzard, too. Now, if
He had stayed we should have moved the tree.’
One of the few reflections of how the war reached beyond the battles and into everyday life. I always find myself thinking of this as I walk the countryside at this time of year, the fields being ploughed and my poppy on my lapel. Strange that even in such dark times and desolate places beauty and expression should manage to flourish. The poppies, the poetry. Hope is eternal.