In Memoriam

We have as always been much moved by the various WW1 Memorial Services. Not that WW1 or even WW2 ‘pales into insignificance’ that which is happening today in Iraq and Afghanistan. A wasted young life is a wasted young life, no matter how many times it is repeated or by whatever act of human folly.

Throughout the ‘90’s we had occasion to visit northern France on business and always (well, Dee always, me as opportunity arose) we visited the fields of conflict and the cemeteries resulting therefrom.

After one such visit, on my return to Riyadh I sat up all one night in my hotel bedroom and wrote a collection of five poems plus prologue and epilogue. ‘In Wounded Fields’ is unpublished until today. Here is the prologue and poem one. The others will follow on this blog at daily intervals…

IN WOUNDED FIELDS

Prologue

We wander down the subterranean shaft
In which the museum at Albert, Picardy,
Conceals from this town’s normal life
The bloody, muddy face
Of World War One,
The stinking trenches
And all the wounded fields.
And you can hear the dying,
Taste the death down here:
In our strange silence I do not want to stay
Where no words come
But find I cannot quickly take myself away....

In the souvenir shop on the way out
Of the brick-arch tunnel, cold stone floor,
Before reaching the fresh air of the town
We look in silence still
Through sickly memorabilia
And at the history books:
And buy one from a nice French lady:
Called; “Violets from Oversea;”
By Toni and Valmai Holt
(Illustrations Charlotte Zeepvat)
That tells how from chaos flowered poesy,
Avoids the use of the word ‘hero,’
Of poets speaks without hypocracy.

And outside in the thin October rain
As I look high up to the golden virgin,
Child in her outstretched hands, against grey sky,
That surmounts the Town Hall
(Known to the soldiers as The Angel of Albert,)
And later, reading of those soldier poets -
I know I have to say some thing.
To some of them, anyway.


Bryan Islip
October 96


Note: Words italicised throughout In Wounded Fields are those of the subject poet.


To Charles Hamilton Sorley; 19 May 1895 - 28 April 1915


Hello pale youth, lip touched with thin moustache,
Captain, D Company, Suffolk Regiment,
Cross-Wiltshire running old Marlburian:
At you fast sped the unkind spinning lead
At Loos to drill your helmet, still so new.
How all too true your words of how...“Earth...
Shall rejoice and blossom too
When the bullet reaches you.”


Wherever did you stow your socialism,
Your bitter sense of anti-Kiplingism?
When you packed up your old kit-bag, and where
Your liking for Goethe & Rilke, Ibsen?
(Not for Hardy, your love of him had lapsed)
Your marchers...”All the hills and vales along...
The singers are the chaps
Who are going to die perhaps.”


But listen, you could have been one of those
Pieces of living pulp you so dreaded having
To carry back across that no-man’s waste:
Or one of those with you at Ypres who
Had breathed deep of the gently shifting breeze,
Blinked, blinded by its gift of British gas,
Coughed out their sightless time in yellow pus.

You could have been...have been the dramatist,
The best, John Masefield, Poet Laureate said,
Since that Stratfordian, if you had lived.
“I am giving my body,” you wrote, (I think
He’d like your shocking words,) “To fight against
The most enterprising nation in the world”

But Charles how straight you stood, your flag unfurled!

Sighing, you folded; sank spent-muscled down
Into that slime and no-one said soft things:
No bands of angels took thee to thy rest.
They never found you, Captain Sorley, did they?
Though lost you not for minds cannot decay,
And you would know, sweet twenty, soldier prince,
It matters not in what dark earth you lay...

...And after in your muddy kitbag there
They found your cry against what Brooke had said:
Your cry; “Say only this; that they are dead.”

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