In Wounded Fields (5)

... and this is the end of my thoughts about the poets of world war one. Well, not the end of my thoughts but the final installment of my 1996 In Wounded Fields...

To: John McRae: November 1872 - January 1918

Youth steals away from all who live, McRae,
Though weary not the sons the Highlands yields,
Canadian now (except on Empire Day,)
You’re ‘uncle’ to the boys in Flanders’ fields.
You wrote; "In Flanders Fields the poppies blow;”
And midst the dogs of war you heard the lark,
Went on; “We shall not sleep, though poppies grow,”
(If generations new allow the dark.)
They say you wrote it by first morning light
One bloody Ypres day in May, ‘15,
As German chlorine robbed men of their sight,
Oh, few men see what you, Doctor, have seen -
Seen six out of each ten Canadians
Sans life sans love sans laughter; sans all sans...

Did you, Lieutenant Colonel John McRae,
Veteran of Boer war, Loos and Passchendaele,
For them your prayers say each dying day?
Your healing hands artillery did lay?
But did, for you, sometimes the tumult fade,
Did agonies relent as words unfold?
Recalled within your notebook was peace made;
“A little maiden fair / With locks of gold.”?
And left you more than she a-weeping and,
Before the war fell you for Lady R...?
Why never did you let a wedding band
Be-threat the edge of sword Excalibre?
I hope you filled life’s chalice to the brim -
And that you knew not Haig, but pitied him.

Then April, seventeen; with crimson end
Was Canada, enobled nation made -
On Vimy Ridge. And afterwards you penned;
“The Anxious Dead;” and you were not afraid.
Oh Jack McRae, few men were loved as you:
Men clung to you as shadows cling to men;
Still wear your poppies to hold glorious who
Found glory in a dark beyond their ken.
The horse you cherished led your black cortege,
Turned boots in stirrup irons to say you’re dead,
Men's tears at Wimereux were not of rage
But love for one ashamed to die in bed...
And in the going down of every sun
Some shall recall your words each one by one.

Called MacUrtsi was each poet to your clan,
Goodbye Doctor, MacUrtsi, McRae, Man.



And so I had my discourse with these poets
And with the others from that book
Who’d gone to war with heads held high but knew
Scant glory in the mud, and died,
Yet found their songs and verse
In such a torrent rushed
As might have changed the world

I thought of how wild flowers
In brightest beauty blaze
Where ordure thickest lies -
It's stink by glory overpowered.

This place of peace holds very little trace
Of what had come to pass those years before.
But rust away as may the swords
I shall remember poet’s words
And we shall remember them
Long after all the blood and all the bedlam,
Long after time has healed the wounded fields.

Bryan Islip

October 96

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