WW1 Readings


You told me, in your drunken-boasting mood,
How once you butchered prisoners. That was good!
I’m sure you felt no pity while they stood
Patient and cowed and scared, as prisoners should.

How did you do them in? Come, don’t be shy:
You know I love to hear how Germans die,
Downstairs in dug-outs. “Camerad!” they cry;
Then squeal like stoats when bombs begin to fly.

And you? I know your record. You went sick
When orders looked unwholesome: then, with trick
And lie, you wangled home. And here you are,
Still talking big and boozing in a bar.

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“Those heroes who shed their blood and lost their lives, you are now lying in the soil of a friendly country.

Therefore rest in peace.

There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side in this country of ours.

You, the mothers who sent their sons from far away countries wipe away your tears, your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace.

After having lost their lives on this land they become our sons as well.”  – Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, 1934.

The future is surely uncertain: who can say what will happen? But the past is also uncertain: who can say what happened?

We aged a hundred years and this descended

In just one hour, as at a stroke.

The summer had been brief and now was ended;

The body of the ploughed plains lay in smoke.

 

The hushed road burst in colours then, a soaring

Lament rose, ringing silver like a bell.

And so I covered up my face, imploring

God to destroy me before battle fell.

 

And from my memory the shadows vanished

Of songs and passions—burdens I’d not need.

The Almighty bade it be—with all else banished—

A book of portents terrible to read.

 
 

Those long uneven lines
Standing as patiently
As if they were stretched outside
The Oval or Villa Park,
The crowns of hats, the sun
On moustached archaic faces
Grinning as if it were all
An August Bank Holiday lark;

 

And the shut shops, the bleached
Established names on the sunblinds,
The farthings and sovereigns,

And dark-clothed children at play
Called after kings and queens,
The tin advertisements
For cocoa and twist, and the pubs
Wide open all day—

 

And the countryside not caring:
The place names all hazed over
With flowering grasses, and fields
Shadowing Domesday lines
Under wheat’s restless silence;
The differently-dressed servants
With tiny rooms in huge houses,
The dust behind limousines;

 

Never such innocence,
Never before or since,
As changed itself to past
Without a word – the men
Leaving the gardens tidy,
The thousands of marriages,
Lasting a little while longer:
Never such innocence again.

 

 

 

 

 

IF I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England’s, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by the suns of home.

And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

“We regret to announce that an insidious disease is affecting the Division, and the result is a hurricane of poetry.  Subalterns have been seen with a notebook in one hand, and bombs in the other absently walking near the wire in deep communication with the muse…The editor would be obliged if a few of the poets would break into prose as a paper cannot live by “poems” alone.

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