Friday, November 24, 2006

Poetry Friday 25: Remembrance 4

This is the final Poetry Friday devoted to poems of Remembrance. The first is Siegfried Sassoon's rather bitter, post-War poem:


Have you forgotten yet?...
For the world's events have rumbled on since those gagged days,
Like traffic checked a while at the crossing of city ways:
And the haunted gap in your mind has filled with thoughts that flow
Like clouds in the lit heavens of life; and you're a man reprieved to go,
Taking your peaceful share of Time, with joy to spare.
But the past is just the same-and War's a bloody game...
Have you forgotten yet?...
Look down, and swear by the slain of the War that you'll never forget.

Do you remember the dark months you held the sector at Mametz-
The nights you watched and wired and dug and piled sandbags on parapets?
Do you remember the rats; and the stench
Of corpses rotting in front of the front-line trench-
And dawn coming, dirty-white, and chill with a hopeless rain?
Do you ever stop and ask, 'Is it all going to happen again?'

Do you remember that hour of din before the attack-
And the anger, the blind compassion that seized and shook you then
As you peered at the doomed and haggard faces of your men?
Do you remember the stretcher-cases lurching back
With dying eyes and lolling heads-those ashen-grey
Masks of the lads who once were keen and kind and gay?

Have you forgotten yet?...
Look up, and swear by the slain of the war that you'll never forget!

March 1919.

Carola Oman was seventeen when the First World War began and, on leaving school at eighteen, she joined the Voluntary Aid Detachment as a nurse, serving on the Western Front from 1916 to 1919. The majority of the poems in her 1919 collection, The Menin Road and Other Poems, are documentary and elegiac in character, with many of them focused on methods of travel. The ship and the troop train, as agents of departure, are powerful symbols for many women war poets, with the movement of new recruits and soldiers on leave, or the transit of the wounded, providing a strong contrast to the troops entrenched in the stalemate of the Western Front.

The Lower Deck

Into the harbour now the boat has come.
                 They bawled for passports from the smoking-room.
Darkness upon the lower deck lay dumb
                 While a few elbowed through the crowded gloom.

The canvas flapped, and a blank face or two
                 Fathomed a laugh; till through the silence came
A thresh of waters; and thick blackness drew
                 Away . . . and a bright boat passed like a flame.

Rowdy music, song and shout,
'It's the leave-boat goin' out
Passin' us they are,
Goin' 'ome,
Goin' 'ome'. . . .

The murmur drifted like a dream
Mouth to mouth - - a sudden gleam - -
Till the voices died afar,
                 Till the thresh of waters drowned
All the sounds to a single Sound.

Boat passed boat. And then again
Came sudden vision, splendid pain.
These were my sons. Ah, who shall know
Into what night I watched them go,
How each blank face was dear to me,
How kindly fell the evening rain ?
And I could see - - and I could see.

Night Duty at the Station


Slowly out of the siding the troop train draws away,
Into the dark it passes, heaving straining.
Shattering on the points the engine stutters.
Fires burn in every truck. Rich shadows play
Over the vivid faces . . . bunched figures. Some one mutters
'Rainin' again . . . it's raining.'
Slammings - a few shouts - quicker
Each truck the same moves on.
Weary rain eddies after
Drifts where the deep fires flicker.
Into the dark with laughter
The last truck wags . . . it is gone.


Horns that sound in the night when very few are keeping
Unwilling vigil, and the moonlit air
Is chill, and everything around is sleeping -
Horns that call on a long low note - oh, where
Were you calling me last ?
The ghastly huntsman hunts no more, they say
The Arcadian fields are drugged with blood and clay
And is Romance not past ?


The station in this watch seems full of ghosts.
Above revolves an opalescent lift
Of smoke and moonlight in the roof. And hosts
Of pallid refugees and children, shift
About the barriers in a ceaseless drift.
Forms sleeping crowd beneath the rifle-rack,
Upon the bookstall, in the carts. They seem
All to be grey and burdened. Blue and black,
Khaki and red, are blended, as a dream
Into eternal grey, and from the back
They stagger from this darkness into light
And move and shout
And sing a little, and move on and out
Unready, and again, into the night.


The windows in the Post Office are lit with olive gold.
Across the bridge serene and old
White barges beyond count
Lie down the cold canal
Where the last shadows fall;
And a transparent city shines upon a magic mount.

Now fired with turkis blue and green
Where the first sunshine plays
The dawn tiptoes between
Waiting her signal from the woodland ways. . . .

No comments: