The Great War, I was there - Part 51

THE WAR SEEN BY THE SOLDIER POET I n this section a few of the memorable poems written during the World War, many by men who were there, are given. They have been chosen to show that the poetic genius which had such a remarkable flowering during the four years of war manifested itself in many forms. Different angles of approach and different moods are apparent, but behind them all the fine spirit of these war-time poets is manifest. Some, such as “In Flanders Fields ”and “For the Fallen,” have a poignant pathos that makes them sure of immortal life in English literature. Others, in lighter vein, provoke only the laughter that is very near akin to tears. Much of the strength of these verses must be ascribed to the fact that they were inspired by what their authors had actually experienced. They were, moreover, written in wartime, when impressions were fresh, and some of them even within sound of the guns. As Dr. Inge has said, “There is no boasting, no swagger, no hatred of the enemy ”in the great majority of the poems of war THE SEND-OFF Wilfred Owen, already recognized in his lifetime as a poet of genius, joined the 2nd Manchesters on the Somme in January 1917. He was killed a week before the Armistice, November 4,1918, aged 25 Down the close, darkening lanes they sang their way To the siding-shed, And lined the train with faces grimly gay. Their breasts were stuck all white with wreath and spray As men’s are. dead. Dull porters watched them, and a casual tramp Stood staring hard, Sorry to miss them from the upland camp. Then, unmoved, signals nodded, and a lamp Winked to the guard. So secretly, like wrongs hushed-up, they went. They were not ours: Wo never heard to which front these were sent Nor there if they yet mock what women meant Who gave them flowers. Shall they return to beatings of great bells In wild train-loads? A few, a few, too few for drums and yells, May creep back, silent, to village wells Up half-known roads. Wilfred Owen From "The Poems of Wilfred Owen” (Chatto db Windus) BATTERY L The epic story of L Battery, R.H.A., is told by Gunner Darbyshire himself in Chapter 29. Mr. J. L. Harvey has beautifully recounted it inverse Battery L of the 11.11.A. —Oh, the cold grey light o’ the dawn— Woke as the mists were wreathing pale, Woke to the moan of the shrapnel hail— Battery L of the It.H .A .Sprang to their guns in the dawn. Six guns all at the break o’ day —Oh, the crash of the shells at dawn— And out of the six guns only one Left for the fight ere the fight’s begun— Battery L of the R .H.A .Swung her round in the dawn. They swung her clear and they blazed away —Oh, the blood-red light o’ the dawn— Osborne, Darbyshire, brave Dorrell, These are the heroes of Battery L, These are the men of the R .H.A .Who fought that gun in the dawn. Ay, that was a fight that was fought that day, As the grey mists fled from the dawn, Till they broke up the enemy one by one. Silenced him steadily gun by gun— Battery L of the R.H .A .,One lone gun in the dawn. J .L. Harvey By permission of “The Times ”IN FLANDERS FIELDS Colonel McCrae, an eminent Canadian doctor, served on the medical staff in France and Flanders from April 1915. He died of pneumonia at Wimereux, January 28,1918 In Flanders fields the poppies blow Between the crosses, row on row, That mark cur place and in the sky The larks, still bravely singing, fly Scarce heard amid the guns below. We are the Dead. Short days ago We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, Loved and were loved, and now we lie In Flanders fields. upTake our quarrel with the foe :To you from failing hands we throw The torch be yours to hold it high. If ye break faith with us who die We shall not sleep, though poppies grow In Flanders fields. John M cC rae From “In Flanders Fields and other Poems ”Publishers, Ilodder < 0 Stonghion By permission of llie Ryerson Press, Toronto AFTERMATH Siegfried Sassoon, famous author and poet, wrote many masterpieces during the War. His famous prose work on the war is “Memoirs of an Infantry Officer ”Have you forgotten yet ?For the world’s events have rumbled on since those gagged days, Like traffic checked awhile at the crossing of citv-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 togo, Taking your peaceful share of time, with joy to spare. But the pastis 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 Mamet/.— The nights you watched and wired and dug and piled sandbags on parapets ?Do you remember the rats and the stench O f corpses rotting in front of the front-line trench— And dawn coming, dirty-white, and chill with a hopeless rain ?Do you ever stop to 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 green of the spring that you’ll never forget.S ie g fried Sassoon From “The IFar Poems of Siegfried Sassoon ”(H einem ann), by permission of the .1 ulhnr 2032
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