Monday, 12 November 2012


Yesterday was Remembrance Sunday. As anyone who has ever worked in a shop will know, it can be awkward. A customer never fails to arrive at the counter bang on 11, every year.

This time, with that in mind, I had gathered a copy of the Sunday Times 'Culture' magazine, bodged up a sign and gone out front with my poppy on 5 minutes early, just so people got the message. Whilst waiting for the radio to switch over to the Cenotaph, I began to read their piece on Edward Thomas, one of the (perhaps) lesser known of the war poets. The article mentioned his developing love of nature and the outdoors, his love of description and his insistence that poetry should be constructed only from words people actually use. These days, many poets will swear by those approaches, the latter two especially.
Printed within the article was a copy of Thomas's poem Adlestrop. You can read it here: Adlestrop: Poetry Foundation website

I digress though. As a football fan, I have been party to a number of 'silences' this weekend and, so as not to waste them, I found myself thinking down various different avenues. It struck home that many of the men I was stood up for were younger than me when they died. It struck me that many of them had families to leave behind, jobs never to go back to and lives never to actually live. What really struck home though was the TV coverage of the faces.

I saw something in the eyes of the veterans, a sort of blooming around them, much like a poppy. This may happen to all old people, I don't know, and please don't take that out of context and consider it a judgement. To look into them suggests many nights of tears shed, many years of tears held in and a grief I would never wish to understand.

After spending all day (as most of us do every year) remembering those lost and the freedoms I have as a result of their sacrifices, I felt I should persist with my ongoing quest to write a decent war poem. I try it every year and haven't quite managed one yet but, with this week's blog theme being 'Ambitions', here is the result.


The chat chat chattering of tired machine guns,
echoes in the teeth of the silent man beside.
The cold November mornings stop for no one - 
the ticking clock to remember lost lives. 

Amid the bugler's call my focus wandered
past each stoic cheek and tight-buttoned coat,
long swollen eyes of veterans tell of what went on there.
Poppies grown from tears. Lives touched like asymptotes. 

All these years since those Great Wars have ended
Our nation we're told - divided, long undone -
unites, the graves of soldiers freshly tended.
By this prism, we ensure the light lives on. 

Thanks for reading,


vicky ellis said...

That first stanza is wonderfully evocative but I wouldn't all asymptotes an everyday word :-) but maybe I just need to read more. A touching post on a subject I know you feel strongly about. Thanks.

Christo Heyworth said...

Thanks for reminding us that the evocative Adlestrop is a WWI poem, Shaun - the absence of so many young men who would otherwise be tending the fields is not something we discussed when we first studied it in school.
That realization struck me only years later when I had to research the works of Thomas to teach Adlestrop myself.
Like you, I try annually to create an evocative war poem, but for me it is "those left behind" you mention that require remembrance.
I've not got it satisfactorily yet.
I like your Cenotaph apart from asymptote - I agree with Vicky.

Adele said...

My Dad was a Veteran of WW2 -shipped out to India for 6 months but then Rangoon fell and he remained there for 5 years, leaving his widowed mother to cope alone with his four younger siblings. He never missed a Remembrance parade and although his war stories were all full of the exotic and comedic I would often catch him crying, listening to music or watching a war film. They held it in - like a protective secret that should not affect their new families, bringing it out only as a brief moment to remember the loss of pals and comrades in arms. But how he lived, Shaun. And how he loved us all. He was buried at 83 with full military honours by the Burma Star Association, yet we who were closest never knew his heroic acts. But we did lovingly tease him. To us was 'Fearless Fred.' He never bought a Japanese car or electrical appliance but in later life, he case to the British Open Dance festival and applauded a wonderful Japanese couple, respecting the dedication and talent in their art.
Time heals if you let it.

I will love and miss him until the day I day. War made him an exceptional human being.

Thank you for you beautiful poem