Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Remembrance 11/11. (No astrology)

Back in England in the 1950s I attended an all-girls grammar school(very roughly equivalent to US High Schools). All our teachers were female, many of them older ladies, probably born in the early 1900s, all unmarried. It didn't strike me until many years later exactly why they were all unmarried. A whole generation of young men who might have been their husbands were slaughtered in World War One. Thinking back, our English Literature mistress, Miss Milvain, led our study of the work of World War One poets. Miss Milvain was a tall, slender lady, with long, pure white hair loosely pulled back into a big "bun" at the back. She must have been a stunner as a young woman. I wonder if the poems she put before us held extra poignancy for her, and for her colleagues. She didn't tell us. We didn't ask. I think we should have asked, but we were young and gauche and unthinking.

Here's one of those poems:

by Seigfried Sassoon
(March 1919)

Have you forgotten yet? ...
For the world's events have rumbled on since those gagged days,
Like traffic checked 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 heaven 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 the hour of din before the attack -
And the anger, the blind compassion that seized and shook you
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.


Wisewebwoman said...

Lovely post T.

anthonynorth said...

A most fitting tribute.