We Will Remember Them
The prompt for 4 Thoughts this time is Lest We Forget. May had mentioned a story but I don’t really have a story in me so I thought I would try something else. Marking Remembrance Day has always been something I have done. I was very involved in the Guiding movement as a young person and took part in the annual parade through our town each year. Later, as a leader, I did the same. As a teacher it has always been a part of the calendar which we have marked, and despite the questions as to the relevance from some of the students over the years, it is a tradition I have genuinely felt is important, both personally and professionally.
On a personal level, we have a son in the services and HL has also had a lot of involvement with them. We went for a drive today and I played an album he gave me many years ago when I was designing a unit on war poetry for school. Listening to the poems as we drove along on Remembrance Sunday cemented the idea that despite the fact my blog is mainly about my alternative lifestyle, this was something I wanted to use my space to do in order to pay my own respects.
I realise that with the pressures these days of modern life some feel that times have moved on, but I feel strongly that it is important that we think about the lives which were lost and continue to learn lessons from that. So this is my own little commemoration for the 11th by way of a short explanation of four poems which I find moving and significant for one reason or another. I have included links to the full text if there are any that you would like to read, and have also added links to spoken recordings at the end.
In Flanders Fields
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.
In Flanders Fields is probably one of my favourite war poems. Not only was it the inspiration for the poppy we use as a symbol of remembrance to commemorate those members of the military whose lives have been lost through war, but its simplicity and imagery make it moving and effective. It was written by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, a Canadian surgeon. He wrote the poem after spotting a cluster of poppies shortly after the Second Battle of Ypres. 87,000 Allied soldiers were killed, wounded or went missing in the battle as well as 37,000 on the German side. The poem is written in the voices of those soldiers who pleading that their lives are not wasted or forgotten.
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?’
With the repeated phrases of ‘Have you forgotten yet’ and ‘Do you remember’, the chilling rhetoric of Siegfried Sassoon’s Aftermath is a haunting poem which brings back the horror of war. Although Sassoon presents the guilt of the survivor, his poem also draws the reader in and forces them to consider the ways that, for some, life will never move on and that what happened cannot be forgotten. Sassoon wrote Aftermath in 1919 and it was broadcast on Armistice Day in the years immediately after the war.
Dulce Et Decorum Est
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
Dulce Et Decorum Est is probably one of the best known of all war poems due to the fact that it is so widely studied in schools. The imagery used by Wilfred Owen portrays the true horrors of war and forces his reader to confront the atrocious conditions that the men experienced. More than that, the description of their dying comrades and the way they had to detach from them and see their deaths as a matter of fact thing makes us feel humbled by what they went through. The title ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est’, as most know, is Latin for It is sweet and fitting. The addition in the conclusion of ‘Pro patria mori; means to die for one’s country. Owen wrote this poem while being treated at Craiglockhart hospital in Edinburgh in 1917.
For the Fallen
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
For the Fallen written by Laurence Binyon includes the famous words used at so many ceremonies of remembrance. Although sometimes referred to as the Ode of Remembrance itself, these lines actually make up the fourth stanza of a 7 stanza ode written by a relatively unknown poet. Binyon wrote the poem during 1914 after the battle of Mons where there were heavy casualties. Its calm language and set meter and rhyme mean that it contrasts with many of the later poems written from the trenches. It is reflective and deeply sad while at the same time encouraging readers to remember the sacrifice that has been made, as Binyon compares England to a mother grieving for her lost children.