Thursday, July 30, 2009

Last Post

Today is the funeral of Henry Allingham, one of the last British survivors of the World War I trenches. The other last soldier, Harry Patch, is buried next week. With them disappears living memory of the horrors that war generation lived and died through.

Of course, we have the magnificent poetry of the WWI poets. With that awesome legacy towering, our new Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy was brave indeed to accept the BBC’s commission to write a poem commemorating the passing of that generation, but has I feel succeeded quite magnificently - her poem Last Post is a very fine tribute, worthy of standing with Wilfred Owen et al.


In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If poetry could tell it backwards, true, begin
that moment shrapnel scythed you to the stinking mud…
but you get up, amazed, watch bled bad blood
run upwards from the slime into its wounds;
see lines and lines of British boys rewind
back to their trenches, kiss the photographs from home-
mothers, sweethearts, sisters, younger brothers
not entering the story now
to die and die and die.
Dulce- No- Decorum- No- Pro patria mori.
You walk away.

You walk away; drop your gun (fixed bayonet)
like all your mates do too-
Harry, Tommy, Wilfred, Edward, Bert-
and light a cigarette.
There's coffee in the square,
warm French bread
and all those thousands dead
are shaking dried mud from their hair
and queuing up for home. Freshly alive,
a lad plays Tipperary to the crowd, released
from History; the glistening, healthy horses fit for heroes, kings.

You lean against a wall,
your several million lives still possible
and crammed with love, work, children, talent, English beer, good food.
You see the poet tuck away his pocket-book and smile.
If poetry could truly tell it backwards,
then it would.

It’s rather encouraging and pleasing that poetry today can still generate so much interest - Last Post has attracted quite favourable and extensive comment.

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