In the last of my “War series” posts of this week (though look out for my paintings on war next week – I need to get photos of them first!) I turn to reflect on one of the most poignant records which have come out of World War 1: the poetry. It may seem banal, especially after all my talk of cliches earlier in the week, that I choose to reflect on poems which, in the most part, are already extremely well known. But their notoriety is testament to their pure brilliance, their power to move and take the reader right back into the quagmire hell of trench warfare. They may now be the staple of the English literature national curriculum all over the UK (and as I know too well, this often causes the student who is agonising over the supposed multifaceted meaning of each line to hate the poem rather than admire it), but these poems are still ripe to be rediscovered, to be reread and savoured as a most moving testament to the suffering of so many during those times.
The reason why these poems work so well is that there are times of such horror that normal prose just won’t do. Through poetry, the soldiers are able to pour out their soul, their recollection of the horror in abstract phrases, bursts of painful memory, shattering like gunfire around them, painfully but beautifully transcribed onto the page. In the poems I have selected below, hopefully you will be equally touched by every loaded word as I have been. I know this is not the traditional time for remembrance, but do we really need a date in the diary to recollect the sacrifice that was made for us?
In between the poems, I’ve included some of my own photos. Not of war, but photos which seem appropriate when remembering the dead. Those posted between the poetry are taken in the local cemetery in Marbella, Spain. Quite out of the way of the usual tourist track of the glitzy coastal town, it is nonetheless one of my favourite places to go on a summers day, to wander in the shadows of cypress trees amongst tombs and gravestones dappled with silent sunlight. It is a place of great tranquility but not of sadness. In the devotion shown by a single flower placed by one family member tending the grave of their dead, you appreciate the great family love which still retains a place of such central importance in the Spanish home. At the bottom of my post you’ll find a gallery of some of my favourite flower photos which I’ve taken over the years. Much war poetry talks of flowers, and of course the poppy has become a worldwide symbol of remembrance. It’s appropriate that this product of natural beauty has grown from a ground riddled with the ghosts of a tumultuous history. In this way flowers are a symbol of hope and continuing beauty.