Sunday, November 11, 2012

Dominic Hibberd whom I'd know for many years, died last August. This anthology traces and understands  the moods of the war from the fervour of 1914 to the tragic desperation of 1918, through poems and commentary. The whole collection gives a  unique immediacy and empathy both with soldiers and those left at home.
When so many died it feels uncomfortable to focus on just one man. But as that is my brief I will; except that on my visit to Edward Thomas's grave at Agny what moved me most was the number of graves with no name marked 'Known unto God.'


With the Artists' Rifles, 1915

Thomas's war diary
On leave at Steep, 1916


Edward Thomas is buried in Agny Military Cemetery, France. You can just make out the word Poet at the foot, arranged by the Edward Thomas Fellowship.

Helen, who never recovered from losing Edward, wrote of the night before he left for France,

'So we lay, all night, sometimes talking of our love and all that had been, and of the children, and of what had been amiss and what right. We knew the best was that there had never been untruth between us. We knew all of each other and it was right. So talking and crying and loving in each other's arms, we fell asleep as the cold reflected light of the snow crept through the frost-covered windows.
    Edward got up and made the fire and brought me some tea, and then got back into bed, and the children clambered in too, and sat in a row sipping our tea. I was not afraid of crying any more.'
And in the morning,
'We were alone in my room. He took me in his arms, holding me tightly to him, his face white, his eyes full of a fear I had never seen before. My arms were around his neck. 'Beloved, I love you,' was all I could say. 'Helen, Helen, Helen,' he said, 'remember that, whatever happens, all is well between us for ever and ever.'

Poem: mostly Edward Thomas.
War Diary
In just ten weeks your time in France is done -
only those notes for poems you'd never write:
Enemy plane like pale moth beautiful among shrapnel bursts.
A still starry night with only machine guns and rifles.
Sods on dug-out fledged with fine fronds of yarrow.
Hare, partridges and wild duck in field S.E. of guns. 
The shelling must have slaughtered many jackdaws but has made homes for many more. 
Blackbirds sing at battery.
We know by now the dug-outs, shrapnel, ruins
Novembers reel them yearly through our thoughts. 
Moths jackdaws stars, though,
yarrow blackbirds hares,
these are your own,
as, asked ‘What are you fighting for?’
you, sifting English earth into your hands, said,
‘Literally, for this.’

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