Between Poperinge and Ouderdom

Image result for edmund blunden

Busseboom, famous place, lies between Poperinge and Ouderdom.  Can’t place it?  How about if I say it lies in Flanders, north-west Belgium near the French border.  In World War 1 Busseboom was in the support area behind the Western Front and Ypres.

Perfect place for a concert party.  Edmund Blunden fought at Ypres, at the Somme and at Passchendaele.  His poetry was encouraged by Siegried Sassoon who seems to have been a great man for encouraging others to express their horror in verse.  Sassoon was the muse of the War Poets.

Blunden survived the war, physically, but the mental scars remained with him all his life.  He could never scrape off the sticky mud of Flanders Fields.  He went on to a successful career in writing and academia, and was nominated a number of times for a Nobel prize in literature.

October 31st has come and gone in 2019, one hundred years beyond the Great War.  What have we learned?  Brexit remains on the cards.  The British Parliament persists with the madness of departing from the European Union; the greatest source of peace in the history of mankind.  The British people want to go back to the good old days when you could kick a man to death in a dark tunnel beneath the carnage of the Western Front.  In doing so they dishonour the memories of Blunden, Sassoon, Brooke, Graves and Owen.

Happy Birthday Edmund Blunden, born November 1st, 1896.

Concert Party: Busseboom ; by Edmund Blunden

The stage was set, the house was packed,
the famous troop began;
our laughter thundered, act by act;
time light as sunbeams ran.

Dance sprang and spun and neared and fled,
jest chirped at gayest pitch,
rhythm dazzled, action sped
most comically rich.

With generals and lame privates both
such charms worked wonders, till
the show was over – lagging loth
we faced the sunset chill;

and standing on the sandy way,
with the cracked church peering past,
we heard another matinée,
we heard the maniac blast

of barrage south by Saint Eloi,
and the red lights flaming there
called madness: Come, my bonny boy,
and dance to the latest air.

To this new concert, white we stood;
cold certainty held our breath;
while men in tunnels below Larch Wood
were kicking men to death.

The firelit room.

Image result for room lit by fire

It’s a kind of magic. Firelight makes time stand still. When you put out the lamps and sit in the firelight’s glow there aren’t any rules any more. You can do what you want, say what you want, be what you want, and when the lamps are lit again, time starts again, and everything you said or did is forgotten. More than forgotten it never happened.       Elizabeth (Sophie Marceau) to Louisa in the film “Firelight” (1997).

Fire, and the command of fire, has determined human society.  Fire is in our DNA.  It is a dangerous creature, capricious in nature.  But the ability to control fire gave early man a sustainable advantage over all other animals.  It gave us warmth in the cold, protection against predators, light in the darkness.  Fire also gave us a way to convert food by cooking.  This improved our calorific harvest from foods by cooking them.  For some foods it made them palatable, killed poisons or sterilised the food of harmful bacteria.

What happened first, did man make fire or did fire make man?

There is a special atmosphere when we gather by the light of a fire and only the light of a fire.  These days inside the house that only really happens when we have a power cut and we resort to the fireplace and candles for illumination.

In the open it is a joy to share a campfire, a bonfire or a firepit.  The flames dancing over the logs engage something very primal in our beings.  Around the fire we revert to a pre-civilisation society, a small intimate tribe.  The fire is a place where we can talk, share and confess to our hopes, our dreams and our fears.

All this post arose from a news story that a researcher found a hitherto unknown poem by Siegfried Sassoon.  It is thought to have been penned of his lover Glen Byam Shaw.  They lived in a time when to be gay was a dangerous occupation and could send you to prison.  So you may see why it reminded me of the quote from the film Firelight above.  In the firelight’s glow you can be what you want.

Untitled poem by Siegfried Sassoon

Though you have left me, I’m not yet alone:

For what you were befriends the firelit room;

And what you said remains & is my own

To make a living gladness of my gloom

The firelight leaps & shows your empty chair

And all our harmonies of speech are stilled:

But you are with me in the voiceless air

My hands are empty, but my heart is filled.

Happy Birthday Wilfred Owen

Owen

Born on this day in 1893 Wilfred Owen died aged 25, on November 4th 1918, one week before the end of the Great War.  This is his 125th birthday.

A thoughtful poet before the war Owen was denied a proper education by his family poverty.  He did not attain sufficient marks to win a scholarship.  When the war began he was a reluctant participant, but saw it as his duty to enlist which he did in October 1915.

He was commissioned as an officer in June 1916 and spend the months when the Battle of the Somme was raging in a training camp at Étaples.  He was brought up to active duty on the Somme in January 1917.  He underwent heavy shelling in January, was injured in March from a fall into a cellar.  Returned to duty in April, was hit by a shell in May.

Suffering from shell shock he was repatriated to Edinburgh to recuperate.  It was in Craiglockhart War Hospital that he met Siegfried Sassoon who became his mentor.  The pair went on to write some of the best anti-war poetry in history.  They saw it as their duty to expose the awful reality of war.  For me the poem below achieves this better than any other.

Dulce Et Decorum Est ; by Wilfred Owen

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
till on the haunting flares we turned out backs,
and towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
but limped on, blood-shod. All went lame, all blind;
drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling
fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
but someone still was yelling out and stumbling
and flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
as under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

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

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
behind the wagon that we flung him in,
and watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
his hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin,
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.

This is England – Theresa May

 

Scarborough

Armed police on the beach, guarding the donkeys from Islamic terrorists.  Or are they there to protect old blighty from the immigrants?  Will you “fight them on the beaches”?  Those nice Polish men who erected your garden shed, or changed your car tyres, or unblocked your toilet?

This is the England being created by David Cameron and Theresa May today.  It is a land of fear and suspicion.  It is a world of hate.  It is a place where wealthy people become more wealthy, making armaments to sell to despots and dictators, rebels and freedom fighters on both sides of the conflict in the Middle East, in Africa, in Asia, in South America.  And when those distant people have had enough of killing each other sometimes they take a notion to visit violence on the brokers of death.

This is an England where the wealthy resent the very fundamentals that make Britain Great.   The social contract between the people and the state that was forged from the blood sacrifice of two world wars.  Basic housing provision, social welfare, a national health service, public transport and a civil service built on principles of fairness, honesty, trust, service, you know, old fashioned English public schoolboy stuff.

The puppet masters of the Tory party want to dismantle the public contract.  They want a descent into what they have in the USA.  Richer rich and poorer poor.  They have already dismantled British Rail, British Gas, Water and Electricity and sold off the family jewels.  Now they are going after things like the minimum wage, healthcare and housing.

The European Union was in their way.  The EU demands a social contract as the price of membership.  This does not suit the oligarchs.  To get the world they want they needed Britain to be outside the EU.  They sold Brexit to the working class British by dealing in fear, hate, xenophobia, racism and greed.  Basically they sold the seven sins.  And Britain bought them.

Lie down with dogs, wake up with fleas.  If you buy the seven sins then you get to live them.  What that means, in a real sense, is armed police on the beach on a sunny day.  This is England!

For those of you out there who blame all this on muslims, I give you a poem to think about.  Sassoon wrote this after witnessing the carnage of the Battle of the Somme.  It is violently anti-Christian, and he never published it in his life.  Islam is an excuse given to you by the Oligarchs to engender you with fear and suspicion of “others”.  If you wipe out all the muslims they will find another target for your hate.  They have a manual for this plan, it is called “1984”, written by George Orwell.

 
Christ and the Soldier; by Siegfried Sassoon

The straggled soldier halted — stared at Him — Then clumsily dumped down upon his knees, Gasping

‘O blessed crucifix, I’m beat !’

And Christ, still sentried by the seraphim, Near the front-line, between two splintered trees, Spoke him:

‘My son, behold these hands and feet.’

The soldier eyed him upward, limb by limb, Paused at the Face, then muttered,

‘Wounds like these Would shift a bloke to Blighty just a treat !’

Christ, gazing downward, grieving and ungrim, Whispered,

‘I made for you the mysteries, Beyond all battles moves the Paraclete.’

II

The soldier chucked his rifle in the dust, And slipped his pack, and wiped his neck, and said —

‘O Christ Almighty, stop this bleeding fight !’

Above that hill the sky was stained like rust With smoke. In sullen daybreak flaring red The guns were thundering bombardment’s blight. The soldier cried,

‘I was born full of lust, With hunger, thirst, and wishfulness to wed. Who cares today if I done wrong or right?’

Christ asked all pitying,

‘Can you put no trust In my known word that shrives each faithful head ? Am I not resurrection, life and light ?’

III

Machine-guns rattled from below the hill; High bullets flicked and whistled through the leaves; And smoke came drifting from exploding shells.

Christ said

‘Believe; and I can cleanse your ill. I have not died in vain between two thieves; Nor made a fruitless gift of miracles.’

The soldier answered,

‘Heal me if you will, Maybe there’s comfort when a soul believes In mercy, and we need it in these hells. But be you for both sides ? I’m paid to kill And if I shoot a man his mother grieves. Does that come into what your teaching tells ?’

A bird lit on the Christ and twittered gay; Then a breeze passed and shook the ripening corn. A Red Cross waggon bumped along the track. Forsaken Jesus dreamed in the desolate day — Uplifted Jesus, Prince of Peace forsworn — An observation post for the attack.

‘Lord Jesus, ain’t you got no more to say ?’

Bowed hung that head below the crown of thorns. The soldier shifted, and picked up his pack, And slung his gun, and stumbled on his way.

‘O God,’ he groaned,’why ever was I born ?’

… The battle boomed, and no reply came back.