We did not ask for this room…

“We did not ask for this room or this music. We were invited in. Therefore, because the dark surrounds us, let us turn our faces to the light. Let us endure hardship to be grateful for plenty. We have been given pain to be astounded by joy. We have been given life to deny death. We did not ask for this room or this music. But because we are here, let us dance.”

Stephen King

A Child Ill…

It’s National Poetry Day, so I thought I’d post the first poem that I can remember that really spoke to me. My English teacher gave me a book of John Betjeman’s work and this one stood out, particularly as my little brother was sick at the time:

Oh little body, do not die.
The soul looks out through wide blue eyes
So questioningly into mine,
That my tormented soul replies
“Oh little body, do not die
You hold the soul that talks to me,
Although our conversation be
As wordless as the windy sky.”

So looked my father at the last,
Right in my soul before he died,
Though words we spoke went heedless past
As London traffic-roar outside.
And now the same blue eyes I see
Look through me from a little son,
So questioningly, so searchingly
That youthfulness and age are one.

My father looked at me and died
Before my soul made full reply.
Lord, leave this other light alight
Oh little body, do not die.

(‘A Child Ill’ – John Betjeman)

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?

It’s the 100th anniversary of the bloodbath known as the Battle of the Somme.

British_wounded_Bernafay_Wood_19_July_1916

My commute takes me through Waterloo Station, and this morning saw the strange appearance of what I first took for ghosts, but who were in fact men dressed as soldiers to silently mark the date. I felt a bit shy of taking photos, but the press and Twittersphere have made up for this.

There have been some great books on ‘The Great War’ and some not so great films, but it’s the poetry that we remember.

Anthem for Doomed Youth
What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
      — Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
      Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
      Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,—
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
      And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all?
      Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
      The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.
(Wilfred Owen)