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Edmund Blunden: War’s undormant cemetery

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Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

British writers on peace and war

Edmund Blunden: Writings on war

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Edmund Blunden
La Quinque Rue

O r o a d in dizzy moonlight bleak and blue,
With forlorn effigies of farms besprawled,
With trees bitterly bare or snapped in two,
Why riddle me thus – attracted and appalled?
For surely now the grounds both left and right
Are tilled, and scarless houses undismayed
Glow in the lustrous mercy of sweet night
And one may hear the flute or fiddle played.
Why lead me then
Through the foul-gorged, the cemeterial fen
To fear’s sharp sentries? Why do dreadful rags
Fur these bulged banks, and feebly move to the wind?
That battered drum, say why it clacks and brags?
Another and another! what’s behind?
How is it that these flints flame out fire’s tongue,
Shrivelling my thought? these collapsed skeletons,
What are they, and these iron hunks among?
Why clink those spades, why glare these startling suns
And topple to the wet and crawling grass,
Where the strange briers in taloned hedges twine?
O road, I know those muttering groups you pass.
I know those moments shrill as shivered glass.
But, I am told, to-night you mildly shine
To trim roofs and cropped fields; the error’s mine.

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The Ancre at Hamel:
Afterward

Where tongues were loud and hearts were light
I heard the Ancre flow;
Waking oft at the mid of night
I heard the Ancre flow.
I heard it crying, that sad rill,
Below the painful ridge,
By the burnt unraftered mill
And the relic of a bridge.

And could this sighing river seem
To call me far away,
And its pale word dismiss as dream
The voices of to-day?
The voices in the bright room chilled
And that mourned on alone,
The silence of the full moon filled
With that brook’s troubling tone.

The struggling Ancre had no part
In these new hours of mine,
And yet its stream ran through my heart,
I heard it grieve and pine,
As if its rainy tortured blood
Had swirled into my own,
When by its battered bank I stood
And shared its wounded moan.

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From On Reading That the Rebuilding of Ypres Approached Completion

“But my danger lies even here, even now worn weak and nerveless
I go drooping,
Heavy-headed, and would sleep thus lulled with your love’s fulness.
Sharply awake me
With fierce words, cold as the fangs of bayonets in the frozen saps,
Simple as the fact that you must kill, or go for rations,
As clear as morning blue, as red and grotesque as the open mouths
Of winter corpses.

****

“For words spoke at the Mermaid, I would not give the meanest
That I heard roaring
In some green-shuttered Nachtegaal or Kasteel, a brief evening,
While the panes were jumping;
Far less one of the sweet astounding jests and sallies
That dared contest with smoking salvos the forlorn hope’s attention,
That wreathed the burning steel that slew with man’s eternal laurel
In that one city.

“For her was much accomplished, and she will not forget me,
Whose name is Legion;
She will know who knew her best, and with his rough warm garment
Would have wrapt her;
Her midnight tears will well as grayly she remembers
The hillock’s signifying tree, that choked and gouged and miry,
Was like a cross, but such a cross that there no bleeding Figure
Might hang without tautology.”

 

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