Of Praise The Little Versemen

Ford Maddox Fordjpg

Ford Madox Ford (1873 – 1939)

“Yes, a war is inevitable. Firstly, there’s you fellows who can’t be trusted. And then there’s the multitude who mean to have bathrooms and white enamel. Millions of them; all over the world. Not merely here. And there aren’t enough bathrooms and white enamel in the world to go round.”

Ford Maddox Ford, Parade’s End

 To the Poet Before Battle

By Ivor Gurney

Now, youth, the hour of thy dread passion comes;
Thy lovely things must all be laid away;
And thou, as others, must face the riven day
Unstirred by rattle of the rolling drums,
Or bugles’ strident cry. When mere noise numbs
The sense of being, the sick soul doth sway,
Remember thy great craft’s honour, that they may say
Nothing in shame of poets. Then the crumbs
Of praise the little versemen joyed to take
Shall be forgotten; then they must know we are,
For all our skill in words, equal in might
And strong of mettle as those we honoured; make
The name of poet terrible in just war,
And like a crown of honour upon the fight.


Is war inevitable?   Is it a terrible cancer of the human condition?  Is it inevitable that the outcome of viewing those as different than ourselves, the “other” who obstructs our path to obtaining our objectives eventually becomes our enemy?   I hope not.  I lean towards a pacifist mindset that we can do better as a species.  I find  the current predicament of glorification of military service as something that gets more attention than preventing conflict in the first place a contradiction of good leadership.   If we want to praise open communication, conflict resolution and peace keeping in our communities and schools, then why can’t we do the same across nations?

I find interesting Gurney’s idea of the role of “little verse men” in making sense of the aftermath of war.  Equal in might is pen to the sword is not a new concept, nor is the poet warrior.  Both concepts have been around for thousands of years.   But why isn’t there equally as strong a history in literature of poetry of peace, poetry of arbitration, the poetry of negotiation and truce? Poet peace makers rather than  poet soldiers.  Writing in muddy, blood stained notebooks may sound more noble than a peace keepers reasoned speech, but which takes more courage?


One Last Prayer

by Ford Madox Ford

Let me wait, my dear,
One more day,
Let me linger near,

Let me stay.
Do not bar the gate or draw the blind
Or lock the door that yields,
Dear, be kind!

I have only you beneath the skies
To rest my eyes
From the cruel green of the fields
And the cold, white seas
And the weary hills
And the naked trees.
I have known the hundred ills
Of the hated wars.
Do not close the bars,
Or draw the blind.
I have only you beneath the stars:
Dear, be kind!

It Is Not As You Knew It

Ivor Gurney (1890 – 1937)

A sense of beauty is every hindrance to a soldier; yet there would be no soldiers – or none such soldier had not men dead and living cherished and handed on the sacred fire. 

Ivor Gurney

The Soldier

by Rupert Brooke (1887 – 1915)

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust who England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England’s, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.
And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives Somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

River-Severn-Wales

Severn River, Wales 

To His Love

by Ivor Gurney

He’s gone, and all our plans
are useless indeed.
We’ll walk no more on Cotswolds
Where the sheep feed
Quietly and take no heed.

His body that was so quick
Is not as you
Knew it, on Severn River
Under the blue
Driving our small boat through.

You would not know him now…
But still he died
Nobly, so cover him over
With violets of pride
Purple from Severn side.

Cover him, cover him soon!
And with thick-set
Masses of memoried flowers –
Hide that red wet
Thing I must somehow forget.