I had forgotten this war poem by Mary Webb. ‘So young he is, so dear to me’: this was not just written in sympathy for others, but from her own heart. Her three brothers enlisted, and one was gravely injured. Even so, if we cannot feel with those left behind, there is something wrong with us. Pray for all mothers, wives and families and friends worrying, worrying, at home, as well as the men and women on service.
Oh, Powers of Love, if still you lean
Above a world so black with hate,
Where yet–as it has ever been–
The loving heart is desolate,
Look down upon the lad I love,
(My brave lad, tramping through the mire)–
I cannot light his welcoming fire,
Light Thou the stars for him above!
Now nights are dark and mornings dim,
Let him in his long watching know
That I too count the minutes slow
And light the lamp of love for him.
The sight of death, the sleep forlorn,
The old homesickness vast and dumb–
Amid these things, so bravely borne,
Let my long thoughts about him come.
I see him in the weary file;
So young he is, so dear to me,
With ever-ready sympathy
And wistful eyes and cheerful smile.
However far he travels on,
Thought follows, like the willow-wren
That flies the stormy seas again
To lands where her delight is gone.
Whatever he may be or do
While absent far beyond my call,
Bring him, the long day’s march being through,
Safe home to me some evenfall!
Postcards sent from the front by a lad who died out there.
The flowers left thick at nightfall in the wood
This Eastertide call into mind the men,
Now far from home, who, with their sweethearts, should
Have gathered them and will do never again.
Edward Thomas wrote this poem, IN MEMORIAM (Easter, 1915), before he joined up and went to the front. If Eastertide means what we Christians claim it means, we should read and remember these lines, let them filter down into our hearts, and teach us how we can proclaim the message of the Prince of Peace. Meanwhile, we remember with gratitude those who gave their lives in battle.
In Saint Mildred’s churchyard, across from the L’Arche garden, there is a solitary standard rose; it was looking quite shabby with suckers at the base and lots of blackspot on the leaves. Beside it is a plaque telling that it was planted in memory of Elizabeth, who was married in this church in 1948, emigrated, and died in Australia.
One day this spring I could bear it no longer and pruned the flowering stems hard, removed the suckers and sprayed for blackspot.
The rose has had its winter pruning, but there have been two flushes of flowers and a late third. I was pleased about that. But one Friday I heard more of its story. Elizabeth’s husband Albert had paid for the rose from Australia. When he came back to visit Canterbury after her death, he met one of the ladies who now run the coffee mornings where L’Arche are regular customers, including Abel when he’s around.
She knew the returning native straight away. ‘I said, “You’re Albert that went to Australia.”‘ His wife had the most beautiful golden hair, she reminded him, not auburn but pure gold. ‘Well, after that he kept in touch though now he’s 91. He was only on the phone yesterday, asking, “How’s Elizabeth’s rose?” Now I can tell him. Thank you for taking it on. ‘
So there we are. You don’t know what ripples may come from a random act of something like kindness; and often enough you may never know. But it was worth pruning the rose for its own sake. Laudato si!
During the Second World War in Britain, while men were fighting and the war effort seemed to be paramount in people’s minds, in the background other politicians and civil servants were drawing up plans for important areas such as housing, health and education. This time it would be a ‘land fit for heroes’. In the event, prefabricated houses and schools were erected with a speed and in numbers never again seen and the National Health Service came into being.
A better housed, better educated and generally healthier population was the result. But planning can only go so far, as the Times Literary Supplement columnist Charles Morgan pointed out.
In all the plans that are made for the life we are to lead, how seldom is there evidence of any wish that life shall be enjoyed: that it shall be safe – yes; that it shall be instructed, equalised, rubbed smooth, supplied with dustless corners and chromium-plated taps; but that there shall be grace or charm or quiet or gaiety or sweetness or light in it, there is among the sterner planners neither hope nor desire. Utility and sameness are their guiding stars … Their ideal is to make of the art of life what a timetable is to a poem.
He wrote, of course, from a position of privilege, and exaggerates in his last two sentences to make a polemical point. Certainly I have visited prefabs that have lasted nearly three times their planned lifespan, are light and airy, and well loved by those who have made their homes therein. And G.K. Chesterton considered timetables poetic; especially when they work! And what joy, post-war, when such things could be more or less relied on again!
Portsmouth, largely rebuilt after World War II
It seems to have been the ancient Greek dramatist Aeschylus who first said that truth is the first casualty in war.
This poster sums that up. It was intended to attract young Irishmen to join the colours during the Great War of 1914-18. I return to the question we asked on November 6 two years ago: What sacrifices have been offered in modern industrial war and to what deities?
Truth, in this case, was sacrificed to the idols of Nationalism and Xenophobia. And all too many young men were sacrificed.
Let nation speak peace unto nation.
This cemetery in London has not been used for fifty years, when it was closed by Act of Parliament! It is not in ordered rows of dead people, but is alive with trees, flowers and birds. For me the abundant life speaks more of resurrection than ranks of black marble or white Portland stone, though the Commonwealth Graves Commission keep their cemeteries as near to gardens as possible; a different way of pointing beyond the finality of death.
The Douay Bible translates Job 19:26:
And I shall be clothed again with my skin, and in my flesh I will see my God.
And the trees, violets, blue tits, magpies and jays seem to me to bear this out. The photograph was taken in Spring, but even now, as winter approaches, the buds on the branches are full of God’s promise.
It was decades since I had been in Dublin, and even last month I was only passing through, but as my friend led me through Dublin Castle Gardens I noticed this bust and went back to look. Veronica Guerin should not be forgotten.
A career in accountancy gave Veronica Guerin the forensic skills to investigate how Irish drug barons operated, including their money laundering schemes.
Once their crimes were brought into the open by her well researched articles, the gangs set out to frighten her with threats of violence against her and her son. They even had her shot in the leg, but she continued her investigations.
On 26 June 1996 she was shot dead at a red traffic light by two men on a motor cycle. She left a husband and young son. She had prepared a paper entitled ‘Dying to Tell the Story: Journalists at Risk’ to be delivered at a conference in London two days later.
A martyr for the truth, and by no means the last.
Let us pray for all who risk their lives for the truth; the truth that will set us free. And pray for the gift to be not afraid when faced with moments of truth in our own lives.
A few more thoughts on telling the truth. It is not just setting the facts down – that is always going to be a selective exercise, and an interpretive one, as I am discovering writing my biography of Arthur Hughes. Poetry is truth telling in yet another mode. Here is John Betjeman, sometime Poet Laureate:
What poetry is, I do not quite know. Maybe it is the right words in the right order. For me it requires rhythm and, as an extra flourish, rhyme. It is the shortest and the most memorable way of saying what you want said.
In Lovely bits of Old England. Gavin Fuller, Ed. London, Aurum, 2012. P96.
Betjeman was building on a previous poet’s definition:
I wish our clever young poets would remember my homely definitions of prose and poetry; that is, prose,—words in their best order; poetry,—the best words in their best order.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Note the link between Fran Horner’s quest for succinctness (see yesterday’s post) and Betjeman’s ‘shortest and most memorable’ way of saying something!
With that, I’ll hush up!
Charlottenberg Park, Berlin.
Image from: http://theproclaimedword.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/disbelieving-and-wondering-luke-2436-48.html
… While I was still with you…
Luke 24:35-48 ”
So if He was no longer with them, saying those words, … where was He? Two of the disciples, just returned from Emmaus, were sharing their memories of meeting Jesus.
This was when they became aware of Him ‘among them’.
It does not say He walked in or even ‘appeared’ so we don’t know how long He had been there, but while they were talking about Him, He stood among them. Perhaps Jesus’ reference to being ‘with you’ in the past tense, implied a different mode of presence from that the disciples were experiencing, post-Resurrection. Jesus, having entrusted Himself to His friends in His words and in the breaking of bread, would now be present ‘among them’ in the sharing of His memory and His love.
On the road to Emmaus, Jesus walked beside the disciples as they were discussing their memories of Him. He explained to them how to find Him in the Scriptures. Then He brought them to recognise Him in the breaking of bread. When they finally realised that He had been present as they shared His memory on the road, in the sharing of Scripture and in the sharing of bread, Jesus disappeared. Why?
Perhaps He had only appeared to their eyes in order to teach them how He would be present to them from now on. He would not need to walk physically ‘with’ them as a man because His life had been completely shared ‘among them’ and entrusted to them for the spreading of His Kingdom.