Remembrance Sun­day

Enniscorthy Guardian - - NEWS - W I T H J O H N J K E L LY kel­lyjj02@gmail.com

OUR ar­ti­cle this week finds it­self sand­wiched be­tween two very sig­nif­i­cant Sun­day an­niver­saries, each of them 100 years old and a mere week apart, and, per­haps in a writer’s sense, in­trin­si­cally linked for all time.

On Sun­day just gone, Novem­ber 4, a cen­tury ago, whilst tak­ing part in an Al­lied as­sault across the Sam­bre-Oise Canal, at the Western Front in France, poet Wil­fred Owen was killed in ac­tion. Ex­actly one week later, on Novem­ber 11, as his mother read the tele­gram con­tain­ing the news of his death, the bells rang out from Shrews­bury Cathe­dral, and ev­ery other cathe­dral and church across Bri­tain and Western Europe, in cel­e­bra­tion of the end­ing of The Great War. It was Armistice Day, one hun­dred years ago next Sun­day.

Novem­ber 11, 1918, at 11:00am, the agreed mo­ment that the guns si­lenced, that the bombs and shells halted, and that over four long years of car­nage and hu­man sav­agery, in what later be­came known as World War One, fi­nally came to an end.

True, the suf­fer­ing did not sud­denly cease. The wounded, dam­aged and af­flicted still had strug­gles to some­how try to come to terms with. Vast ar­eas of coun­tries were re­duced to rub­ble. Four thou­sand vil­lages in France alone, wiped out. And like­wise, whole cities and towns, like Ypres, lev­elled to the ground, ev­ery last inch of it.

And the cruel terms of the af­ter­math. The crip­pling, bar­baric depth at­tached to Greater Ger­many, along with years of pro­tracted port city block­ades by the Bri­tish. Famine and star­va­tion suf­fered by al­most a mil­lion peo­ple long af­ter the ink was dry on any treaty of peace or sur­ren­der. Large em­pires that had risen up against each other, flanked by al­lies and al­liances, re­mained as vi­cious as fight­ing dogs, de­ter­mined to grind their vic­tim into the earth, re­gard­less of hu­man cost, and the on­go­ing dam­na­tion of an­other gen­er­a­tion. Oh if only they knew the despot they would later spawn!

But, none­the­less, this date must be hon­oured. One level of hor­ror had drawn to a close, and it in it­self, is one of the greater days of hu­mankind in the 20th Cen­tury. So what bet­ter way to mark it and re­mem­ber it than with a poem of that scholar of the Western

Front, and one of the last to lay down his life. Through­out his po­etic work, Owen cap­tures his ut­ter hor­ror and dis­il­lu­sion­ment with all things war, and the in­scrip­tion cho­sen by his mother for his head­stone in Ors Com­mu­nal Ceme­tery, North­ern France tes­ti­fies to same. His own words... ‘Shall life re­new these bod­ies? Of a truth all death will he an­nul...’

He may not have been op­ti­mistic that the end­ing of the con­flict might come any­where close to be­ing a mo­ment of joy, or a time of any cel­e­bra­tion, rather a time to ques­tion, le­git­i­mately ask can we learn, as a peo­ple or species, can we ab­sorb, can we move for­ward and on­ward? Was all of this or any of this for any real, last­ing pur­pose? Of course it wasn’t. We learn lots, and at the same time noth­ing. He did not live one more week to wit­ness that mo­ment, The End. But his words did. One hun­dred years on.

Af­ter the blast of light­ning from the east, The flour­ish of loud clouds, the Chariot throne, Af­ter the drums of time have rolled and ceased And from the bronze west long re­treat is blown,

Shall Life re­new these bod­ies? Of a truth All death will he an­nul, all tears as­suage? Or fill these void veins full again with youth And wash with an im­mor­tal water age?

When I do ask white Age, he saith not so, – ‘My head hangs weighed with snow.’ And when I hear­ken to the Earth she saith My fiery heart sinks aching. It is death. Mine an­cient scars shall not be glo­ri­fied Nor my ti­tanic tears the seas be dried.

John J Kelly is a mul­ti­ple award-win­ning poet from En­nis­cor­thy. He is the co-founder of the An­thony Cronin Po­etry Award with the Wex­ford Lit­er­ary Fes­ti­val and co-or­di­na­tor of po­etry work­shops for schools lo­cally.

Each week, John’s col­umn will deal mainly with nov­els, plays and po­ems from both the Leav­ing Cer­tifi­cate syl­labus and Ju­nior Cer­tifi­cate syl­labus.

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