Poetry

the rainbow

the rainbow – leslie coulson

I watch the white dawn gleam,
To the thunder of hidden guns.
I hear the hot shells scream
Through skies as sweet as a dream
Where the silver dawnbreak runs.
And stabbing of light
Scorches the virginal white.
But I feel in my being the old, high, sanctified thrill,
And I thank the gods that dawn is beautiful still.
From death that hurtles by
I crouch in the trench day-long
But up to a cloudless sky
From the ground where our dead men lie
A brown lark soars in song.
Through the tortured air,
Rent by the shrapnel’s flare,
Over the troubleless dead he carols his fill,
And I thank the gods that the birds are beautiful still.
Where the parapet is low
And level with the eye
Poppies and cornflowers glow
And the corn sways to and fro
In a pattern against the sky.
The gold stalks hide
Bodies of men who died
Charging at dawn through the dew to be killed or to kill.
I thank the gods that the flowers are beautiful still.
When night falls dark we creep
In silence to our dead.
We dig a few feet deep
And leave them there to sleep –
But blood at night is red,
Yea, even at night,
And a dead man’s face is white.
And I dry my hands, that are also trained to kill,
And I look at the stars – for the stars are beautiful still.

I found this poem in a book of World War I poetry. Leslie Coulson died during the war, in 1916. Among other poems, he wrote Who Made The Law? which is gripping in its gathering horror and repeated demand. I find The Rainbow‘s contrast between the death that was happening and nature that continued on to be striking – hopeful, because though awful things are happening, beauty still persists; horrible, because the two are happening at the same time. One does not stop for the other, though it feels like it should.

And I look at the stars – for the stars are beautiful still.

Poetry

the destruction of sennacherib

the destruction of sennacherib – lord byron

The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;
And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea,
When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.

   Like the leaves of the forest when Summer is green,
That host with their banners at sunset were seen:
Like the leaves of the forest when Autumn hath blown,
That host on the morrow lay withered and strown.

   For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast,
And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed;
And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill,
And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still!

   And there lay the steed with his nostril all wide,
But through it there rolled not the breath of his pride;
And the foam of his gasping lay white on the turf,
And cold as the spray of the rock-beating surf.

   And there lay the rider distorted and pale,
With the dew on his brow, and the rust on his mail:
And the tents were all silent, the banners alone,
The lances unlifted, the trumpet unblown.

   And the widows of Ashur are loud in their wail,
And the idols are broke in the temple of Baal;
And the might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword,
Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord!

I find this poem to be so breathtakingly vivid; it’s been following me around all week, popping into my head at odd moments. Say the words out loud and you can see it. You can see the rider, dead and still. You can see the banners fluttering in the sunset. You can see them again – dry and void of life, like leaves strewn on the forest floor.

And the might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword, hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord!

Poetry

to one dead

to one dead – francis ledwidge

A blackbird singing
On a moss-upholstered stone,
Bluebells swinging,
Shadows wildly blown,
A song in the wood,
A ship on the sea.
The song was for you
And the ship was for me.

A blackbird singing
I hear in my troubled mind,
Bluebells swinging
I see in a distant wind.
But sorrow and silence
Are the wood's threnody,
The silence for you
And the sorrow for me.

Found in a slim book – ‘the poetry of World War I’ – the aching loneliness and feeling of a profound and quiet grief is so easily felt upon reading this poem.

A threnody, for those of you who – like me – had no idea what it meant, is a lament: a wailing ode, song, hymn or poem of mourning composed or performed as a memorial to a dead person.

(Thanks, Wikipedia!)

Find out more about Francis Ledwidge here.

Books, Poetry

a passing glimpse

a passing glimpse, by robert frost

I often see flowers from a passing car
That are gone before I can tell what they are.

I want to get out of the train and go back
To see what they were beside the track.

I name all the flowers I am sure they weren't;
Not fireweed loving where woods have burnt- 

Not bluebells gracing a tunnel mouth- 
Not lupine living on sand and drouth.

Was something brushed across my mind
That no one on earth will ever find?

Heaven gives it glimpses only to those
Not in position to look too close. 

I’ve been quite taken by this poem. It’s beautiful. It catches something – some undefinable, wistful emotion.

Recently, I’ve started to read more poetry. (Though I am still convinced that the best bit of poetry I’ve ever heard of can be found in The Grand Sophy – you know the one – ‘To Sophia, Holding A Lamp’)

Also ‘I’ve started to read more poetry’ seems to imply that I’m reading a lot of poetry. Here. Let me translate it:

want to read more poetry and one evening I was engaged in this very activity. 

And by that I mean I read ten poems. 

I am now a poetry devotee and am obviously an expert.