Sunday, 6 November 2011

Remembrance of Things Past

It's the time of year when visitors turn up in vast numbers at this blog looking for Laurence Binyon's 'For the Fallen'. I like to be helpful, so here in one handy blogpost are all your Remembrancetide needs. Binyon is your man if you are prepared to wait until stanza 4; McCrae is punchier, certainly more pugilistic: you will need to ignore the final stanza's call to arms, or at least pretend that, as long as it is read in a suitably sombre tone, no one need worry about what it means.

John McCrae, 'In Flanders Fields'

Then there is David Cameron's favourite poem, Wilfred Owen's 'Dulce et Decorum Est'; or, if you want something more unusual, you could choose Charlotte Mew's 'The Cenotaph'. Mew tells us the uncomfortable truth---which politicians of all stripes never fail to confirm---that remembrance can be conveniently reduced to nothing more than a public gesture, a performance, a token monument. As Geoffrey Hill, our greatest living poet, bitterly complains, England has become 'a nation / with so many memorials but no memory'.


  1. Interesting post. Can I add a link to my own fave, A A Milne's "From a Full Heart" with its craving for less noise, less action, not to live in interesting times:

    When the War is over and the battle has been won,
    I'm going to buy a barnacle and take it for a run;
    When the War is over and the German Fleet we sink,
    I'm going to keep a silk-worm's egg and listen to it think.

  2. Geoffrey Hill "our greatest living poet". What about Seamus Heaney?

  3. Ha! I'll avoid debating the respective merits of Hill and Heaney by pointing out that Heaney isn't British, let alone English.

  4. The wee lad's from the North, beyond the Pale, doncha know--and lapsed or no, he's Papist to boot. Troubles? Marches? Bombs? Thuggery? That's not warfare, it's the locals having a bit of a tiff. What scions of England's green and pleasant land could possibly rank Same-as-whosit?

    But what do I know? America's hands are pure and clean, of course, and our Homeland Security equally just and pristine. No fundamentalist racists, no homegrown terrorists, no banksters, no greedy corporations, no Supreme injustices--ain't no flies on US, in other words. Even our unacknowledged legislators, not to mention the reluctantly elected ones, have been co-opted by lobbyists. Who needs Poetry in this best of all impossible worlds?

    But I digress...

  5. When T Roosevelt railed to his friend, Rudyard Kipling, about British policy in Ireland, Kipling replied that if we had dealt with the Irish as the Americans dealt with the Natives, there would no longer be a problem...