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Thursday, 10 November 2011

A Pause For Thought: The Cenotaph by Charlotte Mew

This is one of my favourite poems about the Great War. It's not written by a soldier or even a widow but by my all-time favourite poet, Charlotte Mew. I think it encapsulates what the families at home - and those left behind - feel and how quickly the world turns away from the sacrifices made by our loyal defenders. The quest to remember them is why we observe a two minute silence each year at 11:00 on the 11th November but it should by no means be the only time in a year that we think of them.

The Cenotaph by Charlotte Mew
Not yet will those measureless fields be green again
Where only yesterday the wild sweet blood of wonderful youth was shed;
There is a grave whose earth must hold too long, too deep a stain,
Though for ever over it we may speak as proudly as we may tread.
But here, where the watchers by lonely hearths from the thrust of an inward sword have more slowly bled,
We shall build the Cenotaph: Victory, winged, with Peace, winged too, at the column’s head.
And over the stairway, at the foot—oh! here, leave desolate, passionate hands to spread
Violets, roses, and laurel, with the small, sweet, tinkling country things
Speaking so wistfully of other Springs,
From the little gardens of little places where son or sweetheart was born and bred.
In splendid sleep, with a thousand brothers
               To lovers—to mothers
               Here, too, lies he:
Under the purple, the green, the red,
It is all young life: it must break some women's hearts to see 
Such a brave, gay coverlet to such a bed!
Only, when all is done and said,
God is not mocked and neither are the dead
For this will stand in our Marketplace—
              Who’ll sell, who’ll buy
              (Will you or I
Lie each to each with the better grace)?
While looking into every busy whore's and huckster's As they drive their bargains, is the Face
Of God: and some young, piteous, murdered face.

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