Verdun 1916 – 2016

I cannot let pass the hundredth anniversary of the start of perhaps the bloodiest battle of World War I, (close to a million young men were killed in it ). This poem recollects my visit to the battlefield in 1997.

VERDUN

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Before the early fog has lifted

I enter the woods’ canopy

and trip on ridges and craters:

the mired banks of the age of steel.

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Spiked helmets of ghostly armies

rise up in the smoking dawn,

the pregnant moon is still red,

hanging over the new day’s uncertainty.

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These trees echo an empire’s split

between sons, the hollow slaughter

and bleating soldiers filing past

the shepherds of the nation.

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Waxed moustaches, duelling scars

fight hand-to-hand with les poilus

and the Fort’s dark under-ground

transforms into their catacombs.

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“Do not by-pass us as you go by;

We are the bayonet platoon,

overwhelmed by earth and rising

into new life with our steeled spines.”

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Death of youth. The turf is bone-fed,

those lucky in the ossuary

which, like a giant white bullet,

points at God’s heart in vast reproach.

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“Lord, your only begotten son

you gave; a million loves we lost

and mislaid a generation:

your mercy conducts obscurely.”

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Sad, stone lion, you have barely strength

to lick your wounded paw and stare

away from the world as if bars

of an invisible cage surround you.

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I can bear this death-field no more:

the young men and their promised loves.

Is my life wasted as others

have consumed theirs in blood and pain?

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Leaping on my motorcycle

I flee from the past, my conscience.

Lion, summer’s birth sign, you live

in the minds of men everywhere…

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2 thoughts on “Verdun 1916 – 2016

  1. War is a hideous waste of life. I think the leaders of countries should fight it out, not send millions of young men to their horrible deaths. It seems we never learn about the futility of war, look what is happening in Syria and other places. Wars fought over stupid religions and greed..it never ends. I think I would hide my son away before I would send him off to war.

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