Sky

& Bullets

Musings on the worlds of aviation, military and international affairs.

 

With reviews of books that cover these topics

Contact

sandb@paulsmiddy.co.uk

World War One

There is going to be a lot of material on the Great War worthy of discussion in coming months, as the centenary of the apocalyptic struggle arrives.

 

As a first taste I thought I would include the poem below. It was published in The Times (under a more rousing title),  a few weeks after the author’s death. Lt Oxland was an officer in the Border Regiment, and had the misfortune to be sent to the cauldron of Gallipoli. The sea journey gave him plenty of time for reflection (and writing). Like many others he suffered, less at the hands of the Turks, than at the hands of the incompetent staff officers.  I find it a stirring painting of his beloved Cumbrian countryside, and a very poignant lament for all that he suspects he will lose for ever. My father was Cumbrian by birth.

 

The poem came to my attention in a book which I will review shortly.

 

Farewell by Nowell Oxland

 

There’s a waterfall I’m leaving

Running down the rocks in foam,

There’s a pool for which I’m grieving

Near the water-ouzel’s home,

And it’s there that I’ld be lying

With the heather close at hand

And the curlews faintly crying

‘Mist the wastes of Cumberland.

 

While the midnight watch is winging

Thoughts of other days arise,

I can hear the river singing

Like the saints in Paradise;

I can see the water winking

Like the merry eyes of Pan,

And the slow half-pounder sinking

By the bridge’s granite span.

 

Ah! To win them back and clamber

Braced anew with winds I love,

From the river’s stainless amber

To the morning mist above,

See through cloud-rifts rent asunder,

Like a painted scroll unfurled,

Ridge and hollow rolling under

To the fringes of the world.

 

Now the weary guard are sleeping,

Now the great propellers churn,

Now the harbour lights are creeping

Into emptiness astern,

While the sentry wakes and watches

Plunging triangles of light

Where the water leaps and catches

At our escort in the night.

 

Great their happiness who seeing

Still with unbenighted eyes

Kin of theirs who gave them being,

Sun and earth that made them wise,

Die and feel their embers quicken

Year by year in summer time,

When the cotton grasses thicken

On the hills they used to climb.

 

Shall we also as they be,

Mingled with our mother clay,

Or return no more, it may be?

Who has knowledge, who shall say?

Yet we hope that from the bosom

Of our shaggy father Pan,

When the earth breaks into blossom

Richer from the dust of man,

 

Though the high gods smite and slay us,

Though we come not whence we go,

As the host of Menelaus

Came there many years ago;

Yet the selfsame wind shall bear us

From the departing place

Out across the Gulf of Saros

And the peaks of Samothrace:

 

We shall pass in summer weather,

We shall come at eventide,

Where the fells stand up together

And all quiet things abide;

Mixed with cloud and wind and river,

Sun-distilled in dew and rain,

One with Cumberland for ever

We shall not go forth again.

 

continued