This, the last post in the series, is less about the poet and more about the poem, but it’s always good to give a little bit of history.
By the time of the First World War Binyon (August 1869 – 10 March 1943) was
too old for service, although in 1915 he volunteered at a British hospital for French soldiers, Hôpital Temporaire d’Arc-en-Barrois, Haute-Marne, France, working briefly as a hospital orderly. He returned in the summer of 1916 and took care of soldiers taken in from the Verdun battlefield.
Moved by the opening of the Great War and the already high number of casualties of the British Expeditionary Force, in 1914 Laurence Binyon wrote his For the Fallen, with its Ode of Remembrance, as he was visiting the cliffs near Pentire Head in north Cornwall (where a plaque commemorates it nowadays.) The piece was published by The Times newspaper in September, when public feeling was affected by the recent Battle of Marne. The Ode of Remembrance (the third and fourth [more recently just the fourth] stanzas of For the Fallen) became the centre piece of the remembrance services in Britain and Her Empire. Over time it was claimed as a tribute to all casualties of war, regardless of nation. It seems to me a fitting way to end this series. Before we get down to the poem, I would like first to close on the reflection that of the 9 poets I have mentioned who saw action in the First World War, only 3 (Sassoon, Graves and Blunden) survived to see its end. That’s a survival ratio of 1/3, for you maths buffs out there. Anyway, just a thought. Now here she is.
The Ode of RemembranceThey went with songs to the battle, they were young. Straight of limb, true of eyes, steady and aglow. They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted, They fell with their faces to the foe. They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, We will remember them.