Tag Archives: Poems

Maybe This Time

Maybe this time sir, maybe we’ll win this time,
A smile – yes boys, have heart and stay in line, 
And God bless you – aye sir, God bless you too –
Let’s show these Huns the things a man can do.
 
But maybe this time, yes, maybe this time,
Why maybe fate this time will be so fine,
To gaze upon the lads, their cheeks still red,
And choose to let them live instead.
 
Maybe this time, oh Lord, maybe this time,
You might for once have spared those boys of mine,
You heard their cries above the sound of war,
Yet all is as it was before.
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The men who fight

For those asleep on England’s shores,
Are fighting men in foreign wars,
Are falling men in foreign wars,
For those asleep on England’s shores.
 
Come now sir, you’re being a bore,
Say some of those from England’s shores,
What cares have we for foreign wars,
When wars are fought without a cause?
 
What cares have you? You’ve some for sure,
Although you might not find the cause,
Have care for men in foreign wars,
For men who stay on distant shores.

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Rudyard Kipling

Rudyard Kipling is a divisive figure in British History. In the age of Empire, he was one of the most popular writers in England. But, as the Empire declined, his tag ‘the prophet of British Imperialism’ (George Orwell) became something of an insult. Although the debate rages over the interpretation of his work, the merit of the writing is somewhat without question.

I grew up on the Just So Stories and the Jungle Book. They should be well known, to my British readership at least. In this post I wish to talk about two of Kipling’s poems, My Boy Jack and Common Form.

I know, I know; rarely will you find Kipling’s poetry lauded. Indeed I have never really got along with in general. These two stand out because I can sense the raw emotion behind the writing in such a way as is rare to an uneducated heart like mine.

Kipling wrote both poems about his son, John. As soon as the First World War began, John tried twice to enlist in the military, but was rejected both times on the grounds that his eyesight was too poor. Apparently they were picky in the beginning. Kipling, believing war to be a fine enterprise where one learned how to be a man, and thoroughly enthusiastic about the whole thing, just so happened to be life-long friends with Lord Roberts, commander-in-chief of the British Army, (as you do). He pulled a few strings and ensured that John was accepted into the Irish Guards.

John was sent into the carnage at Loos (September 1915). He was last seen stumbling through the mud blindly, screaming in agony after an exploding shell ripped his face apart. A body identified as his was not found until 1992. Kipling never forgave himself.

Here are the poems he wrote about the loss. I hope they leave an impression on you as they have done on me.

Common Form

If any questions
why we died,
Tell them,
because our fathers lied.

My Boy Jack

‘Have you news of my boy Jack?’
Not this tide.
‘When d’you think that he’ll come back?’
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

‘Has anyone else had word of him?’
Not this tide.
For what is sunk will hardly swim,
Not with this wind blowing and this tide.

‘Oh, dear, what comfort can I find?’
None this tide,
Nor any tide,
Except he did not shame his kind-
Not even with that wind blowing, and that tide.

Then hold your head up all the more,
This tide,
And every tide;
Because he was the son you bore,
And gave to that wind blowing and that tide!

Note: although this poem was doubtlessly written with John in mind, it describes a drowning sailor, hence the mention of wind and tide. Before I knew this I always imagined a young man sinking in the mud, with shells falling, and the tide of History swirling around him.


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For a brother

You left, as I recall, to sounds of pomp and circumstance,
To fight the noble fight, you said, one must set sail for France,
I waved to you goodbye but as a boy I could not see,
What all the foreign fighting had to do with you and me.
 
We lit for you a candle, which burned bright through night and day,
And kept you always in our hearts though you were far away,
But when the letter told us you were never coming back,
We didn’t visit church again, your candle paled to black.
 
Now after that, the day of days, in hope I was alone,
Unbowed, I lit a flame myself that I might bring you home,
This flame was not a candle but a fire that pierced the night,
Beside the pyre I sat in vain awaiting any sight. 
 
I did not understand why you would not come back to play,
And though our mother tried to try no words that she could say,
Would stop the sense of certainty from forming in my mind,
That some day you’d come back to me, so leaving France behind. 
 
An old man now I’ve seen at last just why you kept away,
But still I come to build my fire to set the sky ablaze,
I wish that I’d been by your side to face the horror too,
Because you and I were brothers and that’s what brothers do.

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A Christmas Truce

Pale winter’s sun with her sweet dwindling light, 
To bed crept she and hid her weary face,
Whilst fell around her darkness bleak as space.
What madness might have met that fateful sight,
But for one faint and gentle spec of white?
A single flake of snow with God’s good grace,
Untouched as yet by death or human waste,
Did fair remind the world of wrong from right.
Now to this ghost both friend and foe gave chase,
With haste across the lines that had been set,
And in each other’s hearts they found a place,
To rest, amidst a merry Christmas fete,
So true the violent times could not erase, 
The mem’ries of when warring brothers met.

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The Rising Of The Sun

First light and is the night swift sent from sky to back of mind,
Forgotten timeless hours spent, awake, though eyes were blind,
Behind the clouds the sun peaks out an arm to turn the ruse,
First light’s a poet’s marvel; it’s a budding wordsmith’s muse.
 
The waking wind is whisp’ring ’bout a half remembered dream, 
That matters not the slightest to the slightly bubbling stream,
Or to the trees that bend to touch the lazy morning’s breeze,
First light’s a simmering silence; a restless reverie.
 
The little mouse fears not the owl who’s sated by the night, 
Nor does the owl have mind to kill, his bed consumes his sight,
It’s morning, let the world be so, let Nature keep Her way, 
First light’s a careless harmony; a carefree time of day.
 
But there’s the creak and cranking, from the forest over head,
A crimson dawn, and through the haze, the water runs as red, 
The sense of shame, of shattered calm, an air that’s thick with hate,
First light’s a cruel ecstasy; a bitter twist of fate. 
 
If not from owl or mouse from where, this stain upon the land?
A stranger to the playful scene, be it the claws of man?
First light’s a fickle mistress; it’s an awful game of chance,
Wake up, you might be anywhere, thank God you’re not in France.

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A piece of mud!

A piece of mud! A piece of mud!
One hundred yards across that flood,
‘Boys that’s our goal, our end’, they say,
‘Our flag will fly from there today’.
 
A piece of mud! A piece of mud!
A gentle hill, worth nothing much,
A tomb where several thousand sleep,
A place where dreadful secrets keep.
 
A piece of mud! A piece of mud!
Is that the cause of all the blood?
The fighting, man on man, in vain?
To take the hill, we try again.
 
A piece of mud! A piece of mud!
One hundred yards across that flood,
‘Boys that’s our goal, our end’, they say,
‘Our flag will fly from there today’.

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