Category Archives: history

Friday Poem: Epitaph on an army of Mercenaries

These, in the day when heaven was falling,
The hour when earth’s foundations fled,
Follow’d their mercenary calling
And took their wages and are dead.

Their shoulders held the sky suspended;
They stood, and earth’s foundations stay;
What God abandon’d, these defended,
And saved the sum of things for pay.

by A.E. Housman (1860-1936)

To me, this poem is evocative of all those who do the dirty work for the rest of us. It is a WW1 poem, but also  applies, I feel, to all those who fought in WW2, specifically to my  Grandfather who fought in both world wars and his children:  my Uncle who defended India, my Godmother who repaired Spitfires under enemy fire  and her sister who manned (womanned?) the Barrage Balloons during the London Blitz. Plus my other Aunt’s American fiance who died at D-Day and all the young American boys my teenage mother danced with during the long wait for D-Day, and who she cried for as they left one night to take back Europe.

The mercenaries in this poem are actually the ‘Old Contemptibles’, the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) of 1914— the professional British army before the rush of volunteers. The BEF was sent to France in 1914 to fight against the Germans.

Advertisements

Farm

My rolling road smooths over the hills
reveals a distant farm house
hazy gray, huddled in trees
we roll on and the farm folds away
gone into green.
As it did
when Vikings rode past
hunting for spoils, women and food
when the Revenue came later
searching for tax payers.

This land is ancient
holdings forged millennia ago
only when warfare encompassed the air
was this farms safety broached.
Yet bombers passed over to pit and hole
to blast and burn
the farm house remained
snuggled into the land.
Copyright © 2018 Kim Whysall-Hammond

Edited from a version published here in June 2016

Cochi

Deep ploughed grooves
reveal treasures between vines
broken pots, beads, loom weights,
amphora base inscribed with a name.
Burnt edges speak of conflagration,
terror, loss, pain.
Archeology of human fear.

Copyright © 2018 Kim Whysall-Hammond

Cochi was the term for pot sherds when we were Archeological Field-Walking in Sicily several years ago.

At Stratford with William

From above I watch the story unfold
Bask in dense poetry
The pleasure of  words and phrasing
So pertinent to the action
To the people laying out their very lives in front of us
I laugh uproariously then
Gasp as the knife plunges
Hold my breath
Knowing from schooldays the inevitable end
But hoping this time, here, now
That tragedy can somehow not play out on this stage
That all must come right even for this poor foolish reprobate
Sit shaken, still, grieving
Then
Stand and  roar my appreciation
My hands clap fast and hard  above my head
I grin in sheer pleasure at the craft and art
That has been spun out this evening
As the story concludes and the players bow

Copyright © 2017  Kim Whysall-Hammond

We will be seeing Macbeth at Stratford this week!

Being English

Show no emotion, hold everything back
Say ’I think we need a bit of support’ when you are under fatal attack
Go about your business as the world falls apart
Hiding the fear deep in your heart
Delight in the odd, the strange and the weird
Live beside the newcomer, even if they are feared
Chicken Tikka Marsala is our national dish,
An island nation that rarely eats fish,
Throw flowers under a princesses hearse
Life may be difficult but it could always be worse
Marry the outsider, swallow them whole
Quiet, loving and different is the English soul

Copyright © 2015 Kim Whysall-Hammond

First blogged in 2015 and it seems a bit appropriate this week. I admit that both people in the photo not actually English….but its a great photo!

Times path

Wide track striped white across high grass
draped in silence, excepting faint bird calls.
Wedged between high ground and rolling plain,
edged and encrusted with time’s memorials,
entrances to unremembered dead amid pasture land
and we walkers.

The old earthworks cannot speak,
but they glow in my mind, calling.

If space and time are multidimensional,
could we not walk another way round
sidle through and back.

Meet the neighbours.

Copyright © 2018 Kim Whysall-Hammond

Somerset Tsunami

The surprise flood leaps high up the church wall
infusing its stones with estuarine silts.
Priests exalt the Lord, gladdened by long awaited  Armageddon
prepared to guide their flocks to heaven
or to hell.
The press of water and terror makes it difficult to breathe
the fields are indigo like the winter sea
they are the winter sea now.
Sheep murmur in the waters.

Copyright © 2018 Kim Whysall-Hammond

A large portion of Somerset, in the West Country, is very low-lying. It is called the Somerset Levels, and still floods today at time of very high rainfall, despite drainage canals.

On a sunny 30th January 1607, there was a sudden, very high, flood. The written descriptions  from the time describe the sea receding before the wave arrived and that the wave rushed in faster than people could run. A crowd of people stood and watched the high wave coming towards them until it was too late to run. It is now understood that the ‘Flood’ was a tsunami.

 

Herepath

Wide as ten men abreast
The old road cuts between farms
Dips down to the river
Rises up over the moor
Rabbits lollop, lambs bleat
Rosebay glows at sunset
Where were the wars that you marched to?
Where were the victories that you won?
Here on the old Herepath
The road truly goes ever on

Copyright © 2018 Kim Whysall-Hammond

Winter Hill

Steep green turfed pudding
summit ringing terraces
slopes carved by sheepen hooves,
local springs, winter born, fill a surrounding pool.

Built near ancestral dead, venerable springs,
the great stone circles
and an ancient way once trodden by mammoth.
The largest winter hill and the last,
Silbury still haunts and surprises.

Copyright © 2018 Kim Whysall-Hammond

This great last monument of the Stone Age in England is not far from where I live, and continually fascinates me. Image from and further information at heritageaction

‘I shall not wholly die’

On this date in 8 BC a great poet died. We know him as Horace. Much of his work is still relevant 2,025 years later.

I feel his best translator is Dryden, and I give you this little snippet from The Odes, Book One, IX:

Tomorrow and its works defy;
Lay hold upon the present hour,
And snatch the pleasures passing by
To put them out of Fortune’s power;
Nor love nor love’s delights disdain –
Whate’er thou getts’t today, is gain.

I am very grateful to the Muddy Archeologist for reminding me  of the date and getting me to re-read some Horace. And for giving us a brace of pertinent Horace quotes at the link below:

https://muddyarchaeologistcouk.wordpress.com/2017/11/24/radio-4-presented-by-horace-i-shall-not-wholly-die-horace-lives-on-on-the-anniversary-of-his-death-in-8-bc/#like-4740