To remember the eleventh day of the eleventh month, 1918, I dug up a poem written by Ivor Gurney on that day. I found a scanned copy of it from an old compilation in his collection on the First World War Poetry Digital Archive, run by the University of Oxford.
I can’t find the text of this poem anywhere else, so I’ve transcribed the scanned copy. I will bet you have never read this poem before, unless you are a serious fan of Gurney.
Written on November 11th, 1918.
“Day of Victory”
The dull, dispiriting November weather
Hung like a blight on town and tower and tree,
Hardly was Beauty anywhere to see,
Save – how fine rain together
With spare last leaves of creepers once showed wet,
As it were, with blood of some high-making passion,
Drifted slow and slow.
But steadily aglow
The City was beneath its gray, and set
Strong-mooded above the Time’s inclemency
Flaunting from houses, over the rejoicing crowd
Flags waved, that told how nation against nation
Should war no more, tending their wounds awhile-
Sullen the vanquished, Visitors with heads bowed.
But yet the bells from the square towers pealed Victory.
The whole time cried Victory; Victory flew
Banners invisible argent; intangible music,
A glory of spirit wandered the wide air through.
All knew it; nothing mean of fire or common
Ran in men’s minds – None so poor but knew
Some touch of sacred wonder, noble wonder.
Thoughts surface moving under;
Life’s texture coarse transfiguring through and through.
With sense of consummation undeserved,
Desire unfulfilled beyond dreams, completion
Humbly accepted – a proud and thankful nation
took the reward of purpose had not swerved,
But steadily before
Saw out, with equal mind, through alternation
Of hope and doubt – a four-year sway of Fate.
And glad was I,
Glad: who had seen
By Somme and Ancre too many soldiers lie
Too many lovely bodies racked too bitterly.
Joking, friendly-quarrelling, holiday-making,
Eddying hither, thither, without stay
That concourse went; squibs, crackers, squibbing, cracking.
Sounding; Bugles triumphing clear above all –
Hail-fellow, cat-call . . .
Yet one discerned
A new spirit learnt of pain, some great
Acceptance out of hard endurance learned
And truly, wrested bare of hand of Fate.
The solider from his body slips the pack,
Staggers, relaxes, crouches, then lies back –
Glad for the end of torment. Here was more.
It was as if the woman’s spirit moved
That multitude, and never of man that pays
So lightly for the treasure of his days –
Some woman that too greatly has beloved.
Yet willingly her care of life forgone;
Her half o being losing with her son –
Beloved, beautiful, born-of-agony one.
The dull skies wept, the clouds dropped suddenly:
No pride, no triumph there.
Belgium, the Stars and Stripes, Gaul, Italy,
Britain, Mistress assured, Queen of the Sea
Colours forlorn showed; rags glory-bare.
Night starless fell, to blur all; Fell over
That strange assort of life;
Sister and lover,
Brother, child, wife,
Parent, each with his thought, careless or passioned
Of those who gave their frames of flesh to cover
From spoil their land and folk, desperately fashioned
Fate stubborn to their will.
Rain fell, miserably, miserably and still
The crowd clamoured, till late eddied, clamoured,
Mixed, mused, drifted . . . The Day of Victory