Churchill's famous saying - "Jaw, jaw, jaw is better than war, war war" clever juxtaposition of words - he was always good at that - and he certainly knew what he was talking about regarding war. In fact it does seem that war, killing, death, and allied subjects, brings out the best in our poets. I think of Auden's "Stop the clocks", Dylan Thomas's "Do not go gently", John Donne's "Death be not proud" - and a host of war poets who's words strike deep into our hearts.
Well I think there is another one we can add to our list of heart-rending poetry regarding the terrible suffering of war.
Yesterday Henry Allingham, aged 113, with Harry Patch (who also died this week) probably the only surviving soldiers from the first World War (1914-1918), was buried with full military honours in a fourteenth century Brighton church. His coffin was carried by pall bearers from the armed forces and the American side of his family (his daughter, now dead, was a GI bride) follwed carrying his medals and decorations. And for the occasion, Carol Ann Duffy, our new Poet Laureate, composed a poem "Last Post". I think it is brilliant. So many poems penned by our Poets Laureate for special occasions are laboured and turgid. Duffy takes the idea of running time backwards "If poetry could truly tell it backwards, then it would." I find it a very moving poem.
Some may see the whole thing as a glorification of war. We have recently had a 1940's week end here in our little market town - all tied in with the Wensleydale Railway. Men and women dressed up in 40's uniforms, costumes, turbans and aprons went about the town all weekend and local cafes served wartime menus (spam fritters and chips). Yet some in the town felt it was wrong - that it glorified war and we should put it behind us not shout about it.
It is this awful dilemma isn't it? I wrote about it a few blogs ago - fighting for territory, regardless of the loss of life, seems to be inherent in us. And re-enacting those days is, in one way, glorifying war but in another way it is celebrating how we all pulled together in spite of the war. I think I shall sit in the middle on this one as I can see both points of view.
Erica Wagner in The Times gives a good criticism of Duffy's poem - saying "the mud of Flanders Fields clings still" and that Duffy's poem aspires to "a kind of salvation."
I find it sad that Henry Allingham's other daughter, aged 89, to whom he hadn't spoken for forty years, paid her respects at his funeral. We have not taken Churchill's words to heart, have we - not even in small family feuds, let alone in the big ones.
Do try to read Duffy's poem. I'm sure you will be moved by it.