Sunday, November 09, 2008

We remember them

Therefore is the name of it called Babel

And still we stood and stared far down
Into that ember-glowing town
Which every shaft and shock of fate
Had shorn into its base. Too late
Came carelessly Serenity.

Now torn and broken houses gaze
On the rat-infested maze
That once sent up rose-silver haze
To mingle through eternity.

The outlines, once so strongly wrought,
Of city walls, are now a thought
Or jest unto the dead who fought…
Foundation for futurity.

The shimmering sands where once there played
Children with painted pail and spade
Are drearly desolate, - afraid
To meet Night's dark humanity,

Whose silver cool remakes the dead,
And lays no blame on any head
For all the havoc, fire, and lead,
That fell upon us suddenly.

When all we came to know as good
Gave ways to Evil's fiery flood,
And monstrous myths of iron and blood
Seem to obscure God's clarity.

Deep sunk in sin, this tragic star
Sinks deeper still, and wages war
Against itself; strewn all the seas
With victims of a world disease.
- And we are left to drink the lees
Of Babel's direful prophecy.
Osbert Sitwell, January 1916

Fellow bloggers have marked this Remembrance Sunday with other poems and novels: on 60 going on 16, D has chosen Wilfred Owen's Anthem for Doomed Youth; Brit has linked to Siegfried Sassoon's Everyone sang on Thought Experiments; over on Read Warbler you will find Cath's review of All Quiet on the Western Front and on Bread and Roses, you will find another Wilfred Owen poem: Dulce et decorum est.


  1. The Osbert Sitwell is new to me M - what a fine poem. Thanks so much for posting it.

    For anyone who is interested, BBC1 broadcast an excellent series, My Family at War, last week. Episode 1 included Dan Snow retracing the footsteps of his great-grandfather, General Thomas Snow, who, as it turned out, may have been partially to blame for the slaughter at the Battle of the Somme. A very honest, moving and revealing programme. Episode 1 is available on BBC iPlayer until tomorrow at this link:

  2. I had four great-great uncles killed in the 14-18 war. We have tried to trace them and have been unable to discover any record of them. When I tried to find them through the Cenotaph standing in the centre of Birkenhead, their home town, I was told that only the name of those whose family could pay were remembered in this way. 'I expect your family was poor' commented the town archivist. Bob, Frank, Ernie, and Ted and all the un-named, unremembered dead, I salute you!

  3. Thanks for the link, D. I shall look at that programme later.

    Crinny, how awful. I had no idea that people had to pay in that way. Perhaps it was only in large towns and cities where there were so many to be remembered? It is just one more example of the lack of respect for poor 'Tommy'. I join in your salute to all those whose names have been forgotten.

  4. Apart from shifting the Jo Brand programme about Vera Britain so that I missed it, the BBC have had some excellent programming over the past couple of weeks about WWI. As D said, the My Family at War series has been superb. Unfortunately I missed the Dan Snow one but several including Rolf Harris and Kirsty Wark, were excellent. Michael Palin's doc on how many died during the last days of the war was very poignant too. Even Tony Robinson exploring lost dugouts on C4 was fascinating. A bit sad that TV programming is not always this interesting.

  5. Cath, I thought the BBC's rescheduling of the Vera Brittain programme was outrageous. Fortunately I have Sky Plus and it was clever enough to detect the change but many people I know missed it. 'Testament of Youth' was one of the most significant books of my youth and Jo Brand presented the background to it very well indeed.


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