The ground shuddered, the canvas shook,
In the darkness flash on flash
Swept from left to right
And right to left;
One here, another one there,
One this side, then that side,~
Ever faster. Now
A dim horizon is a line of fire
And punctuated banging
Has become a palpitating roar;
Trains rushing near and not arriving,
Noise swelling up and not receding,
Glutting ear and brain.
In vain, a human word from human mouth,
Impossible tinkle of a bell,
Imagined crunch of boot on sand;
Like crazed, hypnotic tyrant
This savagery of sound
Weighs on its brutal yoke,
But find the freedom of the boy –
Cup your hand and hold it to your ear
And play at sea-shells.
(How often, as a child,
I broke the brittle case
And sought the living cause,
The absent mystery bewailed).
But there it goes!
And now, pleasantly,
Lone guns stubbornly
Beating a rhythmic drum.
Above me, yellow light.
A blinking flare,
Remindful of the bright
New lustre of the modern thoroughfare;
And yet a sickly, waxen light,
Moving, floating there,
I lie, close-walled,
The grateful touch of earth
Around, above me; chiselled
By my spade to frame my girth.
I think of mummies.
So feels a corpse, if corpse can feel.
I think of testimonies
Picturing the victim made to kneel
In grave. I see again my father’s face;
So did those eyes take in this place;
The splintered groove, the wavy grain,
The undertaker’s nail, the gluey stain.
Above me, yellow light;
And bird-of-prey intentfully
Circling, searching in the night –
A purring plane resentfully.
The engine-echo of the pilot’s mind
Tells me he has yet to find
Our place; but listen! that harder tone!
His finger on the button; threatening moan;
The rush of air, the whining sound….
My body stiffens on the ground….
The screech, the all-obliterating blow,
The palsied earth, the panicked flow
Of startled air – and then the gentle, eerie patter
Of sarcastic shrapnel asking what’s the matter.
The yellow light
Like midnight candle
Fast is dipping.
Weary of the fight,
Now no anxious rattle
From the guns is tapping.
Murmur of a distant motor.
All the sweeter,
Like a drug, begins to seep
Delicious silence, bringing with it – sleep.
Lance-corporal I. Celner
This is one of my favourite books and I read from it occasionally at events as Monty. The anonymous poem that was found in a slit-trench is very poignant and moving.