As we commemorate of the centenary of the battle of the Somme, I thought it would be appropriate to share a poem I wrote some years ago, inspired by the pointless sacrifice of human life in that awful battle.
Wings of Angels
Upon the hillside, weary night
surrenders to advancing light.
A bird ascends and flies away
and sings for the beauty of the new-born day.
Down in the valley, trembling lines
of young men greet the bleak sunshine
with dread, and mix their fear with shame
as they pray to a god they have never named.
That morning, as the guns began their song
one man stood strangely calm and strong.
The captain thought of his wasted life,
of his failed career and his faithless wife.
He dreamed of a ribbon and a brazen cross,
well aware that his death would be no loss,
So he looked at the hilltop with desire
and saw salvation beyond the barbed wire.
He spoke to the pale ranks with pride
and assured them that God was on their side.
“My lads, I sense a holy force:
the wings of angels guard our course
through battle. You and I shall walk
up there to victory, so do not talk
of death, but what the world will say
of the great deeds that we did today.”
The boy of eighteen who had never kissed
didn’t want his name on a newspaper list
but he looked at the officer with surprise
to find no fear in those burning eyes.
So with hope in his heart he placed his trust
in this man, and a cause he knew was just
and he did not flinch at the word of command
as the company strode into no man’s land.
Words cannot frame the violent power
that rained on flesh for hour on hour.
At last, in the evening, the air is still
and the guns reign silently over the hill.
Cold on the red earth the heroes lie
and out of the burnt and tattered sky
fall feathers from a bird that no longer sings
or perhaps from the useless, broken wings