Remembrance Sunday

We will be hearing this poem, NO ORDINARY SUNDAY in this morning’s service.

No ordinary Sunday. First the light
falling dead through dormitory windows blind
with fog; and then, at breakfast, every plate
stained with the small, red cotton flower; and no
sixpence for pocketmoney. Greatcoats, lined
by the right, marched from their pegs, with slow
poppy fires smouldering in one lapel
to light us through the fallen cloud. Behind
that handkerchief sobbed the quick Sunday bell.

A granite cross, the school field underfoot,
Inaudible prayers, hymn sheets that stirred
too loudly in the hand. When hymns ran out,
silence, like silt, lay round so wide and deep
it seemed that winter held its breath. We heard
only the river talking in its sleep:
until the bugler flexed his lips, and sound
cutting the fog cleanly like a bird,
circled and sang out over the bandaged ground.

Then low-voiced , the headmaster called the roll
of those who could not answer; every name
suffixed with honour – ‘double first’, ‘kept goal
for Cambridge’ – and a death – – in spitfires, tanks,
and ships torpedoed. At his call there came
through the mist blond heroes in broad ranks
with rainbows struggling on their chests. Ahead
of us, in strict formation, as we idled home,
marched the formations of the towering dead.

November again, and the bugles blown
in a tropical Holy Trinity.
the heroes today stand further off, grown
smaller but distinct. They flash no medals, keep
no ranks: through Last Post and Reveille
their chins loll on their chests, like birds asleep.
Only when the long, last note ascends
upon the wings of kites, some two or three
look up: and have the faces of my friends.

John Stallworthy

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