For The Fallen

Laurence Binyon was too old to enlist at the start of the First World War, he turned 45 ten days after the war started. Seven weeks after the war started this poem was published as news of the British casualties began to be reported. The war that everyone thought would be over by Christmas went on for another 4 years and claimed the lives of 65 million people.

Laurence Binyon was born in 1869, I was born in 1969, so there is 100 years between our births so this year 2014 as we remember the 100 anniversary of the start of World War 1 I am the same age as Laurence Binyon. I would be too old to enlist. I am left thinking would I be disappointed I could go to serve my country or would I be relieved. With hindsight, relieved is all I can think I would have felt, but 1914 was a different time. While Laurence was too old to join the army he did join the Red Cross and served as a medical orderly.

I always assumed that this poem was written after the war or at least towards the end of it. I never dreamt it was written right at the start. The horror of trench warfare hadn't really started by September 2014. The battles the British Expeditionary Force had fought in were across open ground and were critical in stopping the German advance. As the front line stretched out from coast to coast the troops dug in and 400 miles of trenches connected the North Sea to the Alps.

Another wrong assumption I had was that the poem was written in the trenches. As Laurence never went to war the poem wasn't written there. It was as he sat above the cliffs in north Cornwall at Pentire Point, near Polzeath. Such beauty in sharp contrast to the subject.

For the Fallen

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill: Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres.
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England's foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain,
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

by Robert Laurence Binyon
First published 21st September 1914 in The Times

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