Acrylics by Candia Dixon-Stuart
like a circle in a spiral
like a wheel within a wheel
never ending or beginning
on an ever spinning reel
as the images unwind
like the circles of your mind…
Noel Harrison, Sting, Dusty Springfield, Alison Moyet etc
Music by Michel LeGrand
It was an entirely fortuitous and serendipitous encounter. Major Howard was
sitting at a table outside Arlette Gondree’s cafe. (Arlette’s house was the first
French home to be liberated.)
I was in the company of Major Michael Hickey, a military historian who
was with my choir. We were singing The Brahms Requiem seven times
in ten days, all over Normandy, along with a French choir and the
orchestra of Basse Normandie. We sang in different towns
and we sang in German. The audiences were in tears. It was an
emotional and healing experience for all involved.
Photo: 9th June, 1944. Wikimedia Commons
Generous gesture – German flag festoons,
hoisted with the Allied banners. Bunching,
fussy boudoir blinds. Here swooping platoons,
like death’s head moths, stealthily came gliding.
Across the bridge John Howard bravely strode,
piper ahead, deflecting sniper shot.
Now European coaches block the road;
the dispassionate stamp postcards they’ve bought,
sending snapshots of Hell to those who knew
the mark of Caen first-hand. Wish you were here!
He was: a fact to startle and imbue
those that have eyes to see and ears to hear.
The café’s bright umbrellas shelter all
from noonday’s heat, so one could fail to spot
cool nonagenarian. By the wall,
hero’s crutches propped, ready for action.
His longest day is past; his time now short:
German beer his major satisfaction.
autorotation, Beaumont Hamel, Bois des Fourcaux, Bois l'Eveque, calvaire, Cambrai, Craiglockhart, del Gesu, Delville Wood, Dufay, dunnock, Hamel, Hebuterne, Last Tree, lynchet, Mametz, mandrake, Maricourt, Napier University, Ors, Queen's Hall, remblais, Sassoon, Somme, Steve Burnett, sycamore, The Branch, Wilfred Owen, World War 1 poetry
A friend told me about an amazing radio programme about Steve Burnett,
in Edinburgh, making a Wilfred Owen violin from a fallen branch from a
sycamore tree from Craiglockhart Hospital, now Napier University,where
Sassoon and Owen met and discussed their poetry, before Owen
returned to the trenches and met his untimely death.
I listened to the programme and then felt compelled to write the
The Sycamore Sings
Shall life renew these bodies? Of a truth
All death will he annul…
(amended words from his poetry on Wilfred Owen’s gravestone)
Where a mother muted her offspring’s ire,
deleting his line’s interrogative;
where Dufay scored his music at Cambrai;
St Quentin’s corpse loomed from the Somme marshland,
to hallow the grandest basilica;
where guillotines did their grisly work,
fog lifted from shattered Bois l’Eveque-
new dawn drawing back night’s curtain of war.
On a towpath, a twenty five year old,
tried not to fret how he would cross the bridge.
Mesmerised by the autorotation
of seeds, he foresaw his own slow spiral,
where magpies croaked in blasted canopies.
Dark, stark poplars had been lopped long before;
the copses razed; the rides and lynchets scarred.
Mametz, Maricourt and Bois des Fourcaux:
sweet chestnut, lime, beech, hazel, oak, hornbeam-
mad mandrakes uprooted; bi-furcated trunks.
Sad remblais of Hebuterne (No Man’s Land)
absorbed shrill batteries near sunken lanes.
Calvaires bowed before continuous suffering.
In Beaumont Hamel, a single tree remains,
petrified. In Delville Wood, The Last Tree
stands like a gibbet. Sycamores survive.
They grow where other trees give up the ghost.
One such, at Craiglockhart, he could recall.
Again he heard the dunnock’s douce refrain,
singing for dear life, from lush foliage,
before its notes were silenced, once for all.
Fragments of father’s sermon rose to mind-
about The Branch, hope, regeneration.
Now, while still green, a supple slice is bent
into a tongue which will tell of all loss,
tears oozing like resin from a wounded bark:
man and nature in divine harmony.
In Queen’s Hall, it will sob and it will sing
of the pity of war – the air fleshily weeping.
And, one being dead, yet will be speaking
through a universal language of peace,
from a pattern once conceived by Gesu.