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.