Around this special time of commemoration and reconciliation, I thought
I’d reblog one of my war poems…
Clammie commiserated: I can see that you are affected by your friend’s
demise, Candia. He seems to have been a marvellous character.
He was, I affirmed. We really got to know each other when we went to
Normandy as part of a choral group, in order to join forces with a French
choir and the Orchestra of Basse-Normandie, in 1994. It was to
commemorate D-Day and we ended up singing The Brahms Requiem in seven
towns, over a week. Then the French choir returned with us and we sang it in
England for an eighth time. We performed it in German as a symbol of
reconciliation and the congregations and audiences gave us standing ovations,
with tears streaming down their faces. Sometimes the concerts were in
buildings which had been bombed and were partially re-built, as in the case
of the church in St Lo.
Didn’t you say that he took you to Pegasus Bridge?
He did. We arrived at the bridge and he couldn’t believe his eyes as
Major John Howard was sitting at the cafe, having a beer. We joined
him. What a legend he had been. He’s dead now, of course. My friend
recognised the old hero immediately, as he was a military historian.
Didn’t you write a poem about your trip?
Oh yes. I have already posted the one I wrote about Pegasus Bridge,
but I will post another one now, if you like. It tried to sum up my
emotions when we sang in Lisieux. That thrilling phrase: Ja, der Geist
spricht still creates shivers down my spine. I suppose it speaks of the
Spirit of Man, as well as the Holy Ghost. My friend emanated a vital
force of that Great Soul and, since he had been a brave soldier himself,
here is my poem, in his memory.
EIN DEUTSCHES REQUIEM FUR D-DAY
The breath of that great soul speaks in hushed tones,
soothing survivors of Allied assaults-
Brahms bathing the buttered Normandy stones:
tinting kaleidoscopic windows. Vaults,
in cross-ribs, soar to swelling resonance;
reverberate sharp reminiscences
of those who suffered in this audience.
Choral voices soften dissonances.
Ja, der Geist spricht. No permanent abode
can house indomitable souls on earth.
When Destruction came, still sweet music flowed,
inspiring creativity where dearth
had reigned before. The youthful soldiers sleep,
lullabied to lilt of liberation:
seeds watered by grief of those who now weep.
They’ve passed beyond that twinkling of an eye
and rest, sung heroes. Heartfelt ovation
from grateful present shows they’ll never die
in memory, or appreciation.
And when that final bugle sounds, they’ll rise,
as one, not knowing discrimination,
to jointly celebrate War’s own demise.
Related archive post on P
Brahms, chautauqua, I know where I'm going, John Donne, John Milton, Paradise Lost, Phaedrus, Pilate, Robert M Pirsig, Suarez, Tortoise and Hare, value rigidity, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
Drusilla said: Fire away! She felt like John Milton’s daughter- the one who
was his amanuensis for Paradise Lost. Was this going to be as epic?
Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen, Governors, Stakeholders, Staff and boys,
including Old Boys…. Have I left anyone out?
Maybe just ‘girls’. There are bound to be a few sisters in the marquee.
Okay. In addressing you all on this auspicious day, I feel rather like Suarez-
pause for effect– who might have felt that he had bitten off more than he
Dru raised her eyebrows, but continued to type.
Conscious of my-ah-rhetorical failings, the expression of such an
awareness being a trope I admit, I sought a framework for my
observations on The Metaphysics of Quality and, being in the
moment, recalled that excellent manual for life: ‘Zen and the
Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.’
Philosophical investigation and being confronted with bad writing can,
as Phaedrus knew, make you insane. I should have paid more
attention to this.
I have always had complete confidence in St Birinus’ Middle as an
institution, as much as I never doubted that the sun would rise
on the morrow.
Dru interrupted: Do people still say ‘morrow?’
They would if they read John Donne. That was supposed to be an
With the advantage of the oblique insight of the dyslexic, I declare that
I am not so much going into retiral as into a re-trial, assuming the post
and concomitant responsibilities of Deputy Head. My mistakes will be
part of my education. One never stops learning.
However, one mistake I have never made is to believe that schools exist
to teach children to imitate their teachers. Our assessment systems often
caution against originality. Value rigidity- what a pernicious trap! Surely the
good is to re-evaluate what one can see through the perception of one’s past
commitment to certain values?
The question, my dear fellow travellers, is not ‘What is new?’ but rather
‘What is best?’
Our institutions should not exist for the perpetuation of their own ends
and for control, but for the objective search for Truth.
And, as Pilate said: What is Truth?
Dru looked up from the computer, expecting an Existential Revelation,
but Gus neatly side-stepped the nub of the matter and continued:
I am reminded of the servant who buried his talent in the ground
because he was too afraid to make it grow.
Reviewing my own career, I find that I am well-equipped to write my
own epitaph. I was ‘ever the outsider’; ever the one attacking what
was being taught, rather than learning from it. I have been an
In days gone by, there were others in our staffroom who may have been
deemed to have also lived in the shadow of insanity, or anarchy. To share
a mug of builders’ tea with such as those, around a three day old crossword
and to sense minds that thought as you thought and to listen to voices
that spoke as you did was as close to an epiphany of the sacred as any
mere human could anticipate this side of eternity.
A tear rolled off the tip of Dru’s nose.
Modern Head Teachers may expound and expand on the destiny of mankind.
We, we just wanted to run a school. The Future will judge whose approach
had most value.
Constant activity based on restlessness may drive one to conquer mountains,
but it can be exhausting and debilitating. My mind strays to the example of
the tortoise who outstripped the hare.
Leave that out, Father. It’s too tangential.
Should I mention the noumenal sherpas?
There are many archers who seek to hit targets, but pricking the bulls’ eye
may distract one from gazing at a ray of sunlight as it touches a leaf.
Those ghostly voices of the past sing to us, conveying a sense of purpose:
I know where I’m going
And I know who’s going with me.
Dru’s made a typo as she thought: But the dear knows who he’ll marry.
What voices are you on about? she asked.
I had in mind a kind of Brahmsian ‘Ja, der Geist Spricht.’
Well, don’t blame me if the reference goes right over their heads.
I’m used to it! Most of my lessons did the same, but there is always
one who hears the message. They receive the chautauqua.
Blimey! How do you spell that?
Never mind. I’ll edit it later.
We may have difficulty in mapping where we are at any given moment,
but, with hindsight, we will see, as Robert M Pirsig said: ‘a pattern…
What does the ‘M’ stand for? Metaphysical?
Very funny. Leave it there. I will add to it later.
Well, you haven’t left much time for the presentation of prizes, Dru
said. You do realise that everyone will be anxious to escape and have
their strawberries and cream and no one will listen to a word in that
The world was ever thus, agreed Snod. But one cannot cease to be an