Heckington Church, Lincolnshire, July 2014
Heckington Church, Lincolnshire, July 2014

 

Oh, is the water sweet and cool,

Gentle and brown, above the pool?

And laughs the immortal river still

Under the mill, under the mill?

Say, is there Beauty yet to find?

And Certainty? and Quiet kind?

Deep meadows yet, for to forget

The lies, and truths, and pain? . . . oh! yet

Stands the Church clock at ten to three?

And is there honey still for tea?

Rupert Brooke, The Old Vicarage, Grantchester (1912)

Although written long before anyone knew the Great War was coming, and in a lighter tone than the poetry he would write when it did, Rupert Brooke’s evocation from abroad of life in an English village is endlessly poignant. We do, after all, know what came in 1914.

Rupert Brooke died in 1915 on a hospital ship in the Aegean Sea. He was 27 years old. By then, his poetry was both successful and closely associated with the war. His sonnets, The Dead and The Soldier, – ‘If I should die, think only this of me’ – had caught something of the spirit of sacrificial heroism that had inspired young men from all over England to volunteer in the summer of 1914.

Among them were scores of farm labourers, tradesmen and other young men from the Fens, who joined the Lincolnshire Regiment and fought on the Western Front. Many of them, far more than anyone imagined on 4 August 1914, never came back. The lost were remembered by their parents, sisters and former comrades in the parish church, where so many other lives, and so many historical crises, had also left their mark.

The poetry of the First World War is closely linked in the English imagination with the experience of industrial warfare. No other war has left such a trace in our literature. Today, one hundred years after the entry of Great Britain into the Great War, let the words of another fine poet, Laurence Binyon, mark the day, as they have so often in Remembrance Services in each one of these churches:

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.

Laurence Binyon, For The Fallen, (1914)

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2 thoughts on “Stands the Church clock at ten to three?

  1. Revisiting these poems both here and others on the Prom. Concert which has just commemorated WW1, has been a moving experience. I also liked the War Memorials as I have relatives commemorated on some of them, and I have very poignant thoughts about the young men who went off to war and did not return. All through my childhood I heard of great uncles and distant cousins who lost their lives in WW1 and I commiserated with my grandparents, whenever they spoke of these losses. My father’s eldest brother served in WW1 because he was 20 years older than my father, and he joined up underage, he was fifteen, but, fortunately, he came back, a brother in WW2 didn’t.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience, Valerie. We may be the last generation with direct memories of the people who lived through those experiences. My grandfather fought on the Western Front throughout the whole war and, although he survived, I know that it changed him deeply. The subject, and Remembrance Day itself comes up in the voices of people that I’m editing for the book now.

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