Monday, April 18, 2011

To the Fallen - Lawrence Binyon

To the Fallen

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 table of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the daytimes:
            They sleep beyond the 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 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 our time of darkness,
            To the end, to the end, they remain.

Laurence Binyon (1869-1943)

Though he never enlisted, Binyon joined the Red Cross and went to the Western Front. The second stanza of this poem adorns many war memorials over the British Commonwealth.

The poignant words of the second stanza grip the mind with a stand-alone passion that makes it hard to move on. This dominance in the mind of many readers may pose a problem in the way the poem is read. I may be wrong but I detect a march rhythm in the reading of the full poem.

There is a clear marching theme in the first and last stanza. They marched off to war ... they went with songs to the battle (stanza1, first line) and … moving in marches upon the heavenly plain (stanza 5). The repetition of stars and to the end (stanza 5) again adds weight to my suggestion on the way the poem should be read.

There is a certain irony that although age shall not weary they do in fact continue to march on - albeit with stars in their eyes. Of course there is a great difference between spiritual marching and the army.

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