Carnage and Aftermath

(With guest poets Brendan Mac Congail and Jenni Wyn Hyatt (Williams)

The Angels of Mons
(Flanders, August 23-24, 1914)

And those who awoke upon that field and knew that they were broke
              and close to death
perceived that an evil angel stood astride them, to inform them,
              from a gore-stained scroll,
that they had fought and bled and died for naught;
that they were but victims of ambitious and deluded men
whose certitude that they themselves and no man else was right
was so deep-graven in obsessive minds
that their word became for all the land a fixed law and an oracle;
that to such errant ends, and for such blinkered men
their good life’s blood was spilled unjustly and as sacrifice.

And there upon the bloodied field those souls had left
there lay a single huge black feather,
fallen from the clouds up-piled above the carnage
from the great dark clapping wings of Lucifer.

Dafydd Hughes Lewis


History

“Reality is in the eye of the beholder,”
Said the fallen soldier.
“For what I have seen, the base and obscene,
Is changed in the story to man’s greatest glory.
With the passing of time the blood and the slime
Do wither and pale, until the real tale,
of mud and of dirt, of fear and of hurt,
Is distorted,
Arranged,
Forgotten,
And changed;
Till evil and hate are holy and great,
When told around fires by cowards and liars.”

Brendan Mac Congail


Last Post at the Menin Gate

I stand again within the Menin Gate
and through the arch I watch the scudding clouds
flushed by the evening sun. The clock’s slow hands
drag round to eight. The waiting crowd is hushed
as out the buglers march. The poignant notes
of the Last Post pierce the air like arrows
then quiver and die. Laurence Binyon’s words
ring out. “We will remember them,” we all repeat.
The traffic rumbles on out in the street;
within the Gate the silence is complete.
Now groups with solemn faces lay their wreaths.
The bugles sound again; a piper plays
his sad lament; the ceremony ends.
The silent watchers slowly come to life
and start again to read the many names
upon the panels. Relatives are found
and private homage paid. Even as we stand
I know that brave young soldiers perish still.
‘The war to end all wars,” yours was to be
but nothing’s changed; the world’s still full of hate
and, as we saunter to the square to eat,
the Stalker Hopelessness snaps at my heels.

Jenni Wyn Hyatt (Williams)


Battlefield 1918

Here they fought.
On this ground they bled and died –
this meadow, where the poppies thrive.

Dafydd Hughes Lewis



Notes on the poems and poets:

The Angels of Mons

This was the second Battle of Mons; an earlier one took place in 1678 as an episode in the Dutch War of Louis XIV, when Mons was part of the Spanish Netherlands. The WWI battle was the first engagement of that monstrous and terrible conflict in which British and German offensives clashed head-on, according to the grand tactic governing the ‘Great War’ – the simultaneous massing of forces on a vast front and on a scale never before employed. It resulted in an initially heavy defeat for the outnumbered British-French force. The poem’s title is taken from a myth which arose that told of ‘angels’ – shining entities sometimes described as phantom bowmen, which were seen on the battlefield. The story is one which mistakenly grew around a short story, ‘The Bowmen’, by Gwentian Welsh writer Arthur Machen, published in the Evening News immediately following the battle. The myth took hold of the popular imagination, becoming widespread and elaborated to the extent that there were descriptions of German soldiers found dead on the battlefield with arrow wounds. The poem is excerpted in a slightly condensed form from my The Apocalypse of Gweir, and has appeared previously in The Igam-Ogam Mabinogion.

History

As in The Angels of Mons above, History tells a tale, and vividly and bitterly, of the deceits which seem everlastingly destined to accompany war – deceits engineered and protracted by the powerful, to be so often credulously accepted by a populace caught up in its hysteria.

Last Post at the Menin Gate

The Menin Gate, in Ypres / Ieper, Belgium, is a memorial to commemorate the 54,000 men of the ‘United Kingdom’ and Commonwealth forces who died in the Ypres Salient before August 16, 1917, and who have no known grave. The Last Post ceremony is held there every evening a 8 o’clock. This poignantly-related poem is a distant aftermath of solemn remembrance – our quiet and respectful tribute to what was suffered and borne by those who, in the spring of their lives, were dragooned as sacrificial thousands from their honest labours in our villages and towns, our mines and farms – and from their families left broken and in mourning. That is the aftermath to which our thoughts are surely pledged, and one which is impossible to forget. It is not for the rival royal houses of Europe, nor for their complaisant ministers, nor for their subservient generals, nor for those who would make coin out of misery.

Battlefield 1918

This Haikuesque tercet is offered in quiet conclusion, and speaks for itself, I hope.


Brendan Mac Congail is an Irish archaeologist long resident in Bulgaria; he is the author of many academic articles on the Celts of Eastern Europe and the man behind the superb online site BalkanCelts which, if new to the reader, is highly recommended. In his articles Brendan deals with the Eastern Celts from the presence of Celtic confederacies in the 4th century BC – indeed, from their seven month siege of Rome in 390 BC for which, in the true Roman spirit of animosity, they were never forgiven – in much of south-central Europe (the Danube basin, Poland, Hungary, the Ukraine, Romania) to their great invasions of and establishment in the post-Alexandrian Balkan territories, and eventually in their easternmost extension of Galatia in Anatolia.  For all of 150 years, too, the Scordisci Confederation was to hold Roman occupation of the Balkans at bay. For the countless students at our Universities held in thrall by their lecturers’ preoccupation with the Britanni and the Gauls, then, it might be to their advantage to read more of Polybius than Tacitus. In closing the note, I don’t think many realize that archeologist Brendan writes poetry on occasion; he does so, and in a striking style.

Jenni Wyn Hyatt (Williams) was raised in Maesteg in the Llynfi Valley, West Glamorgan, Wales. She has visited the WWI cemeteries in France and Belgium on many occasions. Widely published in literary magazines, she also has two volumes of verse to her name – Perhaps One Day (Rowanvale Books, 2017), and Striped Scarves and Coal Dust (R. Haigh & Sons Publications, 2019) both finely illustrated by Cathy Knight. Both books are available direct from the publisher or from Amazon. Her subjects and her styles are wide – and like all good poets, Jenni composes humorous as well as serious pieces. Striped Scarves and Coal Dust includes a section, ‘Cerddi Dau Dafod’/‘Poems in Two Tongues’, her compositions in Welsh with opposite-facing translations into English.

From ‘Journeys in Time’

5 thoughts on “Carnage and Aftermath

  1. An eloquent small collection for Remembrance time. The poems speak for themselves. Thank you to the poetic trinity and to you, DHL, for posting these together.
    (My silly humour imagines the above sentence had your name been Feodor Ernie Dafydd Emrys Xavier)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Roma. Glad you liked this little collection; I enjoyed putting it together. Had to work hard on that last name, but – DHL / FEDEX …I get it, now! 🙂

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  2. Spelt Ffedecs, surely? The Chosen Three stand well together, if that doesn’t sound too much like the beginning of some other poem… My compliments to each and all. And thereupon, I must return to the cave with Gwyn Ap Nudd. He’s just brought home a big pile of plunder from down-under. ‘O ddwfn ys dygaf’. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wel, nawr, The Chosen Three standing together is rather poetic, and does bring back some vague schoolday rhyme. Now let me see … … ‘Then out spake Spurius Evans, a Sosban strong was he. / Lo, I will stand at thy right hand, and keep the scrum with thee’.
      ‘And out spake Jones (Herminius); Glamorgan boy was he. / I will abide at thy left side – the front row is us three’.
      But I can’t for the life of me remember the name of the third one. Diolch, mabdarogan!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ardderchog. I’ll have a better response when I can find a certain book on Anglo-Welsh poetry. It’s here somewhere. ‘Llanelli sent its finest, and some built out of trees/ Dig them deep, boys Gower, and we’ll run them off their knees’…

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