Sunday Poetry – Carola Oman

Still reading the poetry of WWI but this is from another anthology on my shelves, Voices of Silence : the alternative book of First World War poetry by Vivien Noakes. I’ve literally just picked it up from the shelf &, flicking through it, came across the name of Carola Oman. She was a friend of Georgette Heyer & I remembered reading about her in Jennifer Kloester’s biography of Heyer last year. Carola Oman was a Red Cross nurse during both wars. This poem is called Night Duty in the Station. By the way, turkis in the last stanza is an obsolete form of turquoise. I looked it up as I’d never seen the word before.

I
Slowly out of the siding the troop train draws away,
Into the dark it passes, heavily straining.
Shattering on the points the engine stutters.
Fires burn in every truck. Rich shadows play
Over the vivid faces… bunched figures. Some one mutters
‘Rainin’ again… it’s raining.’

Slammings – a few shouts – quicker
Each truck the same moves on.
Weary rain eddies after
Drifts where the deep fires flicker.
Into the dark with laughter
The last truck wags… it is gone.

II
Horns that sound in the night when very few are keeping
Unwilling vigil, and the moonlit air
Is chill, and everything around is sleeping – 
Horns that call on a long low note – ah, where
Were you calling me last?
The ghastly huntsman hunts no more, they say
The Arcadian fields are drugged with blood and clay.
And is Romance not past?

III
The station in this watch seems full of ghosts.
Above revolves an opalescent lift
Of smoke and moonlight in the roof. And hosts
Of pallid refugees and children, shift
About the barriers in a ceaseless drift.

Forms sleeping crowd beneath the rifle-rack,
Upon the bookstall, in the carts. They seem
All to be grey and burdened. Blue and black,
Khaki and red, are blended, as a dream
Into eternal grey, and from the back
They stagger from this darkness into light
And move and shout
And sing a little, and move on and out
Unready, and again, into the night.

IV
The windows in the Post Office are lit with olive gold.
Across the bridge serene and old
White barges beyond count
Lie down the cold canal
Where the lost shadows fall;
And a transparent city shines upon a magic mount.

Now fired with turkis blue and green
Where the first sunshine plays
The dawn tiptoes between
Waiting her signal from the woodland ways…

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