The anthology I’m reading at the moment, Voices of Silence, edited by Vivien Noakes, is quite different from any other anthology of war poetry I’ve read before. It reminds me of Catherine Reilly’s groundbreaking anthologies of poetry & verse written by women, Scars Upon my Heart & Chaos of the Night. None of the usual suspects are here. No Owen, Sassoon, Rosenberg, Brooke or Blunden. Vivien Noakes has trawled the newspapers, magazines & scrapbooks of the period to find poetry written by men & women who may never have written poetry before & certainly never thought of themselves as poets. The quality of the verse may be less obvious than that of the great poetry that we learned at school but the emotions are no less real. There’s also a lot of humour in the poetry & a wide range of contributors from all arms of the services.
This week, I’ve chosen The Dawn Patrol by Paul Brasher. Little is known of the poet. He won a DSC & seems to have survived the war. I liked the quiet stillness he evokes as he flies home after a mission & his thankfulness that he is safe, for now, at least.
Sometimes I fly at dawn above the sea,
Where, underneath, the restless waters flow –
Silver, and cold, and slow.
Dim in the east there burns a new-born sun,
Where rosy gleams along the ripples run,
Save where the mist droops low,
Hiding the level loneliness from me.
And now appears beneath the milk-white haze
A little fleet of anchored ships, which lie
In clustered company.
And seem as they are yet fast bound by sleep,
Although the day has long begun to peep,
With red-inflamèd eye,
Along the still, deserted ocean ways.
The fresh, cold wind of dawn blows on my face
As in the sun’s raw heart I swiftly fly,
And watch the seas glide by.
Scarce human seem I, moving through the skies,
And far removed from warlike enterprise
Like some great gull on high
whose white and gleaming wings beat on through space.
Then do I feel with God quite, quite alone,
High in the virgin morn, so white and still,
And free from human ill:
My prayers transcend my feeble earth-bound plaints –
As though I sang among the happy Saints
With many a holy thrill –
As though the glowing sun were God’s bright Throne.
My flight is done. I cross the line of foam
That breaks around a town of grey and red,
Whose streets and squares lie dead
Beneath the silent dawn – then am I proud
That England’s peace to guard I am allowed:
Then bow my humble head,
In thanks to Him Who brings me safely home.