SOME CORNER OF A FOREIGN FIELD


‘”…you…will not enjoy their coming. War, fierce war,
I see: and the Tiber foaming with much blood…”‘
The Sybil from Virgil’s Aeneid, Book 6, lines 86–88

 

We found the grave by chance – stopping in Warwick
on our journey south. What drew us in
always beckons: the sad purposefulness,
the dark evergreens – towering larch, spruce, pine –
old graves, their lettering past pollution
almost erased, askew with ivy, moss,
lichen, the shadows of stories, echoes –
‘In Memory of Hannah Louise,
beloved wife of John Freeman, died
aged 21, April 1919
and Irene Louise, died aged 5 months,
December 1918′ – echoes, stories…

Although he died in 1998,
his is a military headstone, a
war grave marker – with John Enoch Powell,
his dates, his army rank, his offices.
Behind his stone, facing his back, as it were,
are ten genuine second world war graves,
paraded five by five: two Germans, a Pole,
an Italian, the rest British including
a woman – driver, stoker, able seaman,
sapper, engineer, assorted squaddies.
He was buried in his Brigadier’s
uniform, the Warwickshires’ emblem,
an antelope, carved in the Portland stone.
On the grave is a bunch of plastic flowers
and a handwritten note in Ancient Greek.

A Brummie, born next to a railway cutting,
he was a truly renaissance man: poet,
scholar, classicist, polyglot, soldier,
orator, equestrian, politician,
contrarian, tribalist, bigot.

He suffered survivor’s guilt. ‘I should have liked,’
he said on Desert Island Disks, ‘to have
been killed in the war,’ and wrote that soldiers
like him – a boffin, a desk wallah
who had not served in the frontline carried
‘a sort of shame with them to the grave.’

One of his poems begins ‘When I am gone,
remember me…’ seemingly addressed
to his mother. After marriage he published
no more poems but wrote one for each
of their wedding anniversaries.
His wife buried the forty or so with him.

‘When I am gone, remember me, not often,
but when the east grey light is growing.’
By happenstance, a word he would have used,
he is leading forever northwards his
motley squad of the dead.

 

 

Note: Another poem about Enoch Powell – ONLY ONE IN STEP – was first published on the site in 2010: http://www.davidselzer.com/2010/04/only-one-in-step/

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  1. #1 by Hugh Powell - November 6th, 2015 at 15:05

    Although no relative of mine, it’s hard not to feel some connection with Enoch Powell, and this poem neatly tells you why – for although he was a troublesome figure, his was a determined individualism which cared not for the consequences of his logic or the way it would be perceived. The poem’s adoption of the line from Rupert Brooke is a superb start – making EP both English and an Isolated Outcast at the same time. Overall a poem of great tenderness for a man who inspired hatred in many ways! As a result of your lines, hard not to like his eccentricity – which time has come to judge, dare I say it, as mostly harmless!

(will not be published)

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