THE FALL OF EUROPE

Lucheni had waited all day in the pines

above the lake. When she passed, he begged.

Her equerry dismissed him. As always,

self-absorbed, she saw nothing: an anarchist

with a grand and personal design.

On the quayside at Geneva, a week

later, Lucheni, the labourer,

stabbed Elizabeth, Empress of Austria,

with a homemade knife. Her husband foresaw,

like her assassin, anarchy: armies

entrenching in Bohemia; riders

galloping from Buda; at the Hofburg,

Jews and republicans!

 

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BLIGHTY WARD

After the halting journey from Calais,

via Waterloo and the main line north,

to be carried that autumn afternoon

in the estate’s wagons through the park gates,

past the grazing deer, to be greeted

on the front steps by his Lordship himself

with a small speech about sanctuary,

the first of the curable invalids –

trench foot, shell shock, TB – must have thought

they were in some temporary heaven.

 

They called it ‘Blighty Ward’ – the Garden Salon

with windows that overlooked the parterre

where the last of the roses were blooming.

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AT THE ELEVENTH HOUR

The Armistice was agreed at 5.10 –

in Foch’s personal railway carriage

– among the cigar and brandy fumes.

The Chancellories of Europe knew

thirty minutes later. Big Ben was rung

for the first time in four years and gas lamps

lit in Paris. There was dancing, and streamers.

 

Foch insisted the truce would not take effect

until 11.00  – ostensibly

so the news could be keyed and carried to

each trench and dugout on the Western Front.

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WITNESS THIS ARMY

During the interval, after act three

of Glinka’s opera, ‘Ivan Susannin’ –

pre-revolution, ‘A Life for the Tzar’ –

Stalin would leave his box at the Bolshoi.

In the fourth act, Ivan, the peasant, lures

the Polish Army out of Smolensk

and into a profound, winter forest.

They are lost. In the last act, they kill him.

Deep in the Katyn woods near Smolensk, pines

darkened the clearing where thousands, thousands

of Polish officers turned to earth.

So many crimes unpunished,

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THE GOOD WAR

for Alan Horne

 

They seldom mentioned it and never

to the boys at the town’s Grammar School,

thinking they might mock it as vain-glory –

or just mock it, with their disregard

for school uniform, their penchant for

RAF great coats and graffited knapsacks,

their puzzlement on Remembrance Day,

and the Vietnam War flickering nightly.

 

It was usually only as an apt

aside, at break or dinner time, to those

of us young enough to be their sons,

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