‘Was it for this the clay grew tall?’ Futility

‘My subject is War and the pity of War – the poetry is in the pity.’

Wilfred Owen

Once war was history, a famous place –
Catraeth, Cilmeri, Bosworth, Flodden Field –
where men fell nameless, loved or loveless,
crying for home, mud-suffocated, hallowed
by the last rites of rain, a shroud of snow,
graves overgrown by centuries of grass.

A hundred years. The war to end all wars:
a lamentation of names: Ypres, the Somme,
the Sambre-Ouse Canal, the house at Ors
where Owen wrote his brave last letter home.
His voice still sounds through war’s duplicity,
refusing silence: “the poetry is in the pity”.

A hundred years. Time to remember them.
On village monuments their deaths are stone.
They bore our names, or names we know,
men born in our towns, a house on the hill,
the farm across the valley – they live there still –
yet they became the earth of somewhere else.

Now war is poisoned air, the screaming sky.
No time for glimmering goodbyes. No kiss.
The fallen are the old, the weak, the young,
the child brought from the sea, a city bombed.
Gaza. Helmand. Aleppo. Homs.

‘Was it for this..?’

Gillian Clarke

(This poem was translated into Welsh by Menna Elfyn. Click here to read the translation, ‘Ai dros hyn?’)



About Gillian Clarke

National Poet of Wales from 2008 to 2016, Gillian was born in Cardiff and now lives in Talgarreg, Ceredigion. Her work has been on the GCSE and A Level exam syllabus for over thirty years, and she performs her poetry regularly for young audiences at Poetry Live. She was awarded the Queen’s Gold medal for Poetry in 2010, and the Wilfred Owen Award in 2012. She has written radio and theatre drama, and translated poetry and prose from Welsh. Picador published her Selected Poems in 2016, and her tenth collection of poems, Zoology, was published by Carcanet in 2017. Her version of the 7th century Welsh poem, Y Gododdin, is to be published by Faber in 2019.

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