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Lay for the Day
11th November

1918 – at eleven o’clock in the morning, the guns fell silent on the Western Front.

The Mother and the Monument

She rises up in her night-dress
And seizing her distress
In both her hands
Goes where the great commander’s statue stands.

She flings her tears beneath the hoof.
The rider sits aloof,
His bronze ear blocked,
But by his stern green brow her grief’s unlocked.

“I’ve laid my children on the bow
Of your saddle; they go
Gladly to trench
And charge, to snipe and strafe, to din and stench.

“Now they lie far to south and north
And of all who went forth
None has come home
And not for one do these hands deck a tomb.

“Yet you ride on, your right arm raised,
While I below, half-crazed,
Lament my few
Of the many the world has lost through you.”

Like the moan of the shrouded earth
A foghorn from the firth
Booms its refrain
Where the dreadnought swings on its anchor chain.

The night rain pearls the breast she’s bared,
Drops from the horse’s flared
And decades-dead
Nostrils, sweats the furrows of that great head.

Yet here and there the stars peep down
On the blot of her gown,
Pale on the black-
Streaked pedestal that smoke and smuts attack.

When they found her cold on the lawn
Next day, the ray of dawn
Struck red on mount
And rider. But for this, none could account:

Where the warrior sat, a child
Now sat, wide-armed, and smiled
A bronze-cast, dimpled child of two or three.


John Gibbens
from Zeus’s Camera


The Lay Reader: an archive of the poetic calendar

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