War and Remembering

Welcome to our 2022 series of workshops with Arthur Rank Hospice Charity, aimed at members of the Living Well community.

Today’s session coincides with a difficult political moment – the Jubilee celebration and the remembering and shows of patriotism that it represents, with a backdrop of global tension with war on Europe’s borders. We’ll take a look at poetry from a range of authors and perspectives that seek to make sense of war as a presence in the lives of individuals and communities, and we’ll also think about the metaphor of war, violence, battle, victory and defeat which are part of the discourse around end-of-life, illness and dying.

This morning we will:

Hear some poetry  on the theme of war.
Discuss how the authors express their ideas and feelings.
Talk reflectively together, share our perspectives and favourites, and how these poems can give us a new perspective on war and peace in contemporary and historical settings.

The Poems

  1. Philip Larkin, MCMXIV
  2.  ‘Recruit from the Slums’, by Emily Orr

What has your country done for you,
child of a city slum,
that you should answer her ringing call
to man the gap and keep the wall
and hold the field though a thousand fall
and help be slow to come?

What has your country given to you,
her poor relation and friend?’
‘Oh, a fight like death for your board and keep,
and some pitiful silver coins per week
and the thought of the ‘house’ at the end.’

‘What can your country ask from you,
dregs of the British race?’
‘She gave us little, she taught us less,
and why we were born we could hardly guess
till we felt the surge of the battle press
and looked the foe in the face.’

‘Greater love hath no man than this
that a man should die for his friend.’
‘We thought life cruel, and England cold;
but our bones were made from the English mould,
and when all is said, she’s our mother old
and we creep to her breast at the end.’

3. To Germany, by Charles Sorley

You are blind like us. Your hurt no man designed,
And no man claimed the conquest of your land.
But gropers both through fields of thought confined
We stumble and we do not understand.
You only saw your future bigly planned,
And we, the tapering paths of our own mind,
And in each other’s dearest ways we stand,
And hiss and hate. And the blind fight the blind.

When it is peace, then we may view again
With new-won eyes each other’s truer form
And wonder. Grown more loving-kind and warm
We’ll grasp firm hands and laugh at the old pain,
When it is peace. But until peace, the storm,
The darkness and the thunder and the rain.

4. An extract from Susan Sontag, Illness as Metaphor

Further Reading

You may like to have a look at Words for our selection of poetry and prose on the theme of death and dying.

Many of us are familiar with the great poets of the first world war. You can find a short selection of well-known poems here: The Poetry of World War I by The Editors | Poetry Foundation

We’d love to hear your thoughts, suggestions, and learn from your insights and experiences. Feel free to speak to the nursing team or get in touch with us directly cambridgegooddeath@gmail.com.