Monday, May 28, 2007

We will remember them

In honor of Memorial Day, I thought I'd post this poem.

For the Fallen

By Laurence Binyon

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres,
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England’s foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

I had first heard this poem in Australia, when we were first there back in 1988. DH and I had only arrived a couple of days earlier, and we had just set out by car from Sydney and were staying in a small town somewhere on the way to our next destination. There were very few restaurants, so the woman at our hotel suggested we go to the RSL for dinner. The RSL is short for the Returned and Services League, and it is similar to a VFW post here in America.

So we went down to the local RSL and signed in as temporary members for the evening. They had a full dinner available, cafeteria style, and we bought ourselves some quite decent steaks and sat down to eat. The place was full of people, all gathering for their evening meal. Suddenly the lights went out. Everyone stood. And everyone in the room recited the fourth stanza of the poem above:

"They shall grow not old, as we who are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning
We will remember them."

Then the lights came back on and we resumed our meals. It was 6 p.m. and we learned later that at every RSL it is tradition to recite this ode to the fallen soldiers at that time.

We enjoyed the rest of the evening, and we even donated money for a raffle to help their charities, and we ended up winning! We were all excited - but then found out that the winner got to take home a large fish that someone had caught that day. Since we were continuing on our road trip and would not be able to eat it, we had to let someone else take our prize.

Years passed and I never forgot the words to the poem that they had recited. It wasn't until the Internet came along that I finally located the full poem that they came from.

This has been a wonderful Memorial Day, shared with friends and neighbors all enjoying the warm weather and good food. But I thought I should also take time to remember the real reason we all had a day off from work today. And that there are a lot of soldiers in Iraq right now who don't have a day off. Let's hope they can come home soon.


RUTH said...

A beautiful poem. I have had a son-in-law in Iraq and one of my blogfriends is awaiting the return of her son...prayers that all the troops return home safely.

Icarus said...

To echo Ruth's words, our dear friend Audrey's son Pat should come marching home today from Basra. The sense of excitement, but far more of relief is nearly as much ours as it is Audrey's.
What you replied to me about Orwell & 1984 is so apt. "Always at War", because we need to have enemies to fight, todivert our own from getting too uppity. What a waste!

Mauigirl said...

My prayers are with your son-in-law and the others who are serving. Stewart, I'm so glad your friend's son is coming home. Let's hope they all do soon.