Margaret Complin
For Remembrance
30th Aug 2022Posted in: Margaret Complin, Modernist Poets 0

For

Remembrance

By

[handwritten: Margaret Complin]

Margaret Complin

[illustration]

“Now God is in the strife,

  And I must seek Him there,

  Where death outnumbers life,

  And fury smites the air.”

SIEGFRIED SASSOON.

[unnumbered page]

With old wounds that ached, shell-shocked or lame,

To the Unknown Warrior’s tomb they came,

The men who still must pay the price

In painful daily sacrifice.

Fill your glass today

To the living’s fame

Hush! Speak

Low,

Low,

Low,

Softly tread

He happy sleeps the unknown dead.

[unnumbered page]

For Remembrance

We keep Remembrance Day once more

For those who died in the Great War.

No futile tears remembrance brings

But blood-red wreaths for offerings

To those who died, yet rise from sleep

When their sons come, a faith to keep.

Though tyrants crush the world again

They know they did not die in vain:

They feel the sons they never knew

Hate the same foe they hated too.

They stand beside the men who fight

Against those Vandals’ brutal might;

They lie on battlefields again

And comfort men who die in pain;

They talk with sailor lads who go

To sink the U-Boats of that foe;

Or fly with keen-eyed boys who rise

To chase Hun planes from Egypt’s skies.

We keep Remembrance Day once more

For those who died in the Great War. [page 3]

Leading Seaman X

He garnered grain his hands had sown

       In rolling prairie soil.

The heavy wheat stooked close in rows

       Reward for all his toil.

He was content! Though now and then

       He longed to hear once more

The white waves racing with the tides

       On Nova Scotia’s shore.

Sometimes in broken sleep he stood

       The harbour watch again,

Or heard salt sea-winds hoarse with fog,

       Music of grieving rain…

Then came the War…He joined the Fleet.

       (They till his farm who may)

Forsaken fields, furrows weed-sown,

       Mean naught to him today.

He is content! He serves the King,

       He stands watch once more,

And soundly sleeps to lullaby

       Of rough seas’ restless roar

[illustration]

[page 4]

The Soldier

[illustration] What thought his farm is warm with spring?

                       He does not guide the plough.

                       Instead he drives an armoured tank

                       for Death, the Reaper, now.

                       On leave he longs for Canada

                       in London’s inky dark,

                       and hears no melody of birds

                       in any flower-filled park.

War fades…He hears the meadow-larks

whistling across the plain

where buffalo-willows’ pungent scent

drifts through the air again.

Small things a man remembers

With sudden stab of pain. [page 5]

[illustration]

For An Observer

(A.C.R.)

I study your last photo for a trace

Of any change these fateful months have made:

Your eyes look up to mine still unafraid,

Beneath the Air Force cap how dear your face!

Yet war may score stern lines across your brow

When hour by hour you fight from dusk till dawn

To save the land you love from devils’ spawn

Of Super-Fiends warring against us now.

I see young pilots challenging the skies,

From near-by airport comes the bombers’ drone.

I seem to hear your voice, look in your eyes…

Then the dream fades and I am here alone.

Your presence only could assuage this lack

My dear—and yet I could not wish you back. [page 6]

A Tribute to Greece

    Long since “the grandeur that was Rome”

    Has died of inward rot and fears.

    “The glory that was Greece” still lives

    watered by Grecian tears.

    Are not these people brave beyond

    belief while Vandals desecrate

    their sacred soil, and crucify

    its sons in devilry and hate?

Still stands the Nike and the Parthenon!

(Athene’s temples raised by grateful Greece

after the Persian hordes had sued for peace.)

And the unconquered Dead at Marathon

know that the soul of martyred Greece lives on.

Listening In

We all

hear radio

plus ourselves and colour

with [handwritten: our] imagination each

programme. [page 7]

A Christmas Prayer

Grant us, O Lord, the strength to pray

for gifts that will not pass away:

courage to face the common task,

for hope and faith, dear Lord, we ask.

Comfort all those who lie awake

anxious for absent soldiers’ sake.

Grant that a world of strife and pain

may turn to Bethlehem again

to hear the song the angels sing—

Remembering—Remembering.

[illustration]

[page 8]

Per Ardua Ad Astra

Beneath these breathless alien skies

a young Canadian airman lies.

His flight is finished…Hark! for him

the guns’ staccato requiem.

To save a friend he paid the price

and gave his life, a sacrifice

where Nazi war-winged vultures soar,

and Britain’s Fleet guards Egypt’s shore.

Through labour to the stars he came

unfaltering. In War’s grim game

he did not flinch. A fearless youth

who fell for friendship, freedom, truth.

What were his failing memories?

The Rideau seen through maple trees?

Alberta fields of ripened grain?

Or fragrant mayflowers in the rain?

(At dawn, with silence everywhere,

a father dreamed… wings beat the air;

low flew a circling silver plane:

he heard his son’s farewell again.)

Grey pyramids assail the skies

from sifting sands where Icarus lies

with baffled wings…His flight is done…

Through labour to the stars he won. [page 9]

Radio

This wonder knows no walls…I turn a dial

and listen to a lilting roundelay,

or poems underlaid with sorrow, while

an organ throbs and muted violins play.

I seek the short wave—Shall I hear again

guns thunder grimly on the Dover shore?

Tanks lumbering along an English lane?

Or shuttling planes across a Scottish moor?

Unshackled Spirit! Scorning bounds of space,

within whose eager hands all sound is furled,

swifter than tempest, free as thought, you race

on speeding sandals round a listening world,

Man-doomed in sky and sea and land to strife

while winged words spread chaos in Man’s life.

1942

The world

today is bound

like Prometheus with

the eagles of Zeus tearing his

vitals. [page 10]

War Gardens

No longer in a sunny trench

the gladiolus grows,

the Queen of Flowers must abdicate

to beets in long straight rows.

Here, crowding out the fragrant stocks,

are onions, cabbages, chives,

and where calendulas once flamed

the humble turnip thrives.

Potatoes grow in lumpy hills

where late a green lawn spread,

plebian spinach runs to seed

in the prize pansy bed.

Gaillardias give up their place

to sage and mint and thyme,

while runner beans usurp the wires

where sweet peas used to climb. [page 11]

[illustration]

Training Planes at Night

A sudden roar of engines rouses

sleepers in the dreaming houses

as low the training airplanes fly.

Like jewels against the prairie sky

their green and red and white lights mark

a safe-planned course through prairie dark.

The student pilots, keen to learn,

think of the wings they hope to earn.

They swoop and turn and spiral down

above the swiftly blurring town:

till, soaring high in wide-winged flight,

they disappear into the night. [page 12]

Bethlehem

War-worn soldiers patrol early and late

guarding the Holy Land with anxious eyes,

while airplanes trace hieroglyphs of hate

above blue hills where flat-roofed Bethlehem lies.

Day closes now to soft Judean night

and sheep lie huddled safe in strawy fold,

but angels are silent, no heavenly light

shines, no Magi bring frankincense or gold.

        O Bethlehem, are you remembering

        That far, first Christmas morn?

        You have forgotten angels singing

        “The Prince of Peace is born.”

[illustration]

[page 13]

Their Torch Flares, Lit By Us

“If ye break faith with us, the Dead,

We shall not sleep,” a Poet said.

France expiates in blood and tears

Yielding to traitors’ frenzied fears,

Iron-heeled, rapacious German tread

Crushes the fields of poppies red,

And droning warplanes whirr and fly

Above the graves where our men lie.

Yet under crosses “row on row”

They sleep content, and sleeping know

The torch they flung is held on high

And we keep faith with those who die

And ours to keep that faith today

With all who follow in their way.

Advice

Dreamer

cling to your vague

broken dreams: even a

shattered dream is better than no

dream at all. [page 14]

Buy British

China, and lace, and soft kid gloves

in styles that every woman loves;

soldiers, and planes, and naval toys

made to delight Canadian boys;

warm blue-grey sweaters carefully knit –

we all know airmen they would fit –

fashioned by those who’ve conquered fear

of prowling terror of the air.

Through “blood and tears and toil and sweat”

their factory wheels are turning yet:

Biscuits and jams and marmalade

still come to us, all British made.

The Navy convoys Britain’s best

to war-free nations of the west,

guarding through bombs, U-Boats, and strife

the commerce that is Britain’s life,

and when we buy what they have sent

we join them in a sacrament.

[illustration]

[page 15]

A Deserted Homestead

(SASKATCHEWAN)

No longer the familiar treading of feet –

In this forsaken farm nothing stirs

save gophers scampering for their holes.

Inch by inch encroaching Russian thistle

covers the trail from shack to stable

where his horses’ nose-bags hang

rotting on the wall.

Petalled pall of prairie roses shrouds

the skeleton of a plough,

gold splash of mustard glints

in fallow fields,

but nothing remains of flowers he coaxed

to grow but pods heavy with seed.

I peer through windows curtained with

cobwebs and grey dust:

the sun-blistered door sags on rusted hinges

and creaks protestingly when opened…

I, who have shared his laughter and his toil,

loitering with him to watch

the wild geese winging,

or new-born foal

nuzzling the anxious mare,

am old, too old to join the Tanks with him.

I can but treasure brief lines from “Somewhere”

in England’s war-marred countryside.

Is his the long loneliness of the prairie-born

for the bleak brown plains?

Will he tread the well-worn trail again,

or watch the wild geese winging? [page 16]

[illustration]

Halifax

The old

Citadel stands

sentinel, guarding with

unseen guns and unbeleagured

town where

Sailors

wait on spray-wet

docks for convoys: their thoughts

with prairie homes far-off from seas

and war. [part 17]

Armistice Day

I stand beneath a poppy-wreathed

Cenotaph.

Sunlight falls through bare boughs on

the Soldier.

I think on those whom we honour today:

Those who gave themselves that peace might

not perish from the earth.

(Slowly the penumbra of a crooked Nazi

cross creeps over the brooding

Figure. A wreath of blood-red poppies

turns to a crown of thorns.)

Was theirs but a futile faith?

Are freedom, truth, justice—

all for which they died—

but idols, war-wrecked?

The Armistice Day service is drowned

in frenzied bark of anti-aircraft guns.

The words of the hymns, the music of the

band, are punctuated by cacophony of

sirens, and of bombs.

I cannot find God.

….Yet in a beleagured Isle

men, in maze of grief and man-made

agonies, find Him through tears,

Or laughter like a prayer. [page 18]

In Fields of Dream

“MOTHER!” I hear you call again

above the lashing autumn rain

beating upon the window-pane.

O hold me close! My heart is wrung

for you, so boyish and so young,

whose song of life is all unsung.

(Too soon, too soon, the dream is done,

Only the rain’s diapason.)

Return to me in dreams each night

that I can keep a flame alight

and my soul’s armour burnished bright.

If where dreams meet we two can range

you’ll never grow far-off nor strange,

and dreaded hours will not seem long

with dreams of you to make me strong.

Thus night will fortify my heart

for days in which you have no part. [part 19]

[illustration] The Mother of an American Airman

As she knits socks of Air Force blue

the wool through her swift fingers flies,

and she dreams evanescent dreams

that lone reality decries.

(Proudly she saw him go, and yet

Her eyes with sudden tears are wet.)

He serves the country not his own

and with the R.C.A.F. flies.

His letters tell of safe return

from bombing raids through hostile skies.

(With news of him by airmail flown

His hand has almost held her own.)

She takes small treasures from her desk:

a Boy Scout’s badge, a pilot’s wings,

the Christmas gifts he sent to her—

they comfort her, these little things.

(Mary once treasured gifts to Her

of gold and frankincense and myrrh.)

His old dog feels her grief, and whines

crouched at her feet upon the floor…

Gazing courageously at death

her son flies over France once more.

(“God guide and guard my boy always

till victory brings peace” she prays.) [page 20]

A Prayer for the New Year

LORD, I grow old—Yet would not rest apart:

Make me Thine acolyte

whose duty

is to tend twin lamps of Truth

and Beauty

in a dim shrine within Man’s troubled heart.

[illustration]

[page 21]

                       

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