The Last Post
Whenever I go and listen
To the Last Post, to the echo
Of its bugles breaking upon the
Monumental marble, I let my gaze
Glide upwards and land upon
The greatest poem against war
Ever composed by craftsmen’s
Hands, careful and considerate
In their carving: the list of names,
Its stern dark lettering most of what
Remains of men who were made
Into cannon fodder, then war heroes,
Symbols of soldiering or fatherland.
These men speak voicelessly
Every evening in that bugle call,
Imploring us to remember them.
We murmur we will, tucking
The numbers and names away
To sink into files for forgetting
The moment our shadows slink
Out from under the white archway.
Look again at the unmoved death-ledger;
Pick a name, at random, do not let its sound
Plaster the image with shallow hues, look
Closer into the face that your mind forms;
See a face: English, Scottish, Welsh, Irish,
Perhaps Canadian, Australian, South-African,
Indian, Kiwi or Kenyan, see a face of every race
With a history and home; see a youngest son,
See an older brother, see a father of three, see
A man of the moment, see his family, see
His friends, see private stories and banter,
Trivial bickering, glossy childhood memories,
Lifelong grudges and festering losses, see
A world of melancholy, music and merry;
See the titanic tales of triumph and regret.
See the whole picture, this face as the tip
Of a branch stretching back generations,
Blood burdened with uncounted scenes
Of sorrow, marvel and binding exultation;
See the frail buds cradling the future’s dreams.
See now that face, kaleidoscopic as a life
Of boundless facets shines through it like
A hallowed summer. See it now, ended, brutally,
Mown down by machine gun fire, by mustard gas,
By pulverising artillery, by agony and illness;
See that lush life story and its gruesome death
Multiplied by millions and millions.
See now the face of War: uncounted billions
Of bodies mangled, futures unwoven, families
Rent, stories untold, entire histories hewn from
The world’s memory and countless bleeding
Tears opened upon the fabric of life itself.
See it all now, as you read the names upon
Whitewashed stone, see it all in its tragedy
And farce. See it all and let the fallen impress
Upon you the greatness of their loss, and further
The greater loss of the wars before and since.
See it and say now, truthfully, ruefully:
“We will remember them.”