Laventie

One would remember still 
Meadows and low hill 
Laventie was, as to the line and elm row 
Growing through green strength wounded, as home elms grow. 
Shimmer of summer there and blue autumn mists 
Seen from trench-ditch winding in mazy twists. 
The Australian gunners in close flowery hiding 
Cunning found out at last, and smashed in the unspeakable lists. 
And the guns in the smashed wood thumping and grinding. 

The letters written there, and received there, 
Books, cakes, cigarettes in a parish of famine, 
And leaks in rainy times with general all-damning. 
The crater, and carrying of gas cylinders on two sticks 
(Pain past comparison and far past right agony gone) 
Strained hopelessly of heart and frame at first fix. 

Café-au-lait in dug-outs on Tommies' cookers, 
Cursed minniewerfs, thirst in eighteen-hour summer. 
The Australian miners clayed, and the being afraid 
Before strafes, sultry August dusk time than Death dumber — 
And the cooler hush after the strafe, and the long night wait — 
The relief of first dawn, the crawling out to look at it, 
Wonder divine of Dawn, man hesitating before Heaven's gate. 
(Though not on Coopers where music fire took at it, 
Though not as at Framilode beauty where body did shake at it) 
Yet the dawn with aeroplanes crawling high at Heaven's gate 
Lovely aerial beetles of wonderful scintillate 
Strangest interest, and puffs of soft purest white — 
Soaking light, dispersing colouring for fancy's delight. 

Of Maconachie, Paxton, Tickler, and Gloucester's Stephens; 
Fray Bentos, Spiller and Baker, odds and evens 
Of trench food, but the everlasting clean craving 
For bread, the pure thing, blessed beyond saving. 
Canteen disappointments, and the keen boy braving 
Bullets or such for grouse roused surprisingly through (Halfway) Stand-to. 
And the shell nearly blunted my razor at shaving; 
Tilleloy, Pauquissart, Neuve Chapelle, and mud like glue. 

But Laventie, most of all, I think is to soldiers 
The Town itself with plane trees, and small-spa air; 
And vin, rouge-blanc, chocolat, citron, grenadine: 
One might buy in small delectable cafés there. 
The broken church, and vegetable fields bare; 
Neat French market town look so clean, 
And the clarity, amiability of North French air.
 
Like water flowing beneath the dark plough and high Heaven, 
Music's delight to please the poet pack-marching there.
More Poems by Ivor Gurney