Each year we drive south through France to ski in winter, or explore in summer.
An hour’s easy drive, south of Calais we cross le viaduct de la Somme.
Each time, I reflect that my grandfather returned from hell there, but many did not.
The Bridge – Viaduc de la Somme, 245m.

We had waited a boat, beside the scruffy chalk
That lay white across the water, when we looked back.
Wider ways regained, now free for us to roam,
On parts of lands that stretch half across the world,
Anywhere we please, on safe and open roads,
Gorbachev – Our Common European Home.

Smooth rural autoroute after England’s street,
Between fields, rich emerald with winter wheat.
Above, in cold air, dark dense clouds roil,
But below, despite the drumming rain,
No mud smears the land, except
Where great tractors work the giving soil.

Above the fields of white stones in their neat grids
Still well-tended by those whose gift it is,
The slender spires that slowly reap the wind
With their whirling white arms, bring better lives
To little homes below them, amongst the shelt’ring trees
That soften the solstice east wind’s din.

Our car, living-room smooth, reliable, quiet, warm,
Glides the easy bridge across the Marais de la Somme.
To this wide valley, men came innocent, and some yet lie
Below us, with their broken kit and horses,
Their battered nameless faces still,
Still screaming at the sky.
They came from the lands of Shakespeare and Schiller,
Beethoven, Constable, Elgar, Mahler,
Newton, Bragg, Einstein, and Yeats.
A culture of noble dreams.
Armstrong, Whitworth, Mauser and Benz,
Creators of perfect machines.

The stuff of war, and bones that lie there now,
Have lain quiet, unworried, except by the plough,
Since that time of the madness of leaders, who then,
Believed in their right to send those men to war,
Who had no power, to choose to keep those lives where
There were children to cherish and women to love them.

I carry a picture of an infant, with ready smile and loving face,
(As you might well have brought to this ravaged, bloodied, place)
Who knows nothing but fond welcomes, adorations;
I can be amongst you, then see his willing smile again.
But you will not leave this safe, green, well-kept land.
Still, silent, dark, the earth of our now peaceful nations.

As more of us lose sight of how many were bereft,
As we pass all those we do not see, but never left,
We mean no disrespect when we forget the clouded veils;
And as we pass, in our freedom, we should listen.
The land is alive with the sadness of the past. Listen.
Hear the distant ache across the quiet, wide, and rolling fields.

© Tony Richardson
February 2014 – 2018.