Thursday, July 23, 2009

Robert Nichols: a poem for my funeral

This beautiful young man is Robert Nichols, aged 22, officer in the Royal Artillery and possibly suffering from shell shock at the time this photo was taken in 1915. He was a poet, and a good one: his name is on the war poets memorial in Poets Corners of Westminster Abbey. This photo is the frontispiece of his Ardours and Endurances (Chatto & Windus, London, 1917) which I bought the other day.

I confess, I bought it because I caught sight, in the bookshop, of a couple of poems within its pages which had that homoerotic tint so common to the poetry of the First World War. Then, after reading more, I came across this sonnet below which I think is exceptionally beautiful and I'm surprised I've never heard it at funerals before now.

Sonnet: Our Dead

They have not gone from us. O no! they are
The inmost essence of each thing that is
Perfect for us; they flame in every star;
The trees are emerald with their presences.
They are not gone from us; they do not roam
The flaw and turmoil of the lower deep,
But have now made the whole wide world their home,
And in its loveliness themselves they steep.
They fail not ever; theirs is the diurn
Splendour of sunny hill and forest grave;
In every rainbow's glittering drop they burn;
They dazzle in th massed clouds' architrave;
They chant on every wind, and they return
In the long roll of any deep blue wave.


chubbian said...

This is a stunningly beautiful poem. The sentiment is (unwittingly?) Buddhist, but is none the worse for that. As a poem, it is quite exquisite.

Jim Brokaw said...

This wonderful sonnet was read at Newport, Rhode Island on October 31 2000, at the One Year Memorial for those lost aboard EgyptAir 990 on October 31 1999.

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