Wednesday, August 29, 2012

John Lehmann and War Poetry

On any given day, any given person will have a number of disparate experiences and every now and again one or two or three of those experiences might seem to link up with each other, by chance, by Synchronicity. I've been having one of those days. I first of all discovered a new variation on a Keith Vaughan dustjacket and as I am collecting these things now I bought it and I have this evening scanned it and updated my ongoing post on the subject here on this blog. Possibly because I was thinking along the lines of all things Lehmann, when I saw a bundle of The London Magazine in the same shop, of course, I picked a few up to thumb through. Anyone who wants to understand literary life in the UK in the first half of the twentieth century, and particularly gay literary life could do a lot worse than to pick up as many copies of this magazine under Lehmann's editorship as they possibly can. 

Then, in an apparently unconnected event this evening, R and I settled down to watch the latest episode of the genealogical program Who Do You Think You Are? in which, this week, the actor Patrick Stewart of Star Trek and Shakespearean fame, took an in depth and quite moving look at his father's wartime career. So, when I came to think about scanning the new Keith Vaughan jacket I put it back on the shelf next to a small pamphlet of poems by John Lehmann himself. I would never have conceived of calling Lehmann a "war poet" but it turns out he was. He certainly wasn't a great war poet but there are some quite powerful turns of thought and image in some of these 1944 poems and so, with the Patrick Stewart's father's difficulties still close to mind, I thought I'd share one of Lehmann's poems. 

Campaign Photograph.

And when he turned the last bend in the road
And saw the end, blue waves and salt-white domes,
And smelt the silence after the great raid,
And children with a noise of seagulls ran
Clustering  with fresh, sweet posies, gourds and wine
All round the armoured car ; behind that grin
So strangely in the picture crossed with grief,
What thought had etched away his boyhood dream
Marking him man for ever? What was won
Out of the years surrendered, out of graves
Where limbs of friends, his limbs, each dusk were brought?
Was it the triumph in the Roman style,
The headline victory they would celebrate
That night and years to come? The conquering steel
Of will and weapon history would acclaim
In senatorial pages? Or did he see
Under reprieve of dying the simple praised
Still the bombed goat-track, the shell-drunken climb,
And only the nightmare roaring like a wind
Through all his future, never to be expressed,
And these huzzaing crowds and homes of joy
Not as once longed for, but a staunchless wound
That soaked away into eternity?

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