Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A Poem of War

Ever since I first read "Edinburgh After Flodden" in school, I have loved it. The rhythm of William E. Aytoun's poetry fascinated me and I would go about with the lines ringing through my mind all day long. It is not an overly famous poem (at least, not now) but it deserves more recognition than it has yet had. Herein I have presented my favorite bits. You can read the whole of the poem here.

NEWS of battle!—news of battle!
  Hark! ’tis ringing down the street:
And the archways and the pavement
  Bear the clang of hurrying feet.
News of battle? Who hath brought it?        5
  News of triumph? Who should bring
Tidings from our noble army,
  Greetings from our gallant King?
All last night we watched the beacons
  Blazing on the hills afar,        10
Each one bearing, as it kindled,
  Message of the opened war.
All night long the northern streamers
  Shot across the trembling sky:
Fearful lights, that never beckon        15
  Save when kings or heroes die

If that doesn't make you want to give your hand to king and country, you have not a single spark of patriotism.

For they see in battered harness        25
  Only one hard-stricken man,
And his weary steed is wounded,
  And his cheek is pale and wan.
Spearless hangs a bloody banner
  In his weak and drooping hand—

 Such a sad, beautiful description.This poem is full of ringing, poingant sorrow and yet a certain flavor of triumph. Here is one last bit to send you on your way...

“No one failed him! He is keeping        105
  Royal state and semblance still;
Knight and noble lie around him,
  Cold on Flodden’s fatal hill.
Of the brave and gallant-hearted,
  Whom ye sent with prayers away,        110
Not a single man departed
  From his monarch yesterday.
Had you seen them, O my masters!
  When the night began to fall,
And the English spearmen gathered        115
  Round a grim and ghastly wall!



Anne-girl said...

These are the times when I feel like ripping up every one of my own poems.

So beautiful. So sad.

Jenny Freitag said...

I hear you, Anne-girl.

I was reading this blood-stirring poem aloud to myself and I was so caught up in the beauty and cadence of it that, when I arrived at one of Rachel's comments, I confess I kept going in the rhythm of the poem until I realized it wasn't matching the cadence anymore, and it wasn't talking about heroes anymore, and I mumbled off into a sheepish silence until the next stanza.

This is excellent poetry, Rachel. I think you know I like this sort of thing. I will admit (and you may hold this over me if you wish) that my mouth waters when I read good poetry, the way the mouth waters when you smell delicious food. I'm not sure why. The words just taste good. Anyway, so many war poems are fraught with sorrow and loss and hopelessness: these passages give, not a scope of hopelessness, though the day seems lost, but exalts the honour and loyalty of the men and the good heart of the king, which are things no army can conquer.