Gillian Clarke

Was it for this?’

‘Was it for this the clay grew tall?’ Futility
Wilfred Owen

Once war was history, a famous place –
Catraeth, Cilmeri, Bosworth, Flodden Field –
where men fell nameless, loved or loveless,
crying for home, mud-suffocated, hallowed
by the last rites of rain, a shroud of snow,
graves overgrown by centuries of grass.

A hundred years. The war to end all wars:
a lamentation of names: Ypres, the Somme,
the Sambre-Ouse Canal, the house at Ors
where Owen wrote his brave last letter home.
His voice still sounds through war’s duplicity,
refusing silence: “the poetry is in the pity”.

A hundred years. Time to remember them.
On village monuments their deaths are stone.
They bore our names, or names we know,
men born in our towns, the house on the hill,
the farm across the valley – they live there still.
Their flesh became the clay of foreign fields.

Now war is poisoned air, the screaming sky.
No time for glimmering goodbyes. No kiss.
The fallen are the old, the weak, the young,
the child brought from the sea, a city bombed.
Gaza. Helmund. Aleppo. Homs.
‘Was it for this..?’

Gillian Clarke was born in Cardiff in 1937 and lives in Ceredigion. Poet, playwright, editor, broadcaster, lecturer and translator from Welsh, she was Editor of The Anglo Welsh Review 1974-1984. National Poet of Wales 2008-2016, she was awarded the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry in 2010 and the Wilfred Owen Award in 2012. She has published ten collections of poetry for adults, written radio and theatre plays and translated poetry and prose from Welsh. Her work is widely anthologised, and her poetry forms part of the school syllabus in Britain.

GILLIAN CLARKE is interviewed in
Acumen 101 September 2021.