Age cannot wither her

Age does indeed wither the beautiful red rose.

But so proudly she stands until the bitter last.

Unlike the subjects of Laurence Binyon’s poem:

For the Fallen

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill: Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres.
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England’s foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain,
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

The fourth stanza is traditionally repeated at many Remembrance Day commemorations. The poem was composed in 1914 in honour of the British Expeditionary Force which had suffered casualties at the Battle of Mons and the Battle of the Marne on the Western Front.

‘Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn,’ is a reference to Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, ‘Age cannot wither her nor custom stale.’

Binyon was born in 1869 in Lancaster, Lancashire, (so a red rose seemed appropriate for him). He was too old to enlist in the First World War, so instead he volunteered as a hospital orderly. He died aged 73 in 1943.

image

I suspect the poetry of Sir Herbert Read is less well known. Read was born in 1893, near Kirkbymoorside in the North Riding of Yorkshire. Have to add a Yorkshire poet, given the Battle of the Roses.

Read went to Leeds University but then enlisted with the Green Howards, also known as the Yorkshire Regiment at the time.

He received the Distinguished Service Order and the Military Cross in 1918.

Read wrote two volumes of poetry and two volumes of autobiography based on his war experiences.

For all those aspiring self-publishers out there, his first volume of poetry, Songs of Chaos, was self-published in 1915. A hundred years ago. Nothing new under the sun.

He became an outspoken pacifist during World War 2 and was also regarded as an anarchist.

The Refugees (1914)

Mute figures with bowed heads

They travel along the road:

Old women, incredibly old

and a hand cart of chattels.

They do not weep:

their eyes are too raw for tears.

Past them have hastened

processions of returning gunteams

baggage wagons and swift horsemen.

Now they struggle along

with the rearguard of a broken army.

We shall hold the enemy towards nightfall

and they will move

mutely into the dark behind us,

only the creaking cart disturbing their sorrowful serenity.

Read and Binyon are among 16 poets commemorated in Westminster Abbey by a memorial stone. They survived the war but six of the poets were killed during World War One:

    Rupert Brooke
    Julian Grenfell
    Wilfred Owen
    Isaac Rosenberg
    Charles Sorley
    Edward Thomas

They may have died early, but their work lives on for us to contemplate the brutality and savagery that is war.

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62 comments on “Age cannot wither her

    • He’s not one I know. I’ve got a brilliant book of First World War poetry, that not only lists loads of poems and poets’ biographies, it goes through the war in stages, and like a twerp, I forgot to bring it back from the Spanish finca with me to write this post and refer to it.

      Still if I had this post would have been considerably longer.

      Liked by 3 people

  1. This, “They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
    They sit no more at familiar tables of home;” really got me.

    I think one of the saddest things about it all was that Wilfred Owen was killed on November 4th, 1918. One week. I’m not sure whether it’s an age thing but the older I get the more amazing I think poetry is.

    Cheers

    MTM

    Liked by 2 people

    • I think First World War poetry is beyond belief. There is such a contrast between the jingoism poetry that was first started when the war was declared and the realistic harrowing evocative poetry of these incredibly brave men who fought, were commended for their bravery and actions with Military Crosses, and DSOs, supported their troops, still wrote amazing poetry and in some cases, gave their lives. Owen was indeed such a tragedy. I’m probably biased as I studied him for A level (does every Eng lit student?) although we did read Sassoon as background as well. But British WW1 poets churned out some incredible images.

      Liked by 4 people

      • There’s a lovely bit in a film I think it’s called something like ‘the castle of my mother’ and the MC is talking about his friend who is a local farm labourer’s son and knows the animals and plants of the area like the back of his hand. The labourer friend gets killed and he just says, “he died in the corner of a foreign field among plants and trees whose names he did not know.” A short sentence that says everything. ;-)

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    • I think I remember reading something about that when I was browsing around the names I didn’t know who had died. Which was all of them apart from Brooke and Owen. I’ll have another browse in my book next week.

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  2. The Refugees strikes a cord with me and brings to mind a discussion yesterday regarding work being done for and by the Refugee and Casework Service, and there is a move to change the labels of ‘asylum seeker” and ‘refugee’ to ‘people seeking asylum/refuge” to underline their humanity to those who would refer to them a ‘they’ or see than as a nameless, faceless group rather than individuals.
    Yesterday after the minute silence, my Lest We Forget was truly heartfelt. I think too many have forgotten.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve read a few of Read’s poems and like their heartfelt openness and honesty. Although he survived the war I think I read he was still writing and talking about it for the rest of his life, and hence becoming a pacifist. He also wrote about the Spanish Civil War. When they unveiled the stone in Westminster Abbey, The Refugees was one of the poems read at the service.

      Appropriate really coming shortly after my reading and review of Port of No Return.

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  3. I don’t normally read poetry, but the poetry of Wilfred Owen is something I’ve always been fascinated with. A couple of his poems were included in my high school literature books, and I found a few more poems of his over the years. I think I can blame him for my interest in World War I.

    Many of the mistakes made back then are being repeated nowadays, I think.

    At any rate, I’m sorry I missed this post in time for Remembrance Day.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Doesn’t matter when you visit or comment. Remembrance is hardly time limited. It’s learning from the past that seems to be in short supply.

      I don’t think I’ve met anyone who has read Owen who hasn’t been wowed by the strength and imagery of his words and his clever use of language. I was looking at the service for the memorial stone in Westminster Abbey, and they used Anthem for Doomed Youth as his poem (they read a poem by each of the 16) which I think I’ve posted on here. Even the title says it all – doomed youth.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I am not familiar with a lot of the British poets, although some lines and names from your post sounded familiar. I will have to follow up and read more. Remembrance Day is something we share, and I was in the middle of thousands of people at a major Christmas Craft fair today when the minutes of silence were declared — and everyone (including a glass blower in the middle of a creation) shut everything down and stood for the silence, and for the piper that followed. The atmosphere in the room shifted dramatically for those minutes.

    Lest we forget….

    On a side note (and not even poetry related) — have you heard of “The Good War” by Studs Terkel? It’s an oral history of WW II — pretty powerful.

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    • Similarly I know no Canadian poets with the exception of John McCrae. Interestingly until the internet I didn’t even realise he was Canadian. And the only American war poet I know is Walt Whitman, and that’s only because I sang Dona Nobis Pacem at university.

      As for the two minutes, I think it would be nice if everything truly stopped so there really was a silence. Traffic, people in the street, shops. When my parents were working outside on the market years ago, the town hall clock would strike 11am and that was it. The market (outside the town hall) certainly ground to a halt.

      I haven’t. I’ll look it up, although the title sounds contradictory?

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  5. I love the War Poets. We introduce their poetry to our thirteen year olds which ties in well with the history module on the causes of the First World War. Not sure they get revisited these days at A level. I didn’t study them at school – my A level poetry consisted of Wordsworth and the Metaphysical Poets. We must’ve been on different boards.
    I was extremely annoyed yesterday when our two minutes silence was misunderstood by several members of the teaching staff who let their students out to break early rather than observing the silence. Shameful.

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  6. I’m troubled by the strains of sublime glory in the Binyon, although that is not to deny the sincerity of the tribute or the fine words. But Sir Herbert Read nails it. War is not only about the warriors winning and falling, but the immense collateral damage that ricochets down ensuing decades and over continents not just on battle grounds – the displaced people and the fractured communities – just as we are seeing now across Europe. Or rather not seeing somehow. Politicians of course do not want citizens to dwell on the actual consequences of war, because they may want to drum us up to fight another. A very thought provoking post, Kate, and I like the nudge towards the War of the Roses. We just keep going there, don’t we. Nothing like a ‘good war’.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Totally agree with you about Binyon. As soon as you read the words, ‘proud,’ ‘free,’ ‘glory,’ it triggers a warning. I posted it for three reasons, 1) I wondered how many people knew more than the fourth stanza 2) I had the title fixed in my head and his Lancastrian origins were appropriate (ever the journalist me), 3) I left my poetry book in Spain, wherein I’d found an appropriate Read one. No matter, they are a good contrast I think. Binyon’s still tending towards the jingoistic, although mourning the less, but Read’s tending towards realism.

      Thank you Tish. As was yours. It was only when I read the comment elsewhere calling me disrespectful that I decided I would post after all. But whilever people buy into the notion that deaths at war purchase ‘our’ freedom and that it is essential – ignoring all the deaths caused to ‘the enemy’, and the huge numbers of civilians, I can’t see us moving forward. Especially not with the likes of Blair and Cameron heading up the UK :( I admired the Spanish Prime Minister Zapatero who said he would pull out of Iraq if he got elected. And he did, pretty much straightaway. He also had a cabinet that was fifty:fifty women: men and his second minister was a woman. He didn’t get re-elected. I digress.

      You read Diana’s comment? I hope it’s an ironical title. Otherwise it sounds like a true, just, holy war, etc.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. When I was very small I remember a thin haunted figure in the mists of my elderly Aunt Georgia’s farm. It was Uncle Rob who talked with my dad, but disappeared when people came to call. Haunted is the correct word. A few days ago I found an old family picture of Uncle Rob as a very young man all dressed up in uniform and ready to leave for WW I. He returned alive, but never the same according to dad. War is brutal. The memories of all the horrors and all “the kill or be killed” doesn’t leave. Even as a little kid I knew my dad had terrible nightmares and you did not suddenly come up to him in the night or when he was sleeping. But Uncle Rob, a simple farm boy excited to go see the world and fight for a glorious cause, came back destroyed and haunted.
    When choosing images for a Veteran’s Day post, I couldn’t post all the pictures. Uncle Robs was put back in the box. From that picture, no one would understand. I never knew him smiling and looking forward, only that thin figure in the mists.
    I think the WW I poets are so important. Appreciate you featuring them.

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    • PTSD before it was recognised eh? Owen has certainly written a lot about men coming back from war only half there, whether physically,mentally, or both. Utterly tragic and yet we keep sending people off to war coming back exactly the same. Sheer cannon fodder. I’m so sorry for you family and so many others.

      I agree. There is a wealth of material in their work to see out blog posts for my lifetime!

      Liked by 1 person

      • People used to just go on with their lives.
        Eons ago when I was desperate to fund my travels, I fell into a teaching job (it was the kids no one wanted) We had to teach poetry, but passing over the flowers and sugar sweet ones, I taught Owen’s which I remembered from high school. It resonated in that era with those kids. Real, not bluebirds of happiness. They probably left with a better understanding of the power of poetry and language than most. (Maybe Uncle Rob’s experiences and life affected me more than I realized. Those poems are very powerful. I did make a point to see that memorial stone.)

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        • No option, was there? Which isn’t to say PTSD shouldn’t be recognised, just that back then, it was struggle on without help.
          Interesting it resonated. I was def not in that category, and yet his poetry has always stuck with me over the years.
          Maybe it did. But, if you shared some meaningful poetry with kids no one wanted, I suppose there is something in that. It might not have helped uncle rob, but, you enriched other lives.

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          • Life and society’s expectations were very different.Some coped better than others. No doubt your dad knew some of the same. No one came back like they left.
            I think kids like that recognize truth. You have to tap and tolerate their raw brutal honesty. I’m not a teacher – that “Oh, I love kids so I teach and it is such a joy to see the light go on” thing I’ve found to be counterproductive in many teachers. I can only do it like a behavior study: here’s the object/task needed to be learned – and what’s the most effective and efficient way to achieve that. And don’t waste their time. They needed at their age (16 couldn’t read and didn’t care) the critical stuff like being able to put down their ideas, thoughts, requests, protest on paper in cohesive orderly fashion in as correct as possible form with actual facts or solid reasons in order to get the change /their objective accomplished and to be taken seriously by their target.We used literature as a backbone for that. Guerrilla teaching in the trenches. Worked, it but got boring. So I left. There was weeping across the district as I had been training other teachers in the process.(and my mother was so angry as I had finally been doing a job she understood and thought appropriate) Other paths to explore. Definitely no regrets.
            Odd side note. “Aunt” Georgia was really”Uncle” Rob’s mother, my dad’s great aunt. Family titles are a bit loose with rural extended families. Her husband died early and she picked up and was one of the few women who had an extremely successful sales career back in an era when that was unusual. Managed to keep the farm and take care of her son. Lived to 102. (attributed to a glass of red wine before bedtime for her whole life which dad made a point to buy here despite my mother’s protests. It was one of those “We don’t tell” secrets.). Dad and I thought she only died because her childhood best girl friend died. After that funeral she announced she had lived long enough and laid down. Died the next day. Quite a lady)
            More than you ever wanted to know. But there you are. Poetry and literature is everywhere.

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          • I don’t know what happened to my dad’s school friends. Maybe ‘cos he didn’t join a local regiment but the RN and served on a number of different ships so kept meeting different sailors too. I remember a few times total strangers approaching him both at home and on holiday in the UK, ‘oh you’re *some nickname I don’t recall* who served on the Tallybont/some other ship.’ This would have been 20+ years afterwards. So, if he did know anyone who didn’t cope afterwards, he never said. I don’t think he had a bad war, as wars go. He never applied for the medals he was due as he said he hadn’t earned them. Well, that was his story.
            Teaching was never my thing. I did a few weeks at a primary/junior school in my teens as a compulsory school placement and it was soooooo boring. Maybe cos the teacher couldn’t find anything for me to do.
            Didn’t we all drop the ‘great’ in front of our great aunts and uncles? Apart from Great- Great-Aunt Ellen, who was the reincarnation of Victoria and who I only ever saw once. Even my father called her Great-Aunt Ellen.
            After their husbands died, my mother and her neighbour became much closer. Ironic, as Doris was German and vegan and hated kids. My mother loved kids, couldn’t understand vegans, and could never forgive every single German, alive or dead, for killing her brother. After my mother’s death, Doris followed her a few weeks afterwards.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Dads not coping was kept pretty quiet back then. For those who lived/returned in/to areas actually bombed or affected by battle had no choice but to keep going. War disrupts normal, but they just took it off like a coat and walked on. More and more I feel we continue to have wars because those who fought and saw it, die off and the younger new bunch doesn’t understand. Then there’s greed, politics, power and those always willing to spend other people’s money and send other people’s children into war.
            This area was settled by many Germans long ago, but the cultural stuff was strong. People named Adolf started using different names, but I don’t remember much anti-German feeling in the 50′ except from the war refugees. There was some for Japan for a long time. People around us tried to distinguish between the war’s leaders and the average person who was just there (and didn’t realize too late what was happening. Patriotism on steroids confuses people as an excuse…)
            I always got confused by all the “greats” being so little around all of them. Wish I had sat down and listened to more of their stories. But if there were horses, I was over there – getting dirty and Mom would get so mad.
            Doris and you mom sound like a hoot. Funny how people who were very different could get along. Do you have old family picture somewhere? Oh, all the clothes they had to wear. Summers must have been dreadful.
            I hated teaching. Even at the college level. Just not my thing. It is boring. Did it a couple of short periods during a couple of layoffs as taking welfare wasn’t considered proper if you had abilities and were able bodied. The whole edu system here drives me nuts. Teaching kids – but easier to warehouse and protect the status quo. Many teachers we have here now would have never made it if they hadn’t reduced the entry qualifications/certification routes.I just have to stay away from the topic.
            PAw waves to Snowy. The German left yesterday and now after a nap, Molly is bored after days of constant play. So off we go to walk – cool and bright – can’t waste that.

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          • As I replied to Col, I don’t think it’s our generation that is pro-war, rather those after us who weren’t brought up on tales of death, loss and everything War. I grew up with a genuine fear of war from the tales I heard.
            There was serious anti-Japanese feeling in parts of the UK where regiments had been POWs. I’ve met two very tall ex Jap POWs and two nicer gentler men you couldn’t meet. Who knows what goes on in their heads. Maybe they’ve got it sorted. I’d never have dared to ask them though. Not mine to intrude.
            My greats didn’t talk much about the past like that, not even grandmas. Never knew grandpas.
            Not a photo family. I’ve put a few b&ws on everypix, my not a photoblog, can’t remember if you’ve seen those? I’ve abandoned it of late. I have some pix of my mum in 50s frocks though, should post those :)
            Teaching. I did a one day course teaching people who worked for voluntary groups how to write for the media. It was ok, but one day to teach what took me two and a half years to qualify plus lots of experience?
            Snowy says nap time here in the afternoon. Needs to support his master who is lying on the bed watching a film after the morning’s work. We’ve all been working this morning – under S’s supervision. Early finish Friday.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Will have to travel back for reading comments. You’ve hit the target pretty clear. After time passes, it’s only in books instead of people’s heads.Children were taught not to pry or ask adults about a lot of things.Privacy was not intruded upon. (It would be nice to go back to some of that. Listening celebrities and news people?)
            Mom and dad hosted a Japanese educator/school principal when I was in college. Such a nice man. They all remained friends, met all the families, and traveled back and forth for visits several times. Life does go on. People do find so much in common. I still have some cards from him – one of his sons dropped out of the top academic tier to become a artist and gifted photographer. His actions brought great “shame” to his family initially, and his father was close to suicide. Dad was very concerned, but over the years the family accepted his choice. Common experiences: kids?
            Don’t think I’ve seen the pix blog. Will have to look. Never can figure out how anyone manages more than one blog. Exhausting. Your mom’s pictures would be a big hit.
            Teaching adults is a whole different ball game. I have more patients with kids who are “not finished” than those who are “finished” – if that makes sense. Kids’ unpredictability can be very funny ( the only thing that relieves the boredom). At least your group was probably there because they wanted to be and hoped to gain something rather than be forced by bosses to attend. So odd how people think anyone should be perfectly willing to “share all the secrets” that took you years to learn. Never willing to give that stuff away just ’cause “it would be so nice to help…”
            We may actually have a dry cool weekend – if so, Molly deserves a hike or beach trip. Winter is coming.

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    • Why thank you my dear. However with the exception of the brief bios and a slight commentary, the real compliments go to the original poets, far better writers than I could ever hope to be. Poetry is not my forte, certainly not such evocative poetry.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. My daughter is studying WW1 currently and your post reminded me of how back in my history teaching days in the classroom I used poetry to assist with WW1 studies for Grade 9’s. Need to go there with her..

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    • I sometimes think how much better I would have been able to critique poetry with hindsight. Your experience of using poetry sounds like Jenny’s above. I think one of the interesting comparisons is some of the seriously jingoistic poetry that was initially produced, binyon’s which is a halfway house, and the stark reality of Read, Owen, Sassoon etc.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I do like this post – well-timed and thoughtful.
    I am surprised that many more of those involved in WW1 didn’t become pacifists – it was supposed to have been the war to end all wars, and the fact that it soon proved otherwise was enough to arouse bitterness indeed.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Col. I think if we are going to write about Remembrance/Armistice Day, then we should at least have something thoughtful, interesting and with a little history added. Otherwise it just becomes meaningless rhetoric such as that spouted by politicos.

      I do wonder if my generation (loosely speaking) is the one most opposed to war, due to growing up hearing about relatives they would never meet, listening to the horror stories, feeling their parents’ fear of another war – I still remember the men in my family discussing Russia invading Czechoslovakia and wondering if it would trigger another war.

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      • I recall similar discussions – but the women in our family took an active part. Many, including my mother, had served in one of the forces as well, and had informed opinions.
        The consensus was always that the only unavoidable wars were those arising from the need to oppose criminal behaviour – much as one targets individual criminals.

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        • My mother was a bit too subservient to interrupt The Men. All three forces were represented at this family pow wow. Father: RN served in the Med, Uncle A: Army in India, and Uncle B who was too young to fight in the war but had joined the RAF anyway. I think the difficulty back then, was actually separating the propaganda from reality. Although, what’s different now? I don’t think WW2 initially started off any different to WW1 in that it was the old story of the Eurpean powers trying to make sure one didn’t become supreme.

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  10. My father lost his elder brothers in the Great War…the loss turned his mother from a happy, laughing woman into a dour shell. He had no time for poetry which ‘prettied up’ the reality…so, as you can imagine, liked Owen.

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    • It’s odd, but because WW2 was relatively recent before my birth I have no idea what happened with my family and WW1. All the talk was always WW2. The poem I meant to add here (and forgot to copy down from my book) was a different Read one about them working in a rehab centre, it was pretty bleak. I think WW1 poetry should be compulsive reading for everyone. Certainly the Owen style poets at any rate. Not the jingoistic ones that believe that old lie, dulce et decorum est, though.

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  11. Such striking poems and I like reading them when they make sense. In school we were given Afrikaans poems that didn’t make any sense at all and we had to explain what is was all about and lay it out.

    Love the rose. Such a beautiful colour and even in their withered state they still keep their beauty and smell. Stunning shots! :D ♥

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    • Some things at school didn’t make sense to me either but war poetry did. So graphic and emotive. I just wish we learned from what they tell us instead of just repeating the same mistakes :(

      Ah, the beautiful roses. I’m afraid there will be some more, I couldn’t resist taking some with morning dew on them. 🌹I think I had four originally, but they are all pretty old, and have gradually died off, the red one continues on though.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Most things at school didn’t make sense to me. My best times were spend in the Library during breaks and I would read all the encyclopedias. We had blue ones with all the old tales in it. I enjoyed those.

        I wish so as well. Clearly most didn’t learn at all. Power and money took over.

        Who can resist taking photos of such beautiful roses? I don’t blame you at all. I also took some during the week. Can’t wait to see yours. :D

        The red ones do last longer, but I can never take good photos of them. You definitely know how to. ♥

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        • We were allowed in the library in free periods, and I used to look at encyclopaedias too :D instead of doing what I was supposed to! Probably translating Latin or something. Power, money, greed, politicians, banks and global businesses. Bit difficult for the person in the street to fight those :(

          Don’t have much choice with the roses now I’ve only got red ones left. The yellow ones were nice but the roots were pretty rotten so out it came. I’ve got a few pots on there now with garlic and cilantro, and I think I put a couple of potatoes in too.

          Liked by 1 person

  12. Do you know apart from the mandatory poems whilst at school , poetry hasn’t been something I have been interested in but now I blog I have come across some wonderful poems which have awakened my interest..thank you :)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well we all started at school I guess, but I actually did enjoy a lot of the school ones. I don’t read a lot of poetry, but I do enjoy some of the very good classic poets. I read some blog poetry too, but there’s a big gap between contemporary free verse and the poetic record of the slaughter in World War One.

      Liked by 1 person

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