That November thing is happening again. All the ‘dead’ stuff, all the Remembering. I’ve wobbled about the absence of parents and about the anniversary of the Enniskillen bomb, but mostly I’ve been fascinated by one death in particular, long ago.
Yes, I remember Adlestrop —
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.
The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop — only the name
And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.
And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.
As a 16 year old I was not interested in Adlestrop or Thomas. I had the poetry of Wilfred Owen to devour. Now, there was a war poet, full of blood and guts and gore. (To think he gave his life to be a teaching tool to get teenagers engaged in poetry…)
Advancing years make Thomas make sense. I no longer have the same stomach for death rattles or …
[…] the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin,
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs
Bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
Wilfred Owen, from Dulce et Decorum Est
…but I’m more curious about birds, unwonted stops, and remembering.
In the midst of Remembering at the weekend, I heard how Thomas was killed in France. Wikipaedia tells us: ‘Although he survived the actual battle [of Arras, 1917], he was killed by the concussive blast wave of one of the last shells fired as he stood to light his pipe.’ If I’d just read that it would mean nothing, but the radio man was much more poetic. If I remember rightly, Thomas stood up, one of the last shells of the battle skimmed by his ear, creating a vacuum, and sucking the life out of him. His watch stopped, his heart stopped, he appeared uninjured, but he’d died.
My non scientific brain is still boggled by that. History, not sci fi, but, wow.
Truth (or my understanding of it) is indeed stranger than fiction.