Poem from Christopher Bernard

W. E. S. Owen: Sambre-Oise Canal, November 4, 1918


                        Afterward—little spring become prattling rill

                        grown rushing stream through the Shropshire meadows,

                        flower-dappled, by damp shade trees

                        and fragrant fields littered with picnic laughter,

                        brotherly sniping, early loves, later loving, faith

                        won, and lost, then won again, and then lost again—

                        until it stepped into the garish sun

                        above an annihilated plain,

                        and the cool water filled with the casings

                        of spent shells and the crimson tunics

                        of lost boys and the stench of war,

                        the purer air rent with shouting

                        and the drunken symphony of the guns—

                        after the warm and witty words flowing

                        from a young man scratching over his knapsack

                        by candlelight or gaslight

                        or a glow of Vereys and flares—

                        after the warm life and the flowing life and the life-like seas of words

                        opening on that other life that always happens elsewhere—

                        the single bullet riving the early morning air

                        on the bank of the canal where all of that stream was flowing—


                        the stop of it all, in the mud, like a hammer.


                        A stunned silence in the throbbing of the guns.


                        An unbelief in a no choice but to believe.


                        So it—now man, young or old, no longer—falls—

                        like Nineveh, Ur, and rich Babylon—

                        back into the darkness,

                        a face fading into the waters of an infinite silence:

                        it was.