November 2022

from Mutabilitie by Edmund Spenser (1552-99) ' Then came the Autumne all in yellow clad, As though he joyed in his plentious store, Laden with fruits that made him laugh, full glad That he had banisht hunger, which to-fore Had by the belly oft him pinched sore. Upon his head a wreath that was enrold With eares of corne of every sort he bore: And in his hand a sickle he did holde, To reape the ripened fruits the which the earth had yold. '

To mark Armistice Day, we are featuring poems displayed on the underground to commemorate the First World War, and touching on wars from the earliest times to the present.

We hope readers will be moved by these poets writing at first hand about their experience of the war, and in different ways expressing comradeship, love of country, despair and even hope

 All of these poems can be found in our War Poems on the Underground leaflet here

Look out for our new set of Poems on the Underground on London Underground trains from 7th November

We are delighted to offer tube travellers a new autumn set of poems which show how interconnected we are, to the natural world, to our families and to the wider world.

To end our celebration of the bicentenary of Shelley’s death, we feature the first stanza of his greatest poem Ode to the West Wind. Included too are Jackie Kay’s warm tribute to her parents as they set off for yet another anti-war protest  and poems by four poets new to our programme, Jo Clement, Romalyn Ante, Kerry Shawn Keys and Cyril Wong.

New Poems on the Underground

from Ode to the West Wind by P.B. Shelley

Ode to the West Wind by P. B. Shelley 'O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn's being, Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing, Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red, Pestilence-stricken multitudes; O Thou, Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed The wingèd seeds, where they lie cold and low, Each like a corpse within its grave, until Thine azure sister of the Spring shall blow Her clarion o’er the dreaming earth, and fill (Driving sweet buds like flocks to feed in air) With living hues and odours plain and hill: Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere; Destroyer and Preserver; hear, O hear! '

George Square by Jackie Kay

George Square by Jackie Kay ' My seventy-seven-year-old father put his reading glasses on to help my mother do the buttons on the back of her dress. ‘What a pair the two of us are!’ my mother said, ‘Me with my sore wrist, you with your bad eyes, your soft thumbs!’ And off they went, my two parents to march against the war in Iraq, him with his plastic hips, her with her arthritis, to congregate at George Square, where the banners waved at each other like old friends, flapping, where they’d met for so many marches over their years, for peace on earth, for pity’s sake, for peace, for peace.' Reprinted by permission of Bloodaxe Books from Darling: New & Selected Poems (2007)

Paisley by Jo Clement

Paisley by Jo Clement ' With India’s hand on the loom I untwist a paisley square from round my neck: red, green and gold threads repeat almonds some call figs, figs the Welsh call pears and pears you might call teardrops. Shook onto the grass, I smooth out Kashmir -- so close to silk – over the fault line made of my body: feet in England, head in Scotland, a heart elsewhere.' Reprinted by permission of Bloodaxe Books from Outlandish (2022)

from Invisible Women by Romalyn Ante 

from Invisible Women by Romalyn Ante ' My mother walks to work when the sky is black and comes out from work when the sky is black, her footsteps leave a snowdrop-studded path. In the middle of a plaza, she pauses -- the downpour tricking her eyes to believe the statue in the square is a fellow invisible woman.' Reprinted by permission of Chatto & Windus from Antiemetic for Homesickness (2020)

 Vesper by Kerry Shawn Keys

Vesper for my mother by Kerry Shawn Keys ' Next to the grapes to the side of the house, the mother with the disappearing bones showed me the flowers opening at dusk, perfuming the silence. See, they unfold the dark to make music with the moths. She stepped inside. Far off, the yellowing moon crocheted its starry nightgown into her shadow.' Reprinted by permission of the author Kerry Shawn Keys ( 2020)

Crow by  Cyril Wong 

Crow by Cyril Wong ' How does one begin to drink the sky? By tasting its tears, of course, the crow realised. Yet why does it remain so full – a pitcher of blue without end?' Reprinted by permission of Math Paper Press from Animal Season (2020)

War Poems on the Underground

August 1914 by Isaac Rosenberg

August 1914 , Isaac Rosenberg 'What in our lives is burnt In the fire of this? The heart's dear granary? The much we shall miss? Three lives hath one life— Iron, honey, gold. The gold, the honey gone— Left is the hard and cold. Iron are our lives Molten right through our youth. A burnt space through ripe fields, A fair mouth's broken tooth.'

In Time of the Breaking of Nations by Thomas Hardy

In Time of ‘The Breaking of Nations’ , Thomas Hardy ' Only a man harrowing clods In a slow silent walk With an old horse that stumbles and nods Half asleep as they stalk. Only thin smoke without flame From the heaps of couch-grass; Yet this will go onward the same Though Dynasties pass. Yonder a maid and her wight Come whispering by: War’s annals will cloud into night Ere their story die.'

La Petite Auto / The Little Car by Guillaume Apollinaire

La Petite Auto/The Little Car by Guillaume Apollinaire, tr. the Editors ' On the 31st of August 1914 I left Deanville shortly before midnight In Rouveyre's little car With his driver there were three of us We said goodbye to a whole epoch Angry giants reared over Europe Eagles left their eyries to wait for the sun Voracious fish rose from the abyss Nations rushed to know one another through and through In their dark dwellings the dead trembled with fear '

Im Osten / In the East by Georg Trakl translated by David Constantine

Im Osten / In the East , Georg Trakl, tr. David Constantine 'Like the wild organ music of the winter storm Is the dark rage of the people The crimson wave of battle, Of leafless stars. With broken brows, with silver arms Night beckons to dying soldiers. In the shadow of the autumnal ash The ghosts of the slain are sighing. A thorny wilderness girdles the town. The moon harries the terrified women From bleeding steps. Wild wolves broke through the gate.'

Lost in France by Ernest Rhys

Lost in France, Ernest Rhys ' He had the plowman's strength In the grasp of his hand. He could see a crow Three miles away, And the trout beneath the stone.'

Letter to André Billy 9 April 1915 by Guillaume Apollinaire translated by Oliver Bernard

LETTER TO ANDRÉ BILLY 9 APRIL 1915 , Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918) tr. Oliver Bernard 'Gunner /Driver One (front-line) Here I am and send you greetings No no you're not seeing things My Sector's number fifty-nine I hear the whistle of the bird the beautiful bird of prey I see far away the cathedral Premier canonnier conducteur Je suis au front et te salue Non non tu n'as pas la berlue Cinquante-neuf est mon secteur... OH MY DEAR ANDRE BILLY '

Fratelli/ Brothers by Giuseppe Ungaretti translated by Patrick Creagh

Fratelli/Brothers, Giuseppe Ungaretti , tr. Patrick Creagh ' What regiment are you from brothers? Word trembling in the night A leaf just opening In the racked air involuntary revolt of man face to face with his own fragility Brothers Mariano 15 July 2016'

Harmonica by Michael Longley

Bach and the Sentry by Ivor Gurney

Bach and the Sentry, Ivor Gurney 'Watching the dark my spirit rose in flood On that most dearest Prelude of my delight. The low-lying mist lifted its hood, The October stars showed nobly in clear night. When I return, and to real music-making, And play that Prelude, how will it happen then? Shall I feel as I felt, a sentry hardly waking, With a dull sense of No Man's Land again?'

The General by Siegfried Sassoon

The General , Siegfried Sassoon ' Good-morning, good-morning!” the General said When we met him last week on our way to the line. Now the soldiers he smiled at are most of 'em dead, And we're cursing his staff for incompetent swine. “He's a cheery old card,” grunted Harry to Jack As they slogged up to Arras with rifle and pack. But he did for them both by his plan of attack.'

1915 I know the truth – give up all other truths! by Maria Tsvetaeva translated by Elaine Feinstein

1915 I Know the Truth - Give up All Other Truths! , Marina Tsvetayeva (1892-1941) translated by Elaine Feinstein 'I know the truth - give up all other truths! No need for people anywhere on earth to struggle. Look - it is evening, look, it is nearly night: what do you speak of, poets, lovers, generals? The wind is level now, the earth is wet with dew, the storm of stars in the sky will turn to quiet. And soon all of us will sleep under the earth, we who never let each other sleep above it. '

In Memoriam (Easter 1915) by Edward Thomas

In Memoriam (Easter 1915), Edward Thomas ' The flowers left thick at nightfall in the wood This Eastertide call into mind the men, Now far from home, who, with their sweethearts, should Have gathered them and will do never again.'

Anthem for Doomed Youth by Wilfred Owen

Anthem for Doomed Youth, Wilfred Owen 'What passing-bells for these who die as cattle? — Only the monstrous anger of the guns. Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle Can patter out their hasty orisons. No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells; Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,— The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells; And bugles calling for them from sad shires. What candles may be held to speed them all? Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes. The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall; Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds, And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.'

A Dead Statesman by Rudyard Kipling

A Dead Statesman, Rudyard Kipling 'I could not dig: I dared not rob: Therefore I lied to please the mob. Now all my lies are proved untrue And I must face the men I slew. What tale shall serve me here among Mine angry and defrauded young?'

Grass by Carl Sandburg

Grass by Carl Sandburg ' Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo. Shovel them under and let me work— I am the grass; I cover all. And pile them high at Gettysburg And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun. Shovel them under and let me work. Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor: What place is this? Where are we now? I am the grass. Let me work.'

Maire Macrae’s Song by Kathleen Raine

Everyone Sang by Siegfried Sassoon

Everyone Sang by Siegfried Sassoon Poems on the Underground 1999 poster 'Everyone suddenly burst out singing; And I was filled with such delight As prisoned birds must find in freedom, Winging wildly across the white Orchards and dark-green fields; on - on - and out of sight. Everyone's voice was suddenly lifted; And beauty came like the setting sun: My heart was shaken with tears; and horror Drifted away ... O, but Everyone Was a bird; and the song was wordless; the singing will never be done.'

Accordionist by George Szirtes

Accordionist, George Szirtes ' The accordionist is a blind intellectual carrying an enormous typewriter whose keys grow wings as the instrument expands into a tall horizontal hat that collapses with a tubercular wheeze. My century is a sad one of collapses. The concertina of the chest; the tubular bells of the high houses; the flattened ellipses of our skulls that open like petals. We are the poppies sprinkled along the field. We are simple crosses dotted with blood. Beware of the sentiments concealed in this short rhyme. Be wise. Be good.'

The Long War by Laurie Lee

The Long War by Laurie Lee 'Less passionate the long war throws its burning thorn about all men, caught in one grief, we share one wound, and cry one dialect of pain. We have forgot who fired the house, Whose easy mischief spilled first blood, Under one raging roof we lie The fault no longer understood. But as our twisted arms embrace the desert where our cities stood , Death's family likeness in each face must show, at last, our brotherhood.'

Inscription for a War by A. D. Hope

Inscription for a War, A.D. Hope ' Linger not, stranger; shed no tear; Go back to those who sent us here. We are the young they drafted out To wars their folly brought about'

Passing-Bells by Carol Ann Duffy

Passing-Bells, Carol Ann Duffy ' That moment when the soldier's soul passed through his wounds, slipped through the staunching fingers of his friend then, like a shadow, ran across a field to vanish, vanish, into empty air...'

They are Not Long by Ernest Dowson

They Are Not Long Ernest DowsonVitae summa brevis spem nos vetat Incohare Longam The shortness of life prevents us from entertaining far-off hopes (Horace) 'They are not long, the weeping and the laughter, Love and desire and hate: I think they have no portion in us after We pass the gate. They are not long, the days of wine and roses: Out of a misty dream Our path emerges for a while, then closes Within a dream. '

The Sunburst by Michael Longley

The Sunburst by Michael Longley (b.1939) ' Her first memory is of light all around her As she sits among pillows on a patchwork quilt Made out of uniforms, coat linings, petticoats, Waistcoats, flannel shirts, ball gowns, by Mother Or Grandmother, twenty stitches to very inch, A flawless version of World without End or Cathedral Window or a diamond pattern That radiates from the smallest grey square Until the sunburst fades into the calico. 'Michal Longley (b.1939) Reprinted by permission of Random House from The Weather in Japan (Cape 2000) Poems on the Underground

And they shall beate their swords into plow-shares Isiah 2.4, King James Bible

Isaiah 2.4 'And they shall beate their swords into plow-shares, and their speares into pruning hookes; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learne warre any more'

You can see our poems displayed in October 2022 here