There are so many wonderful poems that describe the horrors of war, and more especially of World War I, but I stumbled across this one today, by someone I have never heard of, and yet its words are as poignant with all the horror in the world today as it was when it was written.
It is by a poet called Geoffrey Anketell Studdert Kennedy (1883-1929), an Anglican priest and poet nicknamed “Woodbine Willie” during WWI.
Whatever our personal views, soldiers risk their lives daily to try to make the world a better place, and we should all ask ourselves if we would be prepared to do the same!
I know not where they have laid him.
I wouldn’t mind if I only knowed
The spot where they’d laid my lad;
If I could see where they’d buried ‘im,
It wouldn’t be arf so bad.
But they do say some’s not buried at all,
Left to the maggots and flies,
Rottin’ out there in that no man’s land,
Just where they falls — they lies.
Parson ‘e says as it makes no odds,
‘Cause the soul o’ the lad goes on,
‘Is spirit ‘as gorn to ‘is Gawd, ‘e says,
Wherever ‘is body ‘as gorn.
But Parson ain’t never ‘ad no child,
‘E’s a man, not a woman, see?
‘Ow can he know what a woman feels,
And what it can mean to me?
For my boy’s body were mine — my own,
I bore it in bitter pain,
Bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh,
It lies and rots in the rain.
Parson ain’t never suckled a child
Nor broken ‘is nights o’ rest,
To ‘ush it to sleep in ‘is aching arms,
While it drew life from ‘is breast.
‘E ain’t never watched by a sick child’s bed
Nor seed it fightin’ for life,
A man don’t know what a mother knows,
‘E leaves all that to ‘is wife.
I minds that chapter as Parson read
When poor little Jenny died,
And I were feeling as I feel now,
Wiv this emptiness inside.
Thou fool — it said — thou Fool — for to ask
And ‘ow do the dead arise?
What is the body that they shall wear
Up there in God’s Paradise?
I may be a fool, but that’s just it,
That’s just what I wants to know,
What is the body my boy shall bear,
And ‘ow does that body grow?
I reckons as ‘ow that Scripture piece
Were writ by a single man,
They never knows what a body costs
And I don’t see ‘ow they can.
A married man ‘as a bit ov sense
If ‘e’s been and stood wiv ‘is wife,
‘E knows the body ‘is baby wears
‘As cost ‘er all but ‘er life.
But even a Father never knows
The ache in a Mother’s ‘eart,
When she and the body ‘er body bore
Are severed and torn apart.
The men wouldn’t make these cursed wars
If they knowed of a body’s worth,
They wouldn’t be blowin’ ’em all to bits
If they ‘ad the pains ov birth.
But bless ye—the men don’t know they’re born,
For they gets away scot free.
‘Ow can they know what their cruel wars
Is costin’ the likes ov me?
I were proud to give, I’d give again
If I knowed the cause were right,
For I wouldn’t keep no son of mine
When ‘is dooty called to fight.
But I’d like to know just where it’s laid,
That body my body bore,
And I’d like to know who’ll mother ‘im
Out there on that other shore,
Who will be bearin’ the mother’s part
And be makin’ your body, boy?
Who will be ‘avin’ the mother’s pain,
And feelin’ the mother’s joy?
Gawd, is it you? Then bow you down
And ‘ark to a Mother’s prayer.
Don’t keep it all to yourself, Good Lord,
But give ‘is old Mother a share.
Gimme a share of the travail pain
Of my own son’s second birth,
Double the pain if you double the joy
That a mother feels on earth.
Gimme the sorrow and not the joy
If that ‘as to be your will,
Gimme the labour and not the pride,
But make me ‘is mother still.
Maybe the body as ‘e shall wear
Is born of my breaking heart,
Maybe these pains are the new birth pangs
What’ll give my laddie ‘is start.
Then I’d not trouble ‘ow hard they was,
I’d gladly go through the mill,
If that noo body ‘e wore were mine,
And I were ‘is mother still.