Wednesday, November 11, 2009
November 11th is observed by many countries around the world--in the United States as Veterans Day, in the British Commonwealth as Remembrance Day, and in other countries as Armistice Day or the Day of Peace. Each of these holidays began as an observance of the armistice that ended the First World War, signed at 11:00 am on November 11, 1918--the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Al Stewart's song Somewhere In England 1915, from his 2005 album A Beach Full of Shells, takes us back to that conflict with a series of dream images that feature World War One British Poets. First up is Rupert Brooke, who served in the British Army during the war and died in 1915 (though not in combat). In his poem The Soldier, written at the beginning of the war, Brooke penned the familiar lines: If I should die, think only this of me:/That there's some corner of a foreign field/That is for ever England. In the song, Stewart depicts a woman standing on a beach, watching a troop ship sail away. She is identified only as an English Prime Minister's daughter--a reference to Violet Asquith, daughter of British Prime Minister H.H. Asquith, who bore an unrequited love for Brooke. She's there to see him off to war, and while Stewart doesn't identify Brooke by name, the allusion is clear: And she watches the ship disappear for the length of a sigh/And the maker of rhymes on the deck who is going to die/In the corner of some foreign field that will make him so famous. In the next sequence, Stewart depicts the horror of the battlefield and mentions two other poets, this time by name: And a skull in a trench gazes up open-mouthed at the moon/And the poets are now Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon. While Brooke's poetry depicted the war as patriotic and a soldier's death as noble, the poetry of both Owen and Sassoon contrasted sharply in tone, depicting the stark, horrific realities of war. Like Brooke, both of these men served in the British Army. Sassoon survived the war; Owen was killed in action one week before the armistice.