Image by Caroline Forbes

Poem introduction

I've written a lot of poems about my ancestors - I'm fascinated by family history - and sometimes you get a story that's passed down by oral transmission - you're not quite sure who the person was, or exactly where it was set - you just know that it's somebody in your family and that's the case with this episode. I've called the poem 'The Russian War' which was what the people apparently referred to the Crimean War as, so it's looking back to the Crimean War in the 1850s.

The Russian War

The Russian War

Great-great-great-uncle Francis Eggington
came back from the Russian War
(it was the kind of war you came back from,
if you were lucky: bad, but over).
He didn't come to the front door -
the lice and filth were falling off him -
he slipped along the alley to the yard.
'Who's that out at the pump?' they said
'- a tall tramp stripping his rags off!'
The soap was where it usually was.
He scrubbed and splashed and scrubbed
and combed his beard over the hole in his throat.
'Give me some clothes,' he said. 'I'm back.'
'God save us, Frank, it's you!' they said.
'What happened? Were you at Scutari?
And what's that hole inside your beard?'
'Tea first,' he said. 'I'll tell you later.
And Willie's children will tell their grandchildren;
I'll be a thing called oral history.'


from Poems 1960-2000 (Bloodaxe Books, 2000), copyright © Fleur Adcock 2000, used by permission of the author

Recordings

Fleur Adcock Reading from her poems

1A Surprise in the Peninsula

2Stewart Island

3Country Station

4Kilpeck

5The Ex-Queen Among the Astronomers

6The Soho Hospital for Women

7Immigrant

8Crab

9Piano Concerto in E Flat Major

10Street Song

11Leaving the Tate

12Scalford Again

13Chippenham

14The Telephone Call

15Cattle in Mist

16The Russian War

17Water

18Anne Welby

19Swings and Roundabouts

20Willow Creek

21For Meg

22From Kensington Gardens: Droppings

23From Kensington Gardens: Handful

24From Kensington Gardens: Checking Out

25From Kensington Gardens: Goodbye