Poem introduction

My grandfather was severely wounded in the war, and there was a great shortage of pain-relieving medicines. He suffered agonies in the weeks that followed, only to die on the day peace was declared. This poem was read during the BBC’s WW1 commemoration programme.

My Grandfather Dreams Twice of Flanders

My grandfather dreamt he was trying hard to die

and no one would help him.

He dreamt he went walking across Flanders field,

and he saw the companies of dead men

whose screaming he still hears night after night.

 

The countryside was a woman dressed in red.

He saw her courted briefly by a million men

carrying bayonets and mortars – her face

turning towards his, turned his to stone

and made the white clouds whirl dizzily overhead.

 

My grandfather dreamt that he was six years old

and a woman decked in flowers or blood

was guiding him to Flanders field –

 

he saw ungathered poppies scattered on the floor,

and the ceiling tilting crazily,

and the lights swaying.

Shadows tumbling out of the darkness

beckoned him everywhere.

 

He saw her heaping flowers into a bed.

Then one by one she took the shadows

to lie with her, and one

by one he saw them disappear.


from Ragtime In Unfamiliar Bars (Secker & Warburg, 1985), © Ron Butlin 1985, used by permission of the author

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