The poetics of death

Seeing these military cemeteries, I thought of Charles Causeley’s strange and evocative poem At the British War Cemetery Bayeux:

I walked where in their talking graves
And shirts of earth five thousand lay,
When history with ten feasts of fire
Had eaten the red earth away.

‘I am Christ’s boy’, I cried, ‘I bear
In iron hands the bread, the fishes.
I hang with honey and with rose
This tidy wreck of all your wishes.

‘On your geometry of sleep
The chestnut and the fir-tree fly,
And lavender and marguerite
Forge with their flowers an English sky.

‘Turn now toward the belling town
Your jigsaws of impossible bone,
And rising, read your rank of snow
Accurate as death upon the stone.’

About your easy heads my prayers
I said with syllables of clay,
‘What gift,’ I asked, ‘shall I bring now
Before I weep and walk away?’

Take, they replied, the oak and laurel,
Take our fortune of tears and live
Like a spendthrift lover. All we ask
Is the one gift you cannot give
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