By Mike Bell
‘In Flanders Fields’ is a poem written by Canadian WW1 surgeon Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae
“In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.”
This is what happened, as it happened. There is always Hope.
Hearts can Sing
New Year’s Eve, the turn of the Millennium – a dream:
I am leaving a walled town, in company with a party of Dark Men. Looking over my right shoulder, I can see the spires and rooftops of the town on the hill a little way behind me, the slates shining slightly after rain. We follow a green lane along the edge of an escarpment, the ground falling away steeply to a plain on our right. It is open, grassy country, punctuated by scrubby hawthorns and blackthorns, the land away to the left more wooded. Chalk country.
After some distance, the path runs alongside a banked enclosure on our left. It is a little like a hill fort, but with sharp, vertical faces facing inwards. It feels a bad place. Soldiers, in grey-green Nazi-type uniforms are keeping guard. We turn off the track at the far end of the camp, and are admitted through a gate. Inside the bank are cells, tiny cells; through the bars of the cell doors we can see pale, emaciated faces. We are allowed to speak to one prisoner, his cell door being opened for us. He is pitifully thin and ragged, but smiles nevertheless, and opens up a battered suitcase in which he has a few belongings from his old life. With pride and dignity he shows us a dented musical instrument, a trumpet perhaps. He is a musician. It is heart-breaking but touching, deeply human, his last connection with his life before the concentration camp.
I weep, then am distracted. Away over the plain, clouds part to let through a shaft of sunlight, the woods and little fields of the land flooded with golden light. Then, a bird rises over the plain – a lark, singing as if its heart would burst. The Dark Men turn to the plain in wonder and one takes up the song, his voice lifting and soaring with the lark, joining in a wordless hymn. It is pure Joy, and Life. Hope – Life finds a way. Light shines, even in this dark place. The guards are not in themselves bad men, only mistaken in their loyalties.
I remember no more, but the light remains.
Awakening, New Year’s Day:
I recount the dream to Bernie. She gets up, goes to the bookshelf and returns with a volume of poems by Thomas Hardy, hands it to me open at The Darkling Thrush, written exactly 100 years before:
“…So little cause for carolings
Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
And I was unaware.”
I weep. A few months later I hear a poem on the car radio (Poetry Please), written by Siegfried Sassoon soon after the end of the First World War. It is called Everyone Sang, and concludes:
“…Everyone’s voice was suddenly lifted;
And beauty came like the setting sun:
My heart was shaken with tears; and horror
Drifted away … O, but Everyone
Was a bird; and the song was wordless; the singing will never be done.”
Seventeen years later, early March:
It is a little more than a year since my father died, and a few days before he would have celebrated his 99th birthday. Another dream: he has not died, and remains alive, but trapped in pain and frailty that is beyond anyone’s power to help. It is not right – a suffering limbo, while I go on living my life. I wish that he could die. I wake, distressed.
After my morning shower, I open the shower-room window to let the steam out, and let in… the clear, strong sound of a lark, celebrating the lengthening days. All at once, everything is alright, everything is as it should be. I remember my parents, with love.
There are some fine days this March, less windy than is usual for Orkney. I hear the lark often in the garden, but cannot spot him until one fine day, later on in the month. Squinting up into the bright sky, I watch the lark rising ever-higher until the light and cold air make my eyes stream. I sneeze and look away, whilst the song goes on – wild heart. Later that day, Bernie tells me of Jackie’s lark, I tell her of the day’s lark and recall a dream from 17 years ago.
Life forms patterns.
“Jackie’s Lark” refers to this………………