“Died some pro patria non dulce non et decor.”
So Ezra Pound adapted Horace’s lines
for those whose sufferings for their nation
had bred a dull, dark, painful generation
with gloria cauterised from their minds.
In the calendar their deaths are still recorded.
Poppies and medals and uniforms are worn.
Services are held and sacrifices lauded.
Public concern and private grief are borne.
On a cold November day.
In a cold November wind.
In Oxford 1993,
in remembrance of their sufferings and trials,
cars are towed untidily from St. Giles
and scattered without symmetry
in surrounding streets.
To protect old rememberers
from new bombs.
This is the point where past and present meet.
Cadets march, tidily, down George Street,
to run the gauntlet of upper windows,
from which insults are scattered
like intellectual litter:
‘What a lot! What do you look like?’
Hard and bitter.
This is the recompense the present shows,
as they turn and turn about,
from windows set
in golden stone in upper storeys.
These had been saved, no doubt,
pro patria (sed cum dolore)
by those who fell in thousands,
cast like human litter,
broken and bitter,
upon the dying fields of Flanders.
fell for then
is out of fashion.
They too are not protected
from jibes and slanders
as their spirits are blown
down Broad Street, past Martyrs’ Memorial.
This commemorates others
who died for a faith
which is also out of fashion.
Stripped of their glory, all,
like transcendental dust,
seeking their refuge
among the Just.