Last time, we were looking at Anthony Richardson’s best book of World War Two RAF, Bomber Command, poetry:
The next poem is “Spring 1942” and it is dedicated “To Vera : who always understood”. Richardson talks in the first two verses of how nature changes things when Spring arrives. “Pellucid” means “translucently clear, (of music or other sound) clear and pure in tone”. This is a daffodil, a word which is actually Latin and comes from “asphodilus”.
The natural world is teeming with babies for every creature. He calls their children “reincarnation of themselves”. So many animals and birds are out and about that even the owl, who normally sleeps during the day, has stopped his dreaming.
So too has Man changed his dreams and gone back to all the vile things that he was doing before the winter. These ideas are expressed by choice of words, all negative “pillage”, “death”, “fear” and “rotten”.
The last verse tells how we are now spending all our time doing nothing but killing, until the “tainted chalice” that is our lives is completely full of “…that red wine which only comes from killing”:
The last poem in this book is called “The Toast” and I am going to present just a few lines from it, with a little bit of explanation.
The first section of the poem for the most part talks of the Englishman’s heritage as a warrior. Much of it, I struggle to understand fully. But by the end, the poet invites his audience to raise their glasses in traditional fashion:
Then comes a reference to Lord Nelson’s famous signal before the Battle of Trafalgar:
“England expects that every man will do his duty”
Interestingly that famous sentence was not Nelson’s own original thought. The story is told by Lieutenant John Pasco, his signal officer:
“His Lordship came to me on the poop, and after ordering certain signals to be made, about a quarter to noon, he said, “Mr. Pasco, I wish to say to the fleet, ENGLAND CONFIDES THAT EVERY MAN WILL DO HIS DUTY“ and he added “’You must be quick, for I have one more to make. “ I replied, “If your Lordship will permit me to substitute the “confides” for “expects” the signal will soon be completed, because the word “expects” is in the vocabulary, and “confides” must be spelt, “His Lordship replied, in haste, and with seeming satisfaction, “That will do, Pasco, make it directly.”
“Confides”, incidentally, means “is confident that”.
Thus, at around 11:45 a.m. on October 21st 1805, the famous signal was sent.
Richardson wrote in his poem, 137 years later:
“England this Day expects . . .
Let the World crumble, if one of us forgets !
A toast ! Upraise each hand !
England, that shall be ours, this English land !
England whose seas we held, whose shores we manned !
Skies of England ! Cliff and fell and coast!
Youth of England, Gentlemen, your Toast !
Gentlemen, upon your feet !
The time is meet
For England !
11 responses to “Anthony Richardson : the RAF poet (6)”
Thanks for the confides/expects clarification
My pleasure, Derrick. I had never heard the word “confide” except with the meaning of “share a secret with”. I think that if Nelson had stuck with his original thought, using “confides”, that a famous quotation from English history might now be a forgotten one. Well done, Lieutenant John Pasco ”
( who got his reward when he eventually became captain of HMS Victory).
Thank you, John. Finding this book here in the US is proving a bit more difficult than I first thought, but it’s still on my distributor’s list!
I had a quick look at abebooks.com and all of their copies are in the UK except one in Australia, Don’t worry though, “Everything comes to he who waits”.
Richardson comes across as a very patriotic writer, a man with a love of England and everything English. Someone who is ashamed of what has become of people and the world in which they are now living. Were these written over a period of some time ? They appear to grow in confidence with each one.
The two books appeared in 1942 and 1943, although we have no way of telling when he wrote the poems, except perhaps details such as the Armadillo, which was 1940-ish, and the repeated mention of the Blenheim which was an early war machine of the same period.
I suspect that he wrote a lot of his poems early on in the war, and then continued to write new ones as well. Just before they were published in a book, he would have had to revise them, which means that, in theory, he could well have been producing more accomplished and more confident poems in his1943 book than his 1942 effort.
Some of what Richardson wrote, John, could very well be applied to present day circumstances. When one looks behind that one will see patterns which mankind continues to make making mistakes and bringing his own downfall upon himself. You would think people would learn from history.
How right you are, Amy ! We seem obsessed with “…that red wine which only comes from killing”.
And we always find it so difficult put our weapons away and to try and make peace.
We keep our hatreds simmering away, and then so many people insist on passing them on to their children, who have their minds filled with prejudices from years before they were born.
No wonder the world is in the state it is!
These are quite stirring John and interesting tale about Nelson’s quote. Thank you John. We’re you a humanities teacher?
Thank you Lloyd, I’m glad you enjoyed it.
As a teacher, I did primarily French and in my early years Russian Studies, which was a bit of language, some literature, some history and a bit of geography. I ran the school soccer team for a good few years and as an old teacher, I did Religious Education where my very free thinking boss allowed me to do things such as racism, ancient Stone Age religions, the Holocaust, anything spiritual that he approved really.
If I had my time over again, I would have chosen history, but at the age when you are asked to make these important choices, I think I was just too young to appreciate history.
Sounds like quite a career where you did a lot of good. Got to love our teachers John. Thank you for your time in the trade. You still teaching us here on the internet.