Last time, we were looking at some poems from the book “These – Our Children”, by Anthony Richardson, published in 1943. I’d like to continue with that process.
The poem “Three went singing” is quite reminiscent of a previous poem called “There was an air gunner”:
In this poem, the three men, presumably fliers, are singing on their way back home down a country lane. Perhaps because they have been together in the pub, they are singing “Danny Boy” and other favourites.
“Dumpsy”, incidentally is a noun used in south west England to refer to twilight, and for Somerset folk it refers to “the quality of the light at dusk”. Sooo…. “the twilight is dusky”.
Other singers are better in various ways but slowly the three walk on and their voices grow first faint and then fainter still. The dusk grows dark and then darker until it swallows them up:
Clearly an almost mystical parallel with the fate of men lost on RAF operations. They are happy together as they laugh and joke, waiting to get into the aircraft and take off:
But then, Night claims them for her own and the men, whether three of them or seven, disappear and are lost for ever. Not even the tiniest stone retains an echo of their song . Night, aka Death, has them all in its grasp.
My last Richardson poem is called “To any Mother” and is simple to understand, even though it is “Poetry” and therefore may be perceived by many people as being way too difficult for them to enjoy. and indeed, nothing for them to be bothered with.
Here’s the beginning:
Then the poet asks if the mother taught her son what the parsons say, namely that it is just as easy for the spirit, the mind, to understand life at twenty as it is at eighty three:
So, it was not a dead end when he met “His Friend”, namely Death, because he also met his comrades, his brothers from the crew, because they too, are now, all of them, dead.
And that discovery is no reason for misery.
14 responses to “Anthony Richardson : the RAF poet (7)”
That rendering of Danny Boy is a superb accompaniment.
I had a good look through Youtube, and that version, I thought, was head and shoulders above the rest. That wonderful song is exactly what three young men would sing as they walked back from a country pub. When I was in my early twenties, we preferred “Amazing Grace”, and I should think nowadays that “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” would be a popular choice.
How many rugby fans know the origin of “Swing low……”, I wonder
Both very good John, I like the mythical quality of the first.
Thank you, Lloyd. The more I read that poem, the more I see in it. I’m sure now that the three men correspond to the crew of the Bristol Blenheim light bomber which Richardson’s squadron was flying at the time. And what’s the betting that the way that their song fades away in the evening dumpsy-dusky is exactly the way the noise of the bomber’s propellers would fade in volume as it takes off and flies away into the gathering darkness of the eastern sky until it can no longer be heard.?
If it wasn’t the intention then it certainly still resonates. I think you’re onto something John. Best wishes. 🙂
“To Any Mother” hits home like you wouldn’t believe.
I do think that “Danny Boy” can bring tears to most any human.
Stay safe, My friend.
Yes, I think the poet knew exactly what he was doing when he chose “Danny Boy” as the song for them to be singing as they walked away into the twilight.
The second poem reminded me how much I inadvertently think of my Dad who passed away almost twenty years ago now. I see the latest score of his favourite soccer team and think “I’ll ring him up to tell him they’re winning”. I see that they are featured on TV sometime next week, and think “My Dad will be pleased when I tell him.” And then I realise.
And my Dad was a perfectly natural death, a frail old man aged 80, not the young men who died one by one as they crewed a bomber attacking Germany.
And thank you for your words of encouragement. Neither my wife nor I will be leaving the house until they have a vaccine for this terrible disease.
I can so relate to how your mind works, talking to Dad. Thank you.
“Danny Boy” was one of the favorites my father and his drinking buddies loved to belt out loud and clear.
Yes, I think that every nation has its songs that the groups of middle aged men will belt out when sufficiently sozzled. Ireland is “Danny Boy”, the English go for either “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” or “Amazing Grace”. I bet the French would have a go at “Alouette” as well.
When the old chaps start singing their particular favourite, I wouldn’t be surprised if that were not a good indicator to the owner of the establishment to throw them out as soon as possible.
I like the way Richardson ends his poem. Turning the sorrowful act of meeting death into something positive. A nice twist.
Yes, he’s a very skilful poet who deserves to be better known, but I’m afraid that he is included with the sentiment that “There are no good WW2 poets”. I particularly like the way that you can understand him. I suspect that Richardson, as the squadron intelligence officer, would have been well used to speaking with ordinary men and would know the kind of language that they could understand.
Too many poets fall into that category sadly, and not deservedly so.