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 !