On November 11, 2001, my wife and I stood silently outside Notre Dame, watching elderly men, medals pinned to their chests, holding their backs straight, lining up to enter the cathedral for a service of remembrance.
On November 11, 1994, we had dinner with R. S. Thomas and Betty. Two days later, we sat in the choir of Saint David’s Cathedral, noticing the red poppies pinned to the vestments of the clergy. And I remembered RS’s poem:
The Iron Lady became
rusty. Generals haunted
unstaffed corridors, clanking
their medals. On the imagination’s
barbed wire a dove sat,
its eyes red as the poppies
that were being hawked in aid
of casualties of the next war.
I am not in any way indifferent to the blood-red suffering and dying remembered on November 11th.
Don, a cherished friend who died several years ago, was the navigator for a flight of planes that dropped paratroopers behind the German lines on D-Day. His stories and my own visit to the Normandy beaches and cemeteries bring a moistening of the eye.
But . . . too often November 11th brings a celebration of war instead of an act of penitence for our human failure to live as brothers and sisters in God’s world.
This year, on November 11th, Michael Evans posted another poem by RS on Facebook; because I’m not Facebooked, it was forwarded to me by a friend in Wales:
This is my child;
that is yours. Let
peace be between them
when they grow up.
They are far off
now; let it not
be through war they are brought
near. Their languages
are different. Let them both
learn it is peace
in the hand is the translation
of peace in the mind.
Poems of R. S. Thomas quoted in this post:
“The Iron Lady became” – “Not Blonde,” Mass for Hard Times (1992), 24.
“This is my child” – “Pact,” R. S. Thomas: Uncollected Poems (2013), 178.