Posts Tagged ‘Meuse


Only One

Only One

November 2010, Douaumont ossuary


Silence and Safety

Silence and Safety

November 2010, Fort Douaumont, near Verdun

Technically this is not a cemetery. But my thoughts may explain why I sorted this photo into the Cemetery category.

Last year we visited some of the battle sites and war cemeteries in Flanders. And while it was depressing, it didn’t have as much impact on me as I had expected. The enorms numbers of names were too much to really process. They quickly became a blur in my mind. And the preserved trenches we visited had more of a theme park feeling to them, at least for me. Small museums with heaps of granates, gas masks and a lot of rusty scrap metal with some muddy ditches in their backyards.
This year we visited Verdun. And while the above sentiment about war cemeteries still held true, the battle sites were a punch in the gut. The damage to the landscape that was still visible was a much stronger and very visceral reminder of war atrocities than anything else I’ve seen. I had a nagging half thought in my mind that I couldn’t quite articulate, but it made me queasy.
And then the Dearest voiced it: “Imagine you’d start digging right here. I bet soon you’d find ammunition or human bones.”
That was when I had to swallow the rising bile. Digging of course is forbidden by law and in our minds it would be a desecration, but the visual was so strong and nauseating, I can still feel it when I look at the pictures.

The Death-Bed by Siegfried Sassoon

He drowsed and was aware of silence heaped
Round him, unshaken as the steadfast walls;
Aqueous like floating rays of amber light,
Soaring and quivering in the wings of sleep.
Silence and safety; and his mortal shore
Lipped by the inward, moonless waves of death.

Someone was holding water to his mouth.
He swallowed, unresisting; moaned and dropped
Through crimson gloom to darkness; and forgot
The opiate throb and ache that was his wound.
Water—calm, sliding green above the weir.
Water—a sky-lit alley for his boat,
Bird- voiced, and bordered with reflected flowers
And shaken hues of summer; drifting down,
He dipped contented oars, and sighed, and slept.

Night, with a gust of wind, was in the ward,
Blowing the curtain to a glimmering curve.
Night. He was blind; he could not see the stars
Glinting among the wraiths of wandering cloud;
Queer blots of colour, purple, scarlet, green,
Flickered and faded in his drowning eyes.
Rain—he could hear it rustling through the dark;
Fragrance and passionless music woven as one;
Warm rain on drooping roses; pattering showers
That soak the woods; not the harsh rain that sweeps
Behind the thunder, but a trickling peace,
Gently and slowly washing life away.

He stirred, shifting his body; then the pain
Leapt like a prowling beast, and gripped and tore
His groping dreams with grinding claws and fangs.
But someone was beside him; soon he lay
Shuddering because that evil thing had passed.
And death, who’d stepped toward him, paused and stared.

Light many lamps and gather round his bed.
Lend him your eyes, warm blood, and will to live.
Speak to him; rouse him; you may save him yet.
He’s young; he hated War; how should he die
When cruel old campaigners win safe through?
But death replied: ‘I choose him.’ So he went,
And there was silence in the summer night;
Silence and safety; and the veils of sleep.
Then, far away, the thudding of the guns.


Tempus fugit

July 2020