The Guardian newspaper today publishes what might have been Seamus Heaney's last poem, written for an anthology to commemorate the centenary in 2014 of the outbreak of the First World War. Written as a response to Edward Thomas's poem As the Team's Head Brass, Heaney's In a Field is powerfully and yet quietly evocative.
I am not a poet, but I do remember sitting with my youngest son on the wall of a massive war cemetery at Bayeux in Normandy and writing the following:
A field of white stones
and simple crosses
with wishful words
and solemn epitaphs.
Known unto God means
we hadn’t a clue who he was.
Just another mangled inconnu
in a field of bloody might-have-beens.
Rest in peace sounds like an apology
for the hostility and brutality
of his untimely death.
I did not know him,
nor do I know those who miss him,
who still, half a world away,
miss the sound of his voice
and hear the agony of his eternal silence.
But I, also an inconnu, a nobody,
whisper an apology at his space,
and pray silently
for never again
and not for mine.
Sitting here in Finland, with its own century of slaughters and burnings, there is always a poignancy to the remembrance of how civilised people so easily turn to extreme and systematic violence… and to how even such violence cannot silence the beauty of poetry or language that quietly subverts the horrors.
Death, destruction and violence do not have the final word in this world.