This year and this season, Lent, memories of that terrible, most pointless of wars, the First World War, are so fresh again around the world.
The context for the creation of this poem was a small SHCJ meeting at a Bernadine Convent in July 1992. They had a beautiful chapel, the altar made of a lovely pale wood and under it was an arrangement of 5 poppies.
The poem took shape in my head, distilling so much of what, especially as a historian, I had thought and felt about the sheer horror a whole generation of young men on both sides experienced, bogged down in the churned up mud of Northern France.
Beneath the smooth-grained altar-wood
Five poppies blaze blood-red,
Singing the five raw wounds of Christ
That for the world’s sin bled.
By lust for power his head hangs scarred,
His heart by hatred cut;
Aggression, greed have nailed his hands
And apathy each foot.
Five poppies sting my eyes with tears,
So red against pale wood.
And in my mind five thousand blaze
Against the Flander’s mud.
Dull not this pain, oblivion’s flower,
Lest we forget our sin;
Lest we forget those five dear wounds
That still our healing win.
– 7 July 1992
(written at Hyning Hall, Carnforth, Lancashire, home of the Bernardine Cistercians)