Ivor Gurney served as an infantryman on the Western Front, 1916 – 1917. This poem comes from ‘Ivor Gurney, War Letters’, edited by R.K.R Thornton, published 1983.
What did they expect of our toil and extreme
Hunger – the perfect drawing of a heart’s dream?
Did they look for a book of wrought art’s perfection,
Who promised no reading, no praise, nor publication?
Out of the heart’s sickness the spirit wrote
For delight. Or to escape hunger, or of war’s worst anger,
When the guns died to silence and men would gather sense
Somehow together, and find this was life indeed,
And praise another’s nobleness, or to Cotswold get hence.
There we wrote – Corbie Ridge – or in Gonnehem at rest,
Or Fauquissart or world’s death songs, ever the best.
One made sorrows’ praise passing the Church where silence
Opened for the long quivering strokes of the bell –
Another wrote all soldiers’ praise, and of France and night’s stars,
Served his guns, got immortality, and died well.
But Ypres played another trick with its danger on me,
Kept still the needing and loving of action body;
Gave no candles, and nearly killed me twice as well,
And no souvenirs though I risked my life in the stuck tanks,
Yet there was praise of Ypres, love came sweet in hospital
And Old Flanders went under to long ages of plays thought in my pages.