Nathan Percy Graham portrait
Percy Graham, 1920,
a posthumous portrait
by Estella Graham

THE POEMS OF N. P. GRAHAM (1895-1920)


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YPER, thou grave of men, thou martyr's tomb;
Thyself a martyr, thine own tomb thou art!
What nobleness of deed and thought is hid
Beneath the relics of thy ruined shrine!
What tales of glory and of sacrifice
Could thy poor stones, had they but life, relate.
The road runs up through Kruistraat to the town,
Bordered by fields of brown and dying grass –
An avenue of weird and shapeless things –
Poplars they were, but now are limbless trunks.
From the north-eastward, gleaming over waste
Of shell-torn ground, and standing high above
The shattered glory of thy temple looms
Eerie and grim, to speak of war and death.
But for its gaunt denial, the misty distance
Might make thy tottering ruins whole again.
Art thou indeed not whole? Thou seemest so,
For such a spell does distance cast around.
Yet see where the railway winds into the town,
And widens northward to the station square,
The distant semblance fades, on every hand
Is ruin, crumbling brick and twisted iron,
Fire-blackened beams through gaping windows hang,
And mournful breezes wail through parting walls.
Those few torn stones that overlook the "Green,"
There where the Belgian barracks from above,
Men call that "Lyddite Corner," fitting name.
Beyond the "Green," beneath the barrack wall,
Tended with loving care, there lie the graves
Of English hearts, a little coign of England.
Following northward from the station square
The cobbled highway crosses Menin Road
By "Shrapnel Corner" and the "Water-tower" –
Ill-omened spots in an ill-omened town.
Here on the right the frowning prison stands,
Rearing its sides against unceasing blows,
A friendly refuge thou in every storm
Of man's own making, what a fate is thine;
Built but to frown, thou art a smiling haven!
East of the prison lies the city square.
God! what a sight for mortal eyes to see!
The gilded glories of a bygone age –
St Martin's Fane and thou far-famed Cloth Hall.
Castor and Pollux ye, that side by side
Have held your giant heads above the town!
What are ye now? A few torn pinnacles
Of tottering stone, and all the square about
A vast and heaving sea of crumbled brick
'Neath the fantastic beacon of your towers.
Ye are, indeed, the very soul of Yper,
Proudly erect, though all her poor torn limbs
Are beaten to the dust whereon she stood.
Hallowed that dust, in small things as in great,
With blessings such as death can ne'er efface!
For every bower and nook that war has spared
Of thy dear hapless gardens is ablaze
With many-coloured blossoms, from the plaintive
Violet that throngs thy withered moat,
And sends aloft a tender, loving thought,
To the more gay-apparelled orchard-trees,
With promise of a harvest none shall reap.
For every tree and every patch of shade
And hedge of limpidly alluring green
In all the town is now the lurking-place
Of some untiring instrument of war!
O Yper! may the day be soon at hand
When calm shall take the place of seething war,
And rest and sweet tranquility shall soothe
Thy tired and aching heart, and keep thy soul
Unscarred by mortal hate for evermore!

 


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Copyright Philip Graham & Janet (Graham) O'Meara, 2004. All rights reserved