Mole Valley Poets, 29th June 2009
Tony Marcoff: Poems of War and Peace

air-raid sirens -
the last to turn off the lights
is a temple with blossoms

- Sugita Hisajo (1890 - 1946)


  1. Nelly Sachs, 1891-1970, 'But Who Emptied Your Shoes of Sand'
  2. Anna Akhmatova, 1889-1966, 'July 1914'
  3. William Wordsworth, 1770-1850, 'The French Army in Russia'
  4. Miroslav Holub, 1923- , 'Five minutes after the air raid'
  5. Edith Sitwell, 1887-1964, (from) 'The Shadow of Cain'
  6. Charles Causley, 1917-2003, 'Song of the dying gunner'
  7. Ernst Jandl, 1925-2000, 'marking a turn'
  8. W B Yeats, 1865-1939, 'The Wild Swans at Coole'
  9. Wait Whitman, 1819-1892, (from) 'Song of Myself'
  10. Paul Valery, 1871-1945, 'Waking'
  11. Ted Hughes, 1930-1998, 'The Horses'
  12. J H Prynne, 1936- , 'SONG IN SIGHT OF THE WORLD'
  13. Henry Vaughan, 1621-1695, 'The World'

Tony described war as being the shadow of history and a process of disintegration. In contrast to this, Peter Abbs says that poetry is the living force of integration.

Nelly Sachs escaped from Nazi Germany to Sweden where she continued to write in German. Her poem "But Who Emptied Your Shoes of Sand" brings to mind the piles of shoes at Auschwitz.

Anna Akhmatova was a Russian poet. Her poem "July 1914" was written at the time of the First World War and has been translated from Russian into English. There are echoes of the Old Testament and of dream poetry in her work.

William Wordsworth is an unexpected war poet. He spent some time living in France and so was aware of the "French Army in Russia". The last line of his poem "a soundless waste, a trackless vacancy" is a powerful statement of the futility of war.

Miroslav Holub in "Five minutes after the air raid" writes an extraordinary and moving poem of the death of one family and the possibility of the loss of the constellations of Sirius and Aldebarran.

Edith Sitwell writes of the horror of the atomic bomb in "The Shadow of Cain". The poem ends with "the terrible rain", an allusion to the black rain that fell at Hiroshima.

Charles Causley's poem "Song of the dying gunner" is only four lines long. The first line tells of his mouth being "full of stars" and the third of his blood in "a twin-branched scarlet tree" which "runs all away" in the last line.

Ernst Jandl's poem "marking a turn" gives a calendar of months in 1944 and 1945 where each month is labelled "war" until "may" in 1945.

WB Yeats writes of "The Wild Swans at Coole" - "brilliant creatures" whose "bell-beat" of wings is above his head. He tells of how "their hearts have not grown old" , how they "drift on the still water" - a vision of peace.

Walt Whitman worked as a volunteer nurse in an army hospital during a time of war. The poem studied came from "Songs to Myself" where "I am he that walks with the tender and growing night" talks of a time of peace.

Paul Valery's poem "Waking" describes the light of the morning and a spiritual joy which gives balance to the whole of the new day.

Ted Hughes in "The Horses" also describes the time before dawn and the great "Megalith" stillness of a group of ten horses, "grey silent fragments/Of a grey silent world". The sun rises and the horses now steam and glisten "under the flow of light" but still "make no sound". The poem ends with the line "hearing the horizons endure".

JH Prynne writes in "Song in sight of the world" of poets as guardians of being. There are Old Testament references, historical allusions to the battle of Maldon, there is "The forest, of stars", there is light and love.

Henry Vaughan in "The World" speaks of Eternity being like a ring of "endless light". He describes the "doting lover", the statesman whose "condemning thoughts (like sad eclipses) scowl upon his soul, the "fearful miser on a heap of rust". He talks of fools who prefer dark to light, the way that "leads up to God".