In a recent literary challenge on Facebook I was asked to post four poems over four days. Poems that I like. This challenge had me rooting through a file I keep on my computer called ‘Inspiration Collection’. It is a collection of poems that I like, that I find interesting or inspiring.
To extend the challenge I want to post a poem a week over the next year on my blog and tell you why I like the poem.
The first poem that I have chosen in ‘The Last Post’ by Carol Ann Duffy. Poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy wrote ‘The Last Post’ to mark the deaths of Henry Allingham and Harry Patch, the two longest surviving soldiers from the 1914-18 First World War. Here is a link to the Mirror where Duffy is reading the poem: mirror.co.uk
Here is a link to Duffy’s website: carolannduffy.co.uk
At a simple level poetry, for me, does two things: it creates and it tries to make sense of the world. A poem can create a mood or a feeling; an image even or mystery. It can even create an alternative reality. Poems also help me to make sense of the world – both reading and writing poetry.
In ‘The Last Post’ the only way to make sense of the world is to imagine an undoing, a uncreation. It is the only thing that makes sense in the horror of war. This is one of the reasons that I like this poem: it tries to restore order. As Duffy says in the final lines of the poem: ‘If poetry could truly tell it backwards,/then it would.’
The second reason that I like this poem is the way Duffy uses poetic language like rhymes and half-rhymes. I will give you just a few examples:
Fourth line: the use of ‘rewind’ at the end of the line which is echoing the earlier ‘lines and lines’ and ‘slime’ from the previous line.
Lines 16 – 19: the rhymes of hair and square, and bread and dead – which do not feel forced.
The Last Post by Carol Ann Duffy
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If poetry could tell it backwards, true, begin
that moment shrapnel scythed you to the stinking mud…
but you get up, amazed, watch bled bad blood
run upwards from the slime into its wounds;
see lines and lines of British boys rewind
back to their trenches, kiss the photographs from home-
mothers, sweethearts, sisters, younger brothers
not entering the story now
to die and die and die.
Dulce- No- Decorum- No- Pro patria mori.
You walk away.
You walk away; drop your gun (fixed bayonet)
like all your mates do too-
Harry, Tommy, Wilfred, Edward, Bert-
and light a cigarette.
There’s coffee in the square,
warm French bread
and all those thousands dead
are shaking dried mud from their hair
and queuing up for home. Freshly alive,
a lad plays Tipperary to the crowd, released
from History; the glistening, healthy horses fit for heroes, kings.
You lean against a wall,
your several million lives still possible
and crammed with love, work, children, talent, English beer, good food.
You see the poet tuck away his pocket-book and smile.
If poetry could truly tell it backwards,
then it would.