1 Aftertones of War The unusual after-effects of a modest writer s oeuvre upon contemporary poetry Introduction 1 The context Ever since 1918 and the Armistice, the region around Ypres has given an invisible underground home to all of those hundreds of thousands who went West in our Westhoek, that holy-unholy Western Corner where day after day after day the sun draws down her blinds on those throngs of men who struggled and perished in the slime 1 of Passchendaele, Vlamertinghe, Langemarck, Messines, Hooge or the Ypres-IJser Canal banks at Boesinghe or Pilckem Ridge. At the Steenbeek 2 only two years ago, Harry Patch (then 110 years old), the last surviving Tommy, had a memorial stone unveiled to commemorate his pals 3 who did not survive an attack that had left himself badly injured. Notwithstanding his remarkably consistent humility, Mr Patch rose to an iconic stature owing to the simple fact that, as he never ceased to repeat, Goodman Bones seem [sic] to have forgotten him. Approach and subject As early as the Roman era, it was customary for authors to build upon the example of their literary forebears. The tradition continued to flourish in the Renaissance, the period which above all others sought to renew, through reviving, the literary, philosophical, linguistic, architectural and pictorial examples from Classical Antiquity. To this day some poets and novelists, and even moviemakers or PC and parlour games developers continue to draw the line from Antiquity to the present-day in their literature. 4 In the attempts to look for new forms for old ceremonies, a subdivision into three (graded) steps or phases is usually used: translatio (translation), imitatio (imitation) and aemulatio 5 (emulation). Translation The meaning hardly needs clarifying: the Roman writer who translated his Greek example merely transferred into his own language the text which he had at hand. If he remained true to himself and consistent with his method, if possible he neither added a word to nor dropped one of what he found in the original. Imitation 1 Near s-graventafel, Langemarck-Poelkapelle. Pictorial evidence on this historic event is to be derived from Much of Harry Patch s military biography during Third Ypres is to be gathered from Richard Van Emden s The Last Fighting Tommy: The Life of Harry Patch, Last Veteran of the Trenches, (Bloomsbury Publishing PLC, 2008). 2 Commonly misspelt in British sources as Steenbeck. Linguistically, Steenbeek amounts to the combination of steen (stone) and beek, the Dutch counterpart for brook. 12 Sadly, Mr Patch s words Don t forget those who were on the other side, seem to have been removed from the site. It may strike the reader that these words of Harry s are perfectly in line with what Charles Sorley, Siegfried Sassoon and, indeed, Edmund Blunden (Undertones of War) and Wilfred Owen ( The Next War ), wrote or suggested in their writing at the time. 13 An excellent, revealing case in point is the Northern-Irish poet Michael Longley. His Collected Poems were published by Jonathan Cape (October 2007). 5 See also: (digitale bibliotheek voor de Nederlandse letteren). 15 Notably, in style, lexis, metrical structure, etc.
2 Imitation then took this process just one step further. In the Emperor Augustus s time, Greek literature served as a welcome example for its Latin successor; even as early as the age of Hellenism this more creative imitation of literary examples 6 laid the basis of many Latin masterpieces. Emulation Within imitation, the concept of emulation, gradually came to the fore. The intention was to attempt, and if at all possible, not merely to equal but surpass the literary model (e.g. Virgil as compared with Homer). The conscious imitation of Greek and Latin masterworks continued to constitute a thread in the Latin, but later also the Byzantine, Renaissance, Classical and even Western European literary traditions and canon. Only during the Romantic age did imitation as a standard yield its place to literary originality. This Romantic (or: romantic) conception of the independently creative author remains predominant in our day and age, even if imitation is regularly traceable from other literary authors and their works. 7 Approach new realist poetry In English-language and Dutch poetry as well as in the creative arts (pop literature, pop-art) there was in the second half of the twentieth century a reaction against the language-geared, experimental and, hence, hermetic poets of the earlier part of the century. A brief was held to return to a direct and simple lexis, the so-called parlando 8.Neo-Realist poets abandoned the traditionalist solemnity of high diction, 'downsizing' it, so to speak, to and replacing it with more day-to-day formulations which were/are more colloquial, more informal and hence, more accessible to a broader poetry-reading public. In the subject-matter attention was geared towards the day-to-day, ordinary reality, within which, through anecdotes, puns and subtle shifts in meanings and double-entendres, the uncommon may be demonstrated. Poetry and the poetic craft are thus brought back towards the common reader, not merely by the mutual integration of poetry and daily life, nor, indeed, by obvious thematic and formal innovations, but also by non-book poetry. Examples with which the reading public has since then been familiarised include public readings, poetry evenings, poster poems, poetry on calendars, beer-mats and the like. Herman De Coninck ( ), Edmund Blunden s emulator The Flemish poet and literary critic Herman De Coninck (born at Mechelen [Malines], February 21, 1944 died at Lisbon, May 22, 1997) studied Germanic philology at the University of Leuven 9 and became the editor of the student weekly Universitas. He took a Master s degree in Literature and started as a teacher ( ). In August 1970 he took a position as an editor with Humo (an independent magazine for radio and television) and published an interesting interview collection 16 Two typical authors who epitomize this approach to their literature are Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot. In the literature of the Netherlands, Harry Mulisch (the Netherlands, author of De Aanslag [The Assault], De Sprong der Paarden en de Zoete Zee [novella] and Het Stenen Bruidsbed [lit. The Stone Bride s Bed] and in Belgian literature, Hugo Claus (much of his drama and his magnum opus Het Verdriet van België [The Sorrow of Belgium] and Tom Lanoye [Mammamedea!, Ten Oorlog (literally: At war), his emulation of Shakespeare s History Plays) and his most recent book (entitled Fort Europa) are perfect cases in point. 17 An informal, even nearly conversational writing style. 9 The internationally renowned Catholic University of Leuven (French Louvain.) was founded as early as In 1966 the existing university was split up into an independent Dutch-speaking university (KULeuven, province of Vlaams-Brabant) and an independent French-speaking university, the Université Catholique de Louvain (UCL, Wavre, province du Brabant Wallon).
3 entitled Woe is woe in de Nedderlans 10 (1972). In 1983 he left Humo and became editor-in-chief with the Nieuw Wereld Tijdschrift. A relativising and often ironising tone characterizes his début volume De Lenige Liefde (1969). The account of intimate events (especially the death of his wife) constitutes the overtone in his subsequent volume Zolang er Sneeuw Ligt (1971). The latter volume was awarded the Dirk Martens Prize of the town of Aalst (1976) and the Prize of the Flemish Provinces (1978). In later volumes such as Met een Klank van Hobo (1980, Prize of the Vlaamse Gids 1982) and De Hectaren van het Geheugen (1985, Jan Campert Prize 1986) his poetry took on a more romantic turn. He collected his essays on poetry in, among other, Over de Troost van Pessimisme (1983), De Flaptekstlezer (1992) and Intimiteit onder de Melkweg (1994; Gouden Uil Prize, 1995). For his translation of Edna St. Vincent Millay, Ter Ere van de Goedertieren Maan, a volume of sonnets, he was awarded the Koopalprijs in On May De Coninck died unexpectedly of heart failure while at a literary congress which was taking place in Lisbon. He was barely 53 years old. The poem Last Post Vanavond zou ik naar Ieper. Het liep tegen zessen. Ik reed de ondergaande zon tegemoet, en drie verdiepingen Dali-achtige wolken die door windkracht negen werden weg- gejaagd, de hemel waaide van de aarde weg, ik moest hem laten gaan, ik reed en reed, 150 per uur, en raakte per minuut tien minuten achter. Daar ging mijn horizon. Als ik in Ieper arriveer is het Duitsers hebben de zon kapotgeschoten. Het licht dat er nog is, zijn explosies. Ik bevind mij in een gedicht van Edmund Blunden. Vanuit de loopgraven schrijft hij een ode aan de klaproos. Aarde heeft een groot Über-ich van bloemen over zich. Blunden heeft ze letterlijk in het vizier. Het is hier een paar jaar lang de laatste seconde voor je sterft. Er zijn alleen maar kleinigheden. Later hoorde ik onder de Menenpoort de Last Post aan: drie bugels die je tot tachtig jaar terug door wat nog over is van merg en been hoort gaan. 11 An attempt at close reading Stanza 1 10 His co-author and collector was critic Piet Piryns. The reader may well have guessed that Woe is woe in de Nedderlens is a humorous distortion of Who is who in the Netherlands. 11 Herman De Coninck. From: Gedichten,ed. Hugo Brems (De Arbeiderspers, Amsterdam-Antwerpen, 1998).
4 Vanavond zou ik naar Ieper Literally this amounts to: tonight would I to Ypres. Even in Dutch this would be grammatically incorrect, as an infinitive (expressing movement: I would drive, go, etc.) is lacking from the construction. Obviously the author is suggesting that, in his hurry to arrive at Ypres in due course of time and make it before the sun goes west and the Last Post is sounded at the Menin Gate at eight in the evening, his syntax is getting sloppy and elliptical, for lack of time. Het liep tegen zessen. It was six-ish, It was getting on for six. Imagining that the poet would want to cover the distance between his home in the Province of Antwerp and Ypres, two hours would be very short, perhaps an impossible time-span. Ik reed de ondergaande zon tegemoet, en drie verdiepingen... I was going to meet the setting sun, and three storeys reed tegemoet in fact amounts to a combination of I was driving in the direction of and I was intending to meet ; it is close to the notions of courting disaster (je ongeluk tegemoet/gaan) or entering upon better times (betere tijden tegemoet/gaan); and three storeys ( ) What is meant is three layers (of clouds on top of each other), a most recognizable scene for those who are familiar with the landscape painters of the Dutch, French and English schools 12. Literally: Dali-achtige wolken die door windkracht negen werden weg- (of) Dali-like clouds which by gale force nine were away The Dali-like, or, perhaps, Dali-ish clouds pose little problem. The surrealist Salvador Dali used to be in the habit of painting most impressive masses of clouds, which make it completely impossible for the viewer not to notice them. I write gale force though Dutch mostly resorts to the notion of windkracht, wind force, even to denote gale force nine on the Beaufort scale. away- is a bold attempt to split the past participle weggejaagd the way the poet does. The second part of this turns up in stanza 2, where gejaagd would literally stand for chased, even hunted. Perhaps pursued, which reminds of French poursuivre (to track down, as if it were a criminal) might do as a translation: pur- / sued (as in to sue someone, in what we would like to call the courtroom sense of the word). Another translation might be hunted down or tracked down. De Coninck s formulation contains the distinct echo of a pack of soldiers tracking down their enemies. Stanza 2 12 Think of the French school of Barbizon, which Edmund Blunden, who was a great lover of painting, art and nature, features in his Undertones of War, and of such masters as Hogarth, Gainsborough and Turner in the National Gallery, London.
5 gejaagd, de hemel waaide van de aarde weg, gejaagd : the use of a lower-case g needs no comment, as gejaagd is the second half of weg- /gejaagd. Dutch (as well as German) uses separable verbs which are written as one word in the infinitive and participial forms. In English, separable or phrasal verbs also exist widely, but the words are always written separately. heaven blew from the earth away Here, blew is used transitively, in the sense of the wind that blows, not a person who blows. It suggests either the climatic action which heaven undergoes, or the action of heaven itself: heaven is blown away from earth, or, actively, blows itself away. ik moest hem laten gaan I had to let him go Or even better, from a stylistic point of view: I had to let go of him - him meaning heaven. In line with German but not with English, Dutch distinguishes between the three genders: masculine, feminine and neuter. Things (like heaven), which will usually be expected by the English speaker to be neuter, can be masculine or feminine in Dutch. ik reed en reed, 150 per uur I rode and rode, 150 per hour The poet obviously stresses his hurrying an hour indicates kilometres, of course: this amounts to just under 100 mph and would normally make the driver liable to severe speeding fines. en raakte per minuut tien minuten achter. Daar... and fell each minute ten minutes behind. There This antithesis, of course, suggests that the narrator, the poet-within-the-poem, is getting desperate, as he will not succeed in getting to Ypres on time before the sun sets in the west. On a metaphorical level, the scene many well suggest the panic-stricken atmosphere among the troops who are getting into readiness for a forthcoming attack. ging mijn horizon. went my horizon. The ever-receding horizon is suggested in the putting apart of that very word at the end of stanza 2. Stanza 3 13 What is usually left unmentioned about De Coninck s biography as an author is the fact that he was known to be a workaholic (in an almost literal sense of the word). He drank and smoked a lot and was a glutton. For a long time, his health permitting, he wrote the Nieuw WereldTijdschrift (lit. New World Magazine) nearly single-handedly. Looking back one might call him a hypersensitive personality.
6 Als ik in Ieper arriveer is het Duitsers hebben de zon... When I arrive at Ypres it is Germans have the sun... With some imagination one sees the poet driving through the archway of the Menin Gate, from where the centre of Ypres - including the shops and restaurants along Menin Street, the Grande Place, the Cloth Hall and Saint Martin s Cathedral - appear as if it were in the frame of a painting. In the evening the light of the sun setting in the west will shine from behind this scene and shine brightly into the visitor s eyes before sundown. Of course, in 1917 nearly three years of the war of attrition had turned the former cityscape into a moonscape. The notorious four landmarks in this development that have etched themselves into the collective memory are: First Ypres (September-October 1914), Second Ypres (from April and the first-ever gas attacks at Steenstraete, to the north-east of the city till May ), the ill-fated Third Ypres, also known as the Battle of Passchendaele: this started on July and lasted until the end of the first full week of November and the recapture and consolidation of the Passchendaele Ridge 14, and finally Fourth Ypres in the spring of 1918, which included the raid on Dixmude, the battle of the river Lys and the slaughtering around Mount Kemmel. kapotgeschoten. Het licht dat er nog is, zijn explosies. shot to smithereens. The light that is still there, is (the light of) explosions. With a hyperbole the poet suggests that the setting sun has been killed, assassinated, blasted, torn to shreds by Germans. A noticeable detail is the lack of a grammatical article: De Coninck does not use the Germans, thus avoiding putting the blame on the collective of the opposing side. Instead of Germans, and given different circumstances, the attackers and destroyers could well have been Frenchmen, Norwegians, Americans, Afghans - or Al Qaida, for that matter. The light that is still there is a word for word translation of the original. Either this could stand for the light, which does not cease to shine (even if night falls), or the light that lingers still, the latter being the less probable version since new light flashes shoot up into the evening skies with every new explosion. In De Coninck s imagination, today s evening light resembles, equals, or amounts to the very lightning flashes of the heavy shells exploding. Ik bevind mij in een gedicht van Edmund Blunden. I find myself within a poem by Edmund Blunden [or of Edmund Blunden s]. This line is self-evident in its content. It does perfect credit to the literary chronicler Edmund Blunden, whose importance in the literary heritage of the Great War in and around Ypres cannot possibly be underrated Both in his poetic wartime account entitled Undertones of War (Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, esp. chapters XIV to XXVI) and in the sequel of Poetical Variations, with which he completes his book, Edmund Blunden describes the devastated city in oppressive and heart-rending detail. 15 Blunden paid equal attention to the run-up to and the tragic developments of the Somme campaign in mid What makes him unforgettable is the unique combination in his work of a poetic style, a self-effacing attitude, a keen eye for the telling detail and, perhaps even more than these, the compassionate attitude and the humanity which are so characteristic of his way of reflecting on his comrades contribution and effort to make the war experience and trauma bearable.
7 Vanuit de loopgraven schrijft hij een ode aan de klaproos. From the trenches he writes an ode to the poppy. Needless to explain, Blunden saw action, not just at Ypres and in the Salient, but on the Somme as well. The gentle and self-effacing soldier-poet-chronicler-intelligence officer, professor of Literature 16 to-be, described the experience of the Great War with the utmost literary skill, with remarkable discretion and, above all, without so much as a trace of boastfulness. Among Blunden s war poems, Herman De Coninck translated not just Last Post, but also Vlamertinghe, Passing the Château, Les Halles d Ypres and Trench Raid near Hooge 17 Aarde heeft een groot Über-ich van bloemen over zich. Earth has a boastful superego of flowers about itself. The connection between the poppy in the previous verse and the allusion to Sigmund Freud s theory of the superego, the Über-ich is quite understandable. Of course the poppy serves as a universal and perennial symbol of the Royal Legion. It was John McCrae ( ) who immortalized the poppy first in his poem In Flanders Fields, which yielded its name to the war and peace museum of the same name at Ypres. The symbolism was taken one step further by Isaac Rosenberg 18, who attributes the red colour to the soldiers blood. Knowing that De Coninck also translated Blunden s Vlamertinghe: passing the Château, the reader will understand the boastful superego. In Dutch this amounts to a double-entendre - literally, the soil is covered in flowers (an almost pastoral and fairy-like appearance, which is perfectly in line with Blunden s interest in nature and his escapist attitude, by which he resorts to the placidity of nature almost at the very moment when he finds himself in the midst of the unthinkable and unspeakable); and figuratively, Earth boasts and brags about its own beauty, even in the face of the enemy, who or which here might well be Death and Destruction themselves rather than mere humans. Blunden heeft ze letterlijk in het vizier. Blunden has them literally in his sights. In a way here Herman De Coninck does not do enough credit to Edmund Blunden. In its literal sense this line would suggest that, much like a sniper, Blunden does not for a fraction of a second lose his Argus-eyed view of the flowerbeds of Ypres. Almost literally, he spots the flowers and keeps them in his sight, in his viewfinder (of a gun). In the Neo-Realist tradition, nevertheless, this can but suggest that in the most letterlijk ( literal ) way Blunden catches the scene spot-on in perfectly accurate words. In our language the word would be trefzeker, which in all modesty says it all: trefzeker has two meanings: 100% certain that one will hit the target one is aiming at (when shooting, either a gun or an arrow from a bow) as well as (in a metaphorical sense) with perfect formulation. It may be of interest to note that in 16 At the Universities of Tokyo, Oxford, Hong Kong and then again Oxford. 17 In De Coninck s version these titles were translated in a limited poetry section entitled Drie gedichten naar Edmund Blunden ( ) (Three poems after Edmund Blunden [ ]). De Coninck s titles are Vlamertinghe juli 1917 (Vlamertinghe, July 1917), De hallen van Ieper (The Cloth Hall of Ypres) and Loopgravenslag bij Hooge (Trench Raid near Hooge). Herman De Coninck: De Gedichten. Amsterdam / Antwerpen, De Arbeiderspers, Eerste Druk (tweedelig, gebonden) Oktober For this essay we made use of the same, Vijfde druk (paperback), Of the poppy, Rosenberg ( ) ( Break of Day in the Trenches ) writes that its roots are in man s veins. What he means to say is that, in a metaphorical way, the red colour of the poppy derives from the fact that the poppy feeds on the fresh blood of fallen soldiers. Like the soldiers who are falling one by one, the poppy cannot hope to last for long; it too is doomed to fall and keep falling. The poet ends his poem by saying with some humour that for the time being his poppy still lasts, (though in turn it will not last much longer) the only snag being that he knows it to be covered in a tiny layer of dust.
8 former times, vizier ( visor ) stood for the movable part of a helmet, covering the face (and through which the warrior or knight would watch). What it also means in Dutch is a (single) lens used by a sniper to fire shots at long range and kill or hit in this way, in a telescopic sight. Again, the meaning in Dutch is twofold, and the translator, who is trained in literature and a wizard about words, gladly compresses two in one: in his sights. Het is hier een paar jaar lang Here it is for a couple of long years de laatste seconde voor je sterft. The penultimate second before you die. This couplet must be considered as one entity, and the enjambment which is used reveals a double paradox: the couple of years seem long, almost eternal; yet the addition of the penultimate second before one dies looks like a logical predicate after the copula to be. Of course, what the poet is suggesting is an interpretation which the soldiers used to recognize once the war of attrition had become a fact. Even Edmund Blunden writes literally that the most striking (or perhaps even, unnoticed) thing about the War, once it had clogged in the mud of the Somme and Ypres, was that it carried on regardless, almost of its own free will. 19 It may strike my English-speaking readers that I have translated de laatste seconde, not by the last second, which, of course, is the usual meaning, but the penultimate second, the last second but one. That subtle, and almost unnoticeable difference between one and two seconds increases the number of seconds to provide a parallel and be in line with the two long years, the couple-ofyears idea, which is found in the previous line. Er zijn alleen maar kleinigheden. The only thing around here is flea-bites. This looks like a perfect case of serendipity if ever there was one, serendipity being the coincidence by which, by some kind of fluke the English word happens to be a near-perfect match for the notion to be translated. In the literal sense, een kleinigheid is a mere nothing, a petty kind of thing, subject or topic, something too meaningless even to care about for example: Ze maken ruzie om de eerste de beste kleinigheid : They have words at the slightest thing or incident that happens. Laten we eerst een kleinigheidje eten.: Let us have a little bite, a little something to eat (before we move on, before getting back to work). Instead, flea-bite is almost emblematic of the hardships that soldiers underwent during the Great War: the biting of fleas and that small but endless, unstoppable irritation embodies the meaningless nothings of the soldier s existence nothing, that is, by comparison with the sheer devastation and the ruining of the medieval city, the surrounding cityscape and landscape and the harrowing effects which the War exerted on hundreds of thousands of ordinary Privates and Brass Hats alike. Later hoor ik onder de Menenpoort de Last Post aan: 19 Repeatedly Blunden makes remarks such as The only consolation that one could find in being warned that an attack was coming was the frequent unfulfilment of such warnings ( ). Cp. Undertones of War, p Here his experiences are quite in line with those expressed by Wilfred Owen in his poem Exposure.
9 Later under the Menin Gate I listen to the Last Post : In fact only here does the poet reach his subject, which obviously he has saved up as some form of conclusion to his poem. The contrast with the remainder of his text, and especially with the hurry and scurry conveyed in the second stanza, is now silenced and comes to a standstill, as the traffic does at 8 p.m. when crowds gather under the arches of the Menin Gate to participate in the Last Post ceremony - day after day after day 20. drie bugels die je tot tachtig jaar terug three bugles which cast you back up to ninety years Logically, and a decade on, I have preferred to do justice to history and turned eighty into ninety (Dutch negentig or German neunzig). door wat nog over is van merg en been hoort gaan. And you hear them pierce right through The leftovers of marrow and bone. There is another double-entendre, even if it is not the very last one in De Coninck s rendering of the poem. The English-speaking reader will have no difficulty in grasping the poet s intentions. The expression of being chilled to the marrow will be familiar to anyone. Making someone extremely cold here needs to be understood in the figurative sense of being dumbfounded and awe-struck. The second meaning, however, is a clear reference, perhaps equally chilling, to the soft, fatty substance that fills the hollow parts of bones and would normally constitute an essential part of a living person. Marrow and bone are part of the skeleton of a living and a recently deceased person. But of course, eighty, let alone ninety, years on, hardly anything will be left (over) from the marrow and bone of soldiers whose remains are dug up and retrieved as they are almost year after year in these parts. 21 The word leftovers sounds crude by comparison with the far more discreet remains. Perhaps it echoes Siegfried Sassoon s unheroic Dead who fed the guns, his doomed, conscripted, unvictorious ones, his dim defenders, his armies who endured that sullen swamp, his 20 A journalist describes the scene quite poignantly, as follows: The stairs are wet, Autumn is blown away. Incredible, so far and so long ago. Rhythmically the names stand one on top of the other: Dumbleton, Dunford, Dunn, Edwards, Elcock, Elston, Elston, Evans, Evans, Ewins. Pure poetry. As on top [of the Ramparts going to the right as one leaves the city - C.S.] where Herman De Coninck is featured again next to Edmund Blunden, on a memorial plaque. Het is hier een paar jaar lang / de laatste seconden (sic) voor je sterft (Here it is for a couple of long years / the penultimate second before you die. ) The Last Post is music with vowels like pangs of pain, telling a story of fear and death, but here in Ypres, perhaps also (pangs of pain) speaking of the Last Consolation, of this is nót the end, beautiful friend. (www.gva.be/dossiers/~w/wapenstilstand/lastpost.asp) 21 Not very long ago, on two occasions, when a roundabout was laid out and when a section of a narrow-gauge railway was dug up, the remains of bodies were recovered (by the amateur-archaeologist group called The Diggers. As usual, their procedure consists in notifying the local police as soon as remains are found. Then, with utmost respect, the bodies are retrieved and attempts will be made to find out more about the identity, the regiment and the battalion in which the soldier saw action. If present, the dog-tag (when readable) will immediately give away the soldier s identity. Quite regularly, DNA tests are carried out to double-check and obtain conclusive evidence as for the person found. After some time he will be buried at one of the military cemeteries with due state honour. This happens quite often in the presence of the relatives, who will be notified, and with a vicar and a delegation of the military. As a rule the buglers of the Last Post Association will sound the Last Post and the Reveille, and Laurence Binyon s We will remember them will be solemnly recited. A recent occasion when this happened was the digging up of a railway section near Pilckem Ridge. Proof positive was reaches as to a soldier found to have been a member of Blunden s beloved 11/Royal Sussex (Regiment). The poor man, who, in all probability was with Edmund Blunden on the first day of Third Ypres, which he describes in Undertones of War, has recently been buried and has found a final resting-place on Track X Cemetery. This cemetery is featured as one of the important spots in a newly inaugurated recreational cycling tour De Ieperboog (The Ypres Salient), which is a joint initiative of the In Flanders Fields Museum (Ieper), Westtoer (the Province of West-Flanders tourist agency and Provinciebestuur West-Vlaanderen Boeverbos, Sint-Andries Brugge (the Government of the Province of West-Vlaanderen, Boeverbos, Leopold III-laan, Brugge Sint-Andries). Official inauguration of this cycling route took place at the Cultural centre Ten Vrielande (the former boys primary school), Boesinghe on Sunday, September 7 th, 2008.
10 intolerably nameless names and his personal, perhaps vain but searing exhortation to the fallen: Well might the Dead who struggled in the slime / Rise and deride this sepulchre of crime. 22 Understanding, and subscribing to Multatuli s 23 adage that Whoever gives the impression of being satisfied with what he has achieved, has every reason for dissatisfaction with his satisfaction, and with due apologies to Herman De Coninck s original, let this be my final rendering and my personal emulation of Herman De Coninck s Last Post. Last Post 24 Tonight and headed for Ypres. It was getting on for six. I was heading West, towards three-storey Dali-like clouds that were pur- sued by gale force nine winds, heaven being blown away from earth: I had to let go of it, I rode and rode, 100 miles an hour, every minute falling ten minutes behind. It was receding, that sunset horizon of mine. When I arrive at Ypres it is Germans have had the sun Blasted to smithereens. The light that lingers still, is the light of explosions. I find myself within a poem by Edmund Blunden. From the trenches he writes an ode to the poppy. Earth has a boastful superego of flowers about itself. Blunden has them literally in his sights. Here it is for a couple of long years The penultimate second before one dies. The only thing around here is flea-bites. Later under the Menin Gate I hear the Last Post: Three bugles which cast you back up to ninety years And you hear them pierce right through The leftovers of marrow and bone. Chris Spriet 22 Siegfried Sassoon: On Passing the New Menin Gate. In: The War Poems by Siegfried Sassoon (Faber Pocket Poetry, 1999). 23 Multatuli (pseudonym of Edward Douwes Dekker [ ], was a Dutch writer and freemason. For a time he lived and worked in Dutch India, the present Indonesia, where he denounced the treatment of the local population. In his novel Max Havelaar he adopted the literary pseudonym of Multatuli, which is Latin for I have suffered a lot - which is a reference to a well-known line from Ovid s Tristia. 24 I should like to dedicate this essay to the memory of Edmund Blunden and to some Great War Literature buffs whose friendship I have treasured ever since I got into contact with the Edmund Blunden family Internet site, the Siegfried Sassoon Foundation, the World War One Literature Internet forum and the relatives of Edmund Blunden. At the risk of disregarding some names I should like to mention Ms Michèle Fry, Ms Meg Crane, Ms Margi Blunden and Ms Lucy Edgeley.