Edmund Blunden Sketch (1) 2023

After a lengthy pause, I am returning to the project of sketching portraits of the War Poets of The Great War. It’s been 3 years (!) since I did my sketch of Robert Graves, but I’m back with a portrait of Edmund Blunden, whom I featured on the blog once before. This time I’m including one of his other poems but please do follow the link to the previous Blunden post to read Thiepval Wood and the explanation of it.

Here is my sketch and the photo I used for reference (via Wikipedia).

Edmund Blunden as a young soldier

Les Halles d’Ypres by Edmund Blunden

A tangle of iron rods and spluttered beams,
On brickwork past the skill of a mason to mend:
A wall with a bright blue poster—odd as dreams
Is the city’s latter end.

A shapeless obelisk looms Saint Martin’s spire,
Now a lean aiming-mark for the German guns;
And the Cloth Hall crouches beside, disfigured with fire,
The glory of Flanders once.

Only the four square tower still bears the trace
Of beauty that was, and strong embattled age,
And gilded ceremonies and pride of place—
Before this senseless rage.

And still you may see (below the noon serene,
The mysterious, changeless vault of sharp blue light),
The pigeons come to the tower, and flaunt and preen,
And flicker in playful flight.

Sean Bothar (Old Road)

Follow the path of Sean Bothar
A haunted place where once stood homes
Feel the ghosts of An Gorta Mór
Lingering among the tumbled stones
Too poor to answer the immigrant call
Too weak to throw an American wake
Put to work building useless walls
In the mountains above Corrib’s Lake
This old road lined with hazel and gorse
Famine cottages with the family names
Bears the hoof prints of the pale rider’s horse
Bears witness to the oppressor’s shame
Two million souls lost to hunger’s grip,
The famine fever or the coffin ship

**A note: An Gorta Mór is ‘The Great Hunger’ referring to The Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s. The province of Connacht, where I live, was hit particularly hard by the famine and the evidence is all around us. Sean Bothar means Old Road in Irish and there is such a road near me and is featured in the header photo. An American Wake refers to a sendoff for anyone emigrating to the US, Canada or Australia, since the families would likely never see one another again. To those left behind it was as if their loved one had died. Thus the ‘wake’ to say goodbye.