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).
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.
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.
Quick, look over there
Good, you missed my sleight of hand
This act is getting stale
And the audience is on to me
Time to pack up the tricks
In their old worn cases
Take off the threadbare costume
Patched over the years with lies
Wipe off the garish stage makeup
That steady simulation of a smile
It served me well for a time
Covering the gross inadequacies
Keeping everyone at a safe distance
No volunteers required here
To perpetuate the illusions on the stage
And now for the grand finale
Before I skulk off into the night
Flash, boom, crash
And when the smoke clears