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Page last updated at 05:56 GMT, Thursday, 6 August 2009 06:56 UK
Poems for the last of WWI

British troops going over the top on the first day of the Battle of the Somme

Two of the last British survivors of World War I have died. Henry Allingham's funeral took place last week, with the funeral of Harry Patch taking place today.

To mark the occasion, we asked Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy and National Poet of Wales Gillian Clarke to write a poem.


By Gillian Clarke

He'd often work crouched on the floor
his tool-bag agape beside him
like a wound.

He'd choose spanner or wrench,
tap for an airlock, blockage, leak,
for water's sound.

Not a man for talk. His work
a translation, his a clean trade
for silent hands.

Sweet water washed away waste,
the mud, the blood, the dirt.
the dead, the drowned,

the outcry, outfall, outrage of war
to holy ground.


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.

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