Cowslips At Verdun


At last they fade from sight, those fields
of white crosses, rigid, regimented,
on parade. But now the Sacred Way
cuts through woodland, dense as battle-smoke,
concealing still the threat of instant death.
Here the war continues, birch and alder
inter-strangle with their tangled limbs;
some in shell holes stand like moated forts
flooded nearly ninety years ago.
Some defend a blast-heaped mound of mud,
undetonated weapons, metal waste
and chips of bone from countless unknown graves.
Occasionally through these haunted woods
officialdom has hacked and flattened lawns
as if to gentrify barbarity.
On each firebreak greensward cowslips peal
their yellow bells and sway seductive stems
so unconcerned, so innocently proud
that instantly, from thirty years ago
I hear Joan Baez singing her lament
where have all the graveyards gone?
Gone to flowers every one.
When will they ever learn?
Perhaps in Viet Nam days this could appear
a plea for common sense, but not again.
The song is so much older than the Nam.
These are cowslips of reality.
Their innocent persistence now declares
our lemming-like obsession has no end.
All is passion-driven, irrepressible,
unreasoned, uncontrollable, unchecked
from flowers to girls to young men waging war
to cowslips blowing kisses on their graves.

George Wilson

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