Canto 49: Evolutions

How wonderful was the experience, when I went into town; work-girls, shop-girls, men assistants whom I knew,- as we clasped each other by the hand, each said to the other, I to them & they to me : “Thank God you are safe

Edith Sitwell


Protecting Hegemony

Of Neptune’s empire let us sing,
At whose command the waves obey;
To whom the rivers tribute pay
Thomas Campion

No highly-strung ally left to pamper,
Saint George’s subjects huddle round the fire,
Stood peering on a half-empty hamper,
But thankful for the old, global empire;
The trump card held,
The oceans’ mastery,
Since Alfred’s Danish geld her key to victory.

Brave sailors packing every bunk,
Off floats a fresh flotilla,
T’where ‘La Royale’ has grown defunct,
Yon stoutly stone Gibraltar,
“Sirs, sink thy ships or they’ll be sunk,”
Heard oer North Africa,
Everywhere the French fleet was compliant,
But for one dock… HMS Valiant

Flings shell-flame onto former friends,
The fire was hard return’d,
The shelling blends, the shelling ends,
The French all sank & burn’d,
Never kit out enemy, the adm’ralty has learn’d

Oran
July 3rd
1940


Lend Lease

And he began to chide the titan sun :
‘Fool that thou art ! No wonder men deride thee
To lie all night with dawn, as thou hast done.
Geoffrey Chaucer

Roosevelt stirs cautiously to action;
Betied by bonds of culture, tongue & blood,
Firmfeet steeping forth from isolation,
Helping that vital fight for right & good;
Circumvent
Rules of leagues & lawyers,
Manifests heaven-sent rifles & destroyers.

Fifty ships they’ve saved from scrapping
Gain bases from old Britain
To chain a Carribean string
Of forces American,
If ever Fascist foes fling
Armies over ocean,
Their fleets would be destroy’d before the shore –
The fright’ning foresights of a future war.

As ship-by-ship that steaming team,
Up Solent soon appear,
These angels seem that safely stream
Thro’ docks of joyous cheer,
With sailors buzzing to survive to buy a pint of beer.

Southampton
July 12th
1940


Vital Days

I dare not look into his eyes anymore,
His eyes are blazing with the five poisons
And it can easily control and capture souls
Tsering Woeser

Swastikas hanging from the Brandenburg,
Hitler skulks back to the Reichschancell’ry,
Aft Belgium, Holland, France & Luxemburg,
One more army, determin’d utterly;
A giant map
Frames the situation,
One dew-bejewel’d gap protects that damn’d nation.

“A fleet of mine layers shall build
A bristling ballustradus,
The legions then may land unkill’d
From Ramsgate to Lyme Regis,
Soon British fields for Berlin till’d,
But first remember this,
That only one pre-requisite is there,
We must control the all-important air.”

From the glades of well-won battle
Twelve Knights made Field-Marshal,
Full-favour’d sons gifted batons –
Goering’s lust not yet full,
His baton must be kingsize… with ivory enamel.

Berlin
July 19th
1940


Dunkirk Spirit

This name shall be the symbol for the soul,
A new Promethean triumph in defeat,
And find its place in the historic scroll
EJ Pratt

Nothing to come seems unrealistic,
Morale stabs an amorphous entity,
Horsham deem’d ‘smug,’ Oxford ‘optimistic,’
Godalming ‘defeatist,’ Ipswich ‘happy;
The battle-front
Drifts into British streets,
Prepar’d to bear the brunt of all that Berlin metes.

This is no day to save the stags,
Conscientious objector
Branded, “a rat-thing wrapp’d in rags,”
Then worse, “a bloody traitor,”
Sniff housewives sat beneath the flags,
Waiting for Herr Hitler,
Sipping weak tea, suggesting, “Bloody Huns
Are parachuting in disguis’d as nuns!”

A motivating spirit charm
Envelops Britain’s mood,
From storm comes calm, when safe from harm
World Peace shall be renew’d,
‘Til then they’d have to buckle down like neighbours in a feud.

Great Britain
July 24th
1940


Factory Floor 

Each day with so much ceremony
begins, with birds, with bells,
with whistles from a factory
Elizabeth Bishop

Charlie took Patrick up Healeywood pen,
To do their bit & dig for victory,
Water’d the veg & fed each clucking hen,
“Looks like we’re ‘avin’ scambled eggs fer tea!”
The town below
Grim-chok’d in chimney haze,
“It’s busy lad, y’know, just like in th’olden days.”

Rose skivvies in the weaving sheds
On shirts fit for a soldier,
On blankets for the pilots’ beds,
On soft hats for the sailor,
On berets for the captain’s heads,
A crude kind of tailor
Hard-toiling, as the lasses goes to work,
To turn around big losses down Dunkerque.

The ‘home-go’ blows, she rush’d outside,
In charcoal black-out night,
The street-lamps died, her only guide
A dicky-shine-a-light,
Lit haggard flags until her ragged door warm’d into sight.

Burnley
July 28th
1940


Home Guard

We got a tank-trap too, y’know,
though I cain’t tell ‘e where t’ go
T’zee arr zecret, long an’ wooden
Beau Parke

The Battle for France is truly over,
The Battle of Britain has now begun,
The Royal Air Force versus Luftwaffe,
Her nine hundred outnumber’d three to one;
Vague Sky-lines drawn,
Cautious, star-cross’d fencers,
A first few flights are flown, nose-probing weaknesses.

Sarge hands out two rounds for practice,
That’s all the top brass could spare;
Lads, aim yer rifles straight at this
Scrawny scarecrow with straw hair…”
As man-to-man his misfits miss,
“Ya bleedin shower, there
Won’t be a second chance wi’ them Germans!”
This time that scarecrow cut into ribbons.

As Sarge shouts, “March!” off they all sail
Into the nearest pub,
Pints of real ale, a Great War tayle,
Plus Mrs Braithwaite’s grub,
Not looking like Britain’s front line, more like a rambling club.

Scarborough
August 1st
1940


Censorship

All beautiful things draw near & come to me.
I dream upon a woman’s glorious breasts,
And watch the dew-drop & am glad with the birds
Sri Aurobindo

“Brother, come out & play, before you leave
For battle!” prattling Xaver collars Khan;
Of course he went, “What glory we’ll achieve,”
Sports Khan as whizz’d they up the autobahn,
Reaching great port
Beside the Western Pond,
Where sailors records brought from Britain & beyond.

With jackets flash & poise perfect
Felt they very fine indeed,
What music moved thro’ these select
Young socialites… a stampede
Of jackboots… “Our youth must reject
This filth – heroic deed –
At the front this Nigger-Jew jazz transcends –
When leave you Moringen go tell your friends.”

Khan Stemmler kept his cool, his calm,
Claiming them just passing,
Well did he charm, when safe from harm,
Happiness amassing,
They ran,  giggling  ‘neath streetlights, in friendship unsurpassing.

Hamburg
August 2nd
1940


Alderangriffe

The mountain trembles to the echoing sound
Of falling rocks, that from her sides rebound.
Each day all respite, all repose denied
Nizami Ganjavi

Black Bentley slinks thro’ Royal Tunbridge Wells,
Crunching begravell’d roads to Calverly,
At Four A.M, punctual as hotels,
Into dark morning’s ill-lit mystery
Out steps Dowding,
Man at the Air Force helm,
Appointment by the King, ‘Defender of the Realm.’

‘Sir,’ was chauffer’d to the centre
Of his Operations room,
“Morning girls, what news the weather?”
“Clear from Deal to Ilfracoombe!”
Cathode BLIPS were growing louder
Bulbs scarletting the gloom,
Models traverse imaginary air,
The stick-work of a master croupier.

“…forty… sixty… eighty… & more
Bandits fast approaching
The Southern shore…” with clammy claw
Pluck’d thistle struck Dowding,
“Send five squadrons to intercept,” his ties unloosening.

Biggin Hill
August 13th
1940


Royal Air Force

I had one faithful comrade
‘Ere we heard the trumpet’s call,
And we pledged our hearts forever
Johann Ludwig Uhland

Crackling speakers announce men to their fate,
The summonstir to scramble & to fly!
“Queen to Bishop seven… that’s check & mate!”
Squeals Ginger up to Squadron-Leader Bligh,
From “Tally ho!”
To cruising thro’ blue skies,
With bold “Bandits below!” they swoop to scoop a prize.

“…in the field of human conflict
Have so many owed so much
To so few!” O how hearts were prick’d
By Churchill’s Tyrtaean touch,
“You know, Nigel, we shan’t be lick’d!”
Both of their spirits such
They crave the day, & that day’s victory,
As if they wait for Spain off Tilbury.

Bligh conducts a daisy-cutter,
Keen to renew the fray,
No time to dine, a swift woodbine,
“A wizard show today!”
The ground crew shout, “She’s ready Nige!” to cockpit, “Chocks away!”

Kenley
August 15th
1940

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