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Poetry by Heart Battlefields Trip

It was a busy end to the half term for the English and drama Faculties with 140 students and 17 staff visiting the Theatre Royal, Plymouth for the National Theatre’s production of Macbeth.  The play was received with mixed feelings by those on the trip – a lot of discussion is still being heard around the English and drama block over the various characters and staging choices!

Meanwhile, Myah Smith and Emmie-Kate George were accompanied by Mrs Lancaster on a trip to the battlefields, departing early Sunday morning and returning late on Wednesday. The trip, organised jointly by Poetry by Heart foundation and UCL Institute of Education, and funded by a government grant, was designed to enable UK students to engage more deeply with the poetry of WWI by visiting the battlefield sites, the memorials and cemeteries across the Ypres Salient and The Somme.  Myah and Emmie-Kate won their places because of their successful performances in last year’s Poetry by Heart competition. With a focus this year on commemorating the centenary of the end of the First World War, the students and Mrs Lancaster were privileged to be a part of this visit.

Each students and staff member from more than 15 different UK schools recited poetry written by soldiers, nurses, and loved ones left at home grieving, and also some more modern poetry written.  A particular highlight was hearing our own student, Myah Smith, recite Edith Sitwell’s “The Dancers” beneath the arch of Thiepval memorial, which commemorates more than 72000 British Commonwealth soldiers killed on The Somme during 1914-1918.  Closing the trip at Tyne Cot cemetery, which contains the graves of almost 12000 unknown soldiers killed on The Somme, Emmie-Kate gave a beautiful recitation of “There will come soft rains” by Sara Teasdale, a poem which considers how a grieving widow will gradually begin to live again after peace is declared.  All of the students were a credit to their various schools, and what was clear was how much the poems had been brought to life by the location, and how much meaning had been imparted to the location by the poems.

The Dancers

(During a Great Battle, 1916)

The floors are slippery with blood:
The world gyrates too. God is good
That while His wind blows out the light
For those who hourly die for us –
We still can dance, each night.

The music has grown numb with death –
But we will suck their dying breath,
The whispered name they breathed to chance,
To swell our music, make it loud
That we may dance, – may dance.

We are the dull blind carrion-fly
That dance and batten. Though God die
Mad from the horror of the light –
The light is mad, too, flecked with blood, –
We dance, we dance, each night.

Edith Sitwell

 

There will come soft rains

There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;

And frogs in the pools singing at night,
And wild-plum trees in tremulous white;

Robins will wear their feathery fire,
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;

And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.

Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree,
If mankind perished utterly;

And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn
Would scarcely know that we were gone.

Sara Teesdale