This is a revised (and shortened) version of a poem I had published in the online supplement to the “Requiem: The Great War” edition of Agenda (Autumn/Winter 2014). I am posting it today, a hundred years after the signing of the Armistice. The epigraph is from Sassoon’s poem, “Everyone Sang”. Agenda have used quotations from the same poem for the cover of their recently-published “1918” double issue.
Armistice Day 1918
“the singing will never be done.”
— Siegfried Sassoon
Everywhere people are singing;
dead people are singing.
They sing in black-and-white photos.
They sing in newsreels silent as the grave.
They sing in old letters and diaries.
They sang in memories once.
They’re singing because the war’s over.
They’re singing because the Armistice has been signed.
They’re cheering, waving, singing.
They sing the songs everyone knows —
“Jerusalem”, “Britannia”, “The King”.
They sing music-hall songs.
They sing trench songs the soldiers sang.
They’re here because they’re here.
They’re here because they’ve come through.
It isn’t the war dead singing.
It isn’t the war dead dancing in the streets.
There are strangers dancing with strangers.
They dance together in pairs.
They dance in a line, arms linked.
They skip along, holding hands,
as they do in the Dance of Death.
Light passes through them;
they flicker across the screen.
Listen! There’s nothing to hear —
the sound of dead people singing.