The latest in the series of poems commemorating the Somme is by Ewart Alan Mackintosh, about an inevitable preoccupation with death.
Because I have made light of death
And mocked at wounds and pain,
The doom is laid on me to die –
Like the humble men in days gone by –
That angered me to hear them cry
For pity to me in vain.
I shall not go out suddenly
As many a man has done.
But I shall lie as those men lay –
Longing for death the whole long day –
Praying, as I heard those men pray,
And none shall heed me, none.
The fierce waves will go surging on
Before they tend to me.
Oh, God of battles I pray you send
No word of pity – no help, no friend,
That if my spirit break at the end
None may be there to see.
by Ewart Alan Mackintosh
About Ewart Alan Mackintosh
It would be stating the obvious to say that death was ever-present on the battlefields of the Somme. But how can we possibly comprehend what living with that constant presence must have been like?
Every single man at the front must have undergone the trauma of witnessing the agony of wounded comrades, and every single man must have frequently visited the thought of his own death. Ruminating on the manner of it must have been a common midnight preoccupation – would it be sudden, random, swift or slow? A fear often expressed in poems and letters was the likelihood of not bearing up in the face of injury and pain, and worse, giving way to terror. The notion of ‘cowardice’ was ingrained in both officers and men, and Ewart Alan Mackintosh must have spoken for many in his fervent prayer that no-one would be there to see his potential disgrace.
Mackintosh had known a year’s worth of combat and death by the time the 5th Seaforths, in which he was a Lieutenant, were engaged at High Wood in late July and August 1916. He had lost countless men and fellow officers, friends, and his own rendezvous with death preoccupied him. It did not come this time round, at the Somme. He was invalided back to England in August, having been wounded and gassed at High Wood, and spent a year at home convalescing and training cadets before getting what he most wanted – a return to the trenches, in September 1917. Death finally claimed him on the 21st of November in the fighting around Cambrai.
Read more about Ewart Alan Mackintosh here.