Behind the trench: a soldier’s monologue

 

Noel Hodgson’s poem: Before Action

By all the glories of the day and the cool evening’s benison
By that last sunset touch that lay upon the hills when day was done
By beauty lavishly outpoured and blessings carelessly received
By all the days that I have lived make me a soldier, Lord.

By all of all man’s hopes and fears, and all the wonders poets sing
The laughter of unclouded years, and every sad and lovely thing
By the romantic ages stored with high endeavour that was his
By all his mad catastrophes make me a man, O Lord.

I, that on my familiar hill saw with uncomprehending eyes
A hundred of thy sunsets spill their fresh and sanguine sacrifice
Ere the sun swings his noonday sword must say good-bye to all of this
By all delights that I shall miss, help me to die, O Lord.

 

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British infantrymen occupying a shallow trench before advancing during the Battle of the Somme on the first day

 

 

This poem was written by Noel Hodgson, and was published two days before he died during the battle of the Somme in 1916. William Noel Hodgson MC (3 January 1893 – 1 July 1916), who was also known as Edward Melbourne, which is his pen name. Hodgson was an English poet of the First World War, who volunteered for the British Army on the outbreak of the WW1 in 1914. He was trained in England before landing at the battlefield, and was killed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme when attacking German trenches near Mametz.

The poem depicts the last scene of Hodgson himself as a soldier -the memories of being trained, and the life at camp with other soldiers. Through the poem itself, there are many words such as “glories” “benison” “blessing”, which are quite positive in terms of describing the war. Besides “say good-bye” and “help me to die” such sad facts were described in a good and beautiful way. These depictions imply the soldiers’ hopes and fears towards the war, and their willingness to sacrifice themselves for the country. It is also a commonly held belief that the poem was written with the premonition of his death, from his knowledge of the German machine gun positions; the last line is “Help me to die, O Lord”.

Therefore, the emotion behind this poem was quite useful in a way to establish the mood trajectory for our route of the project. What has been done is that we were trying to set up a relatively happy mood on the way up to the hill, where there is a transition from a “relaxing” to a serious mood on the way back. This poem is supposed to fit stop 5. It evokes to visitors the scene of soldiers’ training life at camp, which is related to this stop. Moreover, it creates a heavy atmosphere due to the fact that it depicts the Battle of the Somme, in which 20,000 people were killed. Many of them were Leeds Pals and lived here before. This emotion will also remind the visitors of how hard and cruel it was to win the war, and how heroic the soldiers were, that they sacrificed themselves for the peace. However, we want to convey a balanced mood, and this poem is very unique and specific, using many positive words that construct a quite “mild” mood to make the visitors feel like being blessed (the words like benison, blessing), which is also what we want to develop. Nevertheless, though the mood for the route is designed as heavy and realistic, this poem allows us to develop feelings of peacefulness after the visitors finish their journey.

Written by TongTong.

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