The Poems

The poetry comes from the collection We Wasn’t Pals: Canadian Poetry and Prose of the First World War, edited by Barry Callaghan and Bruce Meyer (Toronto: Exile Editions Ltd., 2001).

(Illustrations created by Benjamin Sajo, the composer)

Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, M.D., "In Flanders Fields":

It is appropriate that the Great War Sextet begins with this work, recited and heard by millions around the world on Remembrance Day or on other memorial ceremonies.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow Between the crosses, row on row,That mark our place; and in the skyThe larks, still bravely singing, flyScarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days agoWe lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, Loved and were loved, and now we lie, In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:To you from failing hand we throwThe torch; be yours to hold it high.If ye break faith with us who dieWe shall not sleep, though poppies grow In Flanders fields.

Sapper William Wrighton Eustace (W.W.E.) Ross, "Soldiery":

Considered to be among the first Canadian modernist poets, W.W.E. Ross was a member of the Signal Corps in the Canadian Expeditionary Force. His poem, Soldiery, is an example of his laconic style--sparce, powerful, and direct:

Marching the mansoldiers going along with drumsover the earth, over the earth
to kill yetis the airsweet and clearthe sun rides and the wind glides Theywith keen blades go marching marching over the earth while the sun ridesand the wind glides

Private H. Smalley Sarson, “Love Song”:

Henry Smalley Sarson epitomizes the archetypal farmer called to patriotic action. An English immigrant, Sarson was wounded in 1916 while serving with the Canadian Field Ambulance; his collection of poetry, From Field and Hospital, written during his recovery, represents the perspective of healers thrown into Hell.

Twilight, the shadows darken on the leas,The noises of the day are hushed at rest;Even the wind, soft rising in the westFalters and dies beneath the whispering trees. No jarring human voices cry or speak,Twilight, ah, Sweetheart, may I kiss your cheek?
Night, a pale moon rises through the haze, A nightingale trills in a thicket nearAs suddenly night’s voices sharp and clear Echo and re-echo through the maze; For twilight’s hold of silence falters, slips; Night. Oh beloved Mine, give me your lips.

William H. Ogilvie, “Canadians”:

Although not necessarily a Canadian by birth or in life, William H. Ogilvie was considered one of the most favourite Australian and Scottish poets in 1914. However, being a professional jackaroo, he was responsible for preparing Canadian horses for the Army Remount Services. The Canadian breed was renowned as a sturdy, graceful, and powerful mount and his poem, Canadians, is a beautiful and feisty ode expressing the author's love for them:

With arrows on their quarters and with numbers on their hoofs, With the trampling sound of twenty that re-echoes in the roofs, Low of crest and dull of coat, wan and wild of eye,Through our English village the Canadians go by.
Shying at a passing cart, swerving from a car, Tossing up an anxious head to flaunt a showy star, Racking at a Yankee gait, reaching at the rein, Twenty raw Canadians are tasting life again!
Hollow-necked and hollow-flanked, lean of rib and hip, Strained and sick and weary with the wallow of the ship, Glad to smell the turf again, hear the robin’s call,Tread again the country road they lost at Montreal!
Fate may bring them rule and woe; better steeds than they Sleep beside the English guns a hundred leagues away; But till war hath need of them lightly lie their reins,Softly fall the feet of them along the English lanes.

2nd Lieutenant Bernard Freeman Trotter, "Smoke":

Determined to serve but initially declined due to poor health by the Canadian Corps, he found his way into a commissioned position as a lieutenant in the British Army. A graduate student at the the University of Toronto, a lover of nature and full of youthful promise, he was killed by a shell in 1917. He was 26 years old.

All the windy ways of manAre a smoke that rises up. — TENNYSON
Breath of the mine, Wraith of the oak— Who shall divineThe riddle of smoke?
Weave me a cloud, Cover the sky; Weave me a shroud: Life is a lie!
Weave it not thin, Weave it not fine; Vivid as sin, This, the design:
Beings of might Toiling with death; Frail things afright, Gasping for breath;
Cities of doom, Blackened and grim; Battle-cloud’s gloom; Charred forests dim;
Crater and pit, Furnace and pyre;— Boldly in-knitWith garlands of fire.
Weave it!The dust lies in the urn: So at last mustAll the world burn.
Take then your toll, Weaver of cloud. Follows the whole: Weave me a shroud.
Weave me it true,Weave me it well— Weave me it, weave me it, Vapour of hell.

Corporal Adelard Audette, "No Man's Land":

Of the 22nd Battalion, he lost both his legs at the Battle of Vimy Ridge and, soon after, published a collection of poems with his brother to help raise money for veterans: A Few Verses and a Brief History of the Canadians on the Somme and Vimy Ridge in the World War, 1914-1918 (London: A. Talbot, 1919). Although in rhyming verse, this poem reads like a journal entry and concludes our concert:

The rain will help—I’m not so thirsty now;How cool it falls upon my burning lips!This is a frightful thing—I realize howIt drives men mad, like scores of scourging whips.
The still cool dark is better than the light!The sun beats down so fiercely through the day, It seems to burn away my very sight—And shrivel me to nothing where I lay.
This “No Man’s Land” is strange—a neutral ground, Where friend and foe together come to sleep. Indifferent to the shaking hell of sound—To shell still searching for more grain to reap.
Kincaid died very well! Before he wentHe smiled a bit and said he hoped we’d won; And then he said he saw his home in Kent, And then lay staring at the staring sun.
That German over there was peaceful, too. He looked a long, long time across their line, And then he tried to sing some song he knew And so passed on without another sign.
Well this won’t do for me—I’d best get back, I’m just a little sleepy, I confess,But I must be in time, we may attack—The lads would miss me too at evening mess.
A moment more, and then I’ll make a start— I can’t be shirking at a time like this,I’ll just repeat—I know them all by heart— Some words of hers that ended in a kiss.
Why do I seem to feel her tender hand?To see her eyes with all their old time light?Is she beside me? Ah, I understand—I think perhaps I’ll sleep here through the night.