For the Brave and Craven of All Nations
In September this year, I was part of a peace and reconcilation pilgrimage to Flodden, which was the Northumbria Community‘s contribution to the commemorations of the 500th anniversary of the battle of Flodden.
We peace pilgrims took part in the service of solemn commemoration the day after the anniversary. My contribution to that included the following poem, which I delivered together with Paul Revill, who led the pilgrims from Durham. I meant to post it here a couple of months ago and never got round to it, but it seemed deeply appriopriate to Remembrance Day, so I offer it in that spirit now:
For the Brave and Craven of Both Nations
Come, cushie-doo whose kiss
will seal the lips of every wound:
hover over Branxton’s slopes
where height cries out to height:
unforge each billhook, broadsword, pike,
warhead, Kalashnikov and drone:
then breathe the colour back
into the forest flowers scorched
by the heat of the fray:
unfurl as a banner the shoots
within unnumbered grains of wheat
that mourn the ground where they fall:
create at long last, here
in this deep lamenting soil,
the final loss of loss—
that longed-for sorrowless field.
For the brave and craven … : the inscription on the Flodden memorial at Branxton is “For the brave of both nations”.
cushie doo (Scots): the wood pigeon; also, a term of endearment.
Branxton: the battle was actually fought outside the village of Branxton in Northumberland and was initially known as the battle of Branxton muir.
forest flowers: the famous lament “The Flooers o the Forest” was written in commemoration of the battle.
sorrowless field: Sorrowlessfield is a place in the Borders. It is said to be so named because it was the only farm in the area that did not lose someone at Flodden.