When it is peace, then we may view again
With new-won eyes each other's truer form
And wonder. Grown more loving-kind and warm
We'll grasp firm hands and laugh at the old pain,
When it is peace. But until peace, the storm,
The darkness and the thunder and the rain.
These lines from a poem by Charles Hamilton Sorley, who was killed at the Battle of Loos in 1915, provided the title for the Bath Poetry Café’s annual evening of readings to commemorate the Great War last Tuesday 10th November 2015. As well as well-known poems by Edward Thomas, Rupert Brooke, Wilfred Owen, Laurence Binyon and Rudyard Kipling, they presented works by Guillaume Apollinaire, Anna Achmatova and Giuseppe Ungaretti.
The programme on 10th November was accompanied by a presentation of archival photographs which conveyed poignantly how fragile men and horses were in the face of the new industrial weaponry of war, and how terrible it was to send cavalry and infantry to their inevitable massacre as they advanced under shellfire against the guns. The choice of materials also tried to show that the tragedy of the Great War was the same whatever a soldier’s nationality.
The next programme, in November 2016, will emphasise this international theme by concentrating in turn on the Battle of the Somme as seen by the Allies; the same battlefront as seen through the eyes of the young soldiers in Erich Maria Remarque’s harrowing novel All Quiet on the Western Front; the war on the Eastern Front; and the battles of the Isonzo in Italy. Wherever possible the readings will be presented by native speakers in the language of the original, alongside English translations read by poets from the Café. Bath Poetry Café has already secured Giulio Passarelli to read Ungaretti’s I fiumi which the poet described as one of the fundamental texts of his collection Il Porto Sepolto. This was written on scraps of miscellaneous paper in the trenches of the Karst and published in Udine in December 1916.