How will we feel when this dark period of history is over?
Will we, do you think, have learned anything from it?
Many people have referred to it as an unprecedented time. And of course it is. On the other hand, all of us who have been born since the Second World War have been lucky. When you consider what our grandparents’ and parents’ generation went through in the First and Second World Wars one can’t help feeling that what we have had to put up with – aside of course from the thousands of tragic deaths – is an inconvenience. So what if we have had to stay indoors, wear masks, give up long awaited holidays and not get close to one another? It seems to me that we really have very little to complain about. And it hasn’t even been a year yet!
This is not, of course, to make light of the suffering many people have experienced in their mental health, the loss of loved ones, jobs and the dreadful effect to the economy and our way of life. But, for my generation who were born soon after the Second World War, to my mind this pandemic cannot compare to the trauma our parents’ generation experienced in the 1939-1945 war.
Children were separated from their parents. Sent away -“evacuated” – to live with strangers far from home. Thousands of people in our cities suffered the trauma of bombing – never knowing when it was their home that was going to be hit, their loved ones who were going to be killed.
My parents lived close to an aircraft factory which was a frequent target for bombs. If they couldn’t get to an air raid shelter, they would hide cowering with their small baby son in the larder cupboard under the stairs – not that that would have done them much good had a bomb fallen on their home.
I am also thinking not only of all those who were killed or maimed in the war but also of the suffering of the millions who were systematically murdered by the Nazis in concentration camps and elsewhere throughout the Occupation.
So, how will we feel when this dark period of history is behind us? Much, I think, as Siegfried Sassoon wrote in his poem, “Everyone Sang.” Sassoon was 28 at the start of the First World War. He and his contemporaries witnessed death every single day. They experienced at first hand ‘rotting corpses and mangled limbs.’
As I wrote back in May, Sassoon is one of 16 poets of the 1914-1918 war commemorated in Poets Corner, Westminster Abbey. The inscription on the stone was written by his friend and fellow war poet, Wilfred Owen. It reads: “My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity.”
Sassoon who had been decorated for his bravery on the Western Front, later became a passionate pacifist.
In 1919 at the end of the First World War, he wrote this poem.
Everyone suddenly burst out singing;
And I was filled with such delight
As prisoned birds must find in freedom
Winging wildly across the white
Orchards and dark green fields; on; on; and out of sight.
Everyone’s voice was suddenly lifted,
And beauty came like the setting sun.
My heart was shaken with tears, and horror
Drifted away … O but every one
Was a bird; and the song was wordless; the singing will
never be done.
Siegfried Sassoon, 1919 from Poems Newly Selected (1916-1935) Faber and Faber
© Andrea Neidle, My Life in Poems