A Letter from Aragon
Cornford, John. Collected Writings. Ed. by Jonathan Galassi. Manchester: Carcanet Press, 1986: 41.
1This is a quiet sector of a quiet front.
2We buried Ruiz in a new pine coffin,
3But the shroud was too small and his washed feet stuck out.
4The stink of his corpse came through the clean pine boards
5And some of the bearers wrapped handkerchiefs round their faces.
6Death was not dignified.
7We hacked a ragged grave in the unfriendly earth
8And fired a ragged volley over the grave.
9You could tell from our listlessness, no one much missed him.
10This is a quiet sector of a quiet front.
11There is no poison gas and no H. E.
12But when they shelled the other end of the village
13And the streets were choked with dust
14Women came screaming out of the crumbling houses,
15Clutched under one arm the naked rump of an infant.
16I thought: how ugly fear is.
17This is a quiet sector of a quiet front.
18Our nerves are steady; we all sleep soundly.
19In the clean hospital bed, my eyes were so heavy
20Sleep easily blotted out one ugly picture,
21A wounded militiaman moaning on a stretcher,
22Now out of danger, but still crying for water,
23Strong against death, but unprepared for such pain.
24This on a quiet front.
25But when I shook hands to leave, an Anarchist worker
26Said: 'Tell the workers of England
27This was a war not of our own making
28We did not seek it.
29But if ever the Fascists again rule Barcelona
30It will be as a heap of ruins with us workers beneath it.'
RPO poem Editors:
Ian Lancashire, assisted by Ana Berdinskikh