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Cloth Hall, Ypres

Blunden's War - Part 22: January Full Moon, Ypres


"One morning, dark and liquid and wild, Colonel Harrison and a number of us went off in a lorry to reconnoitre in Ypres proper."

They entered the town as daylight broke. 'A strange silence, and the staring pallor of the streets in that daybreak was unlike anything that I had known. The Middle Ages had here contrived to lurk, and this was their torture at last.'

'I had longed to see Ypres under the old faith that things are always described in blacker colours than they deserve; but this view was a tribute to the soldier's philosophy. The bleakness of events had found its proper theatre. The sun could surely never shine on such a simulacrum of divine aberration.'

The town of Ypres today is a pure joy. But Blunden's poem paints an unforgettable picture that serves as a warning from history:

January Full Moon, Ypres

Vantaged snow on the gray pilasters
Gleams to the sight so wan and ghostly;
The wolfish shadows in the eerie places
Sprawl in the mist-light.

Sharp-fanged searches the frost, and shackles
The sleeping water in broken cellars,
And calm and fierce the witch-moon watches,
Curious of evil.

Flares from the horse-shoe of trenches beckon,
Momentarily soaring and sinking, and often
Peer through the naked fire-swept windows
Mocking the fallen.

Quiet, uneasily quiet - the guns hushed,
Scarcely a rifle-shot cracks through the salient,
Only the Cloth Hall sentry's challenge
To someone crunching through the frozen snows.

January 1917. First published in Poems 1914-30, London: Cobden-Sanderson, December 1930

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