Friday, 28 January 2011

For An Ex Far East Prisoner of War

I have been allowing myself just small portions of Susan Hill's wonderful Howards End is on the Landing as a daily treat, one section at a time, and yesterday I read the piece in which she talks about her long friendship with the poet Charles Causley.

Causley was too often dismissed by people who should have known better as a children's poet, in part, I suspect, because he spent his working life time as a primary teacher and some of the poems by which he first became known drew on the experiences he had in that Cornish schoolroom.  Indeed, I first encountered his work through the renegade Timothy Winter when I was studying for 'O' Level.  However, if read with care and thought about deeply there is very little in Causley's work that doesn't speak of emotions far more intense than children would necessarily appreciate and as a primary teacher myself there were few that I felt comfortable offering to the classes I taught.  'O' Level (15-16) was about the right age to read him for the first time.

I love many of his poems and know a lot of them my heart bit if I have a favourite then it is probably the Sonnet For an Ex Far East Prisoner of War.  Causley himself was in the navy during the Second World War and so I'm not certain for whom he actually wrote this.  However, my father was a Far East Prisoner of War and there is much here that I recognise from his own struggle to come to terms with what had happened to him and his determination to put those depravations behind him and not let them destroy the rest of his life.  It is not an easy poem to read, but I hope you think it as good a work as I do.

For an Ex Far East Prisoner of War

I am that man with helmet made of thorn
Who wandered naked in the desert place,
Wept, with the sweating sky, that I was born
And wore disaster in my winter face.

I am that man who asked no hate, no pity,
I am that man, five wounded, on the tree.
I am that man, walking in native city,
Hears his dead comrade cry, Remember me!

I am that man whose brow with blood was wet,
Returned, as Lazarus from the dead to live.
I am that man, long counselled to forget,
Facing a fearful victory to forgive:

And seizing the two words, with the sharp sun
Beat them, like sword and ploughshare, into one.

Charles Causley


  1. It really is a lovely poem. It seems simple, but it conveys so much. I really liked the section in Hill's book about Charles Causley also, but I had never heard of him. Thanks for sharing one of his poems.

  2. Gosh, I'd forgotten the poem Timothy Winters. It's so sad and yet beautiful, too. Very much enjoyed this post.

  3. Thank you both, Anbolyn and VR. Poetry is such a personal medium, I think, that you never know if what moves you will speak to others as well. I'm glad you found a resonance in this.

  4. That's pretty powerful Annie ... I tend to be interested in responses to war. I'm not sure I get all the allusions in it ... but the overall meaning is strong isn't it?

  5. Yes, WG. We tend to think about the poetry of the First World War and to forget about that associated with later conflicts, but this is just as powerful.

  6. I've not heard of Causly before. That's is a very powerful poem. Thanks for shring it!

  7. Stefanie, I'm glad you liked it. You can find some of his other work on the web if you google him and it is worth the search, I promos you.

  8. 15th April, 2011
    Was introduced to this poem at a workshop at the end of last year and loved it. My Dad was a POW in Borneo. We knew little of the horrors until we were middle-aged adults. He was a darling Dad and I hope to read this poem at one of the many Anzac Day ceremony on 25th April, 2011 in Brisbane. Arlie

  9. Arlie, I hope you get your wish. We were both so very lucky that our wonderful Dads came through such a terrible experience. Thank you for sharing this with me.

  10. This is such an insperational poem and a one of a kind poet of our time. I would like to study this poem and this poet for my As exams yet I am struggling to find out what year this poem was written? If anybody could help me out it would be much appreciated.