Chaplain's thought for the week
Revd Tom writes about Remembrance
This week we have held our Remembrance services in Exeter School, particularly special this year as it will be 100 years since the ending of the First World War on Sunday. The Armistice was signed in Compiegne in Northern France and came into effect at 11am – the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month – bringing to an end to four years of fighting.
In 1919, the poet, Siegfried Sassoon, who had fought during the First World War, published a poem called ‘Everyone sang’; it could be that the poem refers to the Armistice and those who are singing are rejoicing at the end of the war.
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 Everyone
Was a bird; and the song was wordless; the singing will never be done.
Some scholars suggest that it is actually not about the Armistice, but about the men singing in the trenches during the war – some momentary singing to keep one’s spirits up. Singing genuinely is a way in which we can lift our spirits, especially in difficult times. However, whichever way you read it, this poem speaks profoundly about the way the human spirit can be lifted up out of misery by something like music or beauty which suddenly takes you out of yourself.
‘I was filled with such delight / As prisoned birds must find in freedom,’ writes Sassoon. He’s comparing the human spirit with a bird which is being released. This is our potential. The spirit expands its horizons as it wings ‘across the white Orchards and dark-green fields.’ Sassoon describes beauty as coming ‘like the setting sun.’ It’s a complete gift, all we need to do is accept it – and there’s nothing we can do to control it. I think that God offers us this gift of beauty, joy and freedom each day of our lives. We just need to see it around us.
As we enter the second half of the Autumn term, it’s very likely that it won’t be completely plain sailing until Christmas. Life is never totally straightforward – and we need to accept that. There’ll be dips and problems along the way. But what I get from this poem is something about the potential of the human spirit, the idea that we have a capacity to be lifted up and into joy, sometimes quite unexpectedly. We need to keep watching out for those moments of beauty to catch us and lift us out of ourselves… those moments when misery, like the horror the trenches for Sassoon, just drifts away.
‘O, but Everyone / Was a bird’.
That is the potential of the human spirit.