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For The Fallen -- Laurence Binyon

Guest poem submitted by Stephanie Pegg:
A poem for ANZAC Day (25 April):
(Poem #765) For The Fallen
 With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
 England mourns for her dead across the sea.
 Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
 Fallen in the cause of the free.

 Solemn the drums thrill: Death august and royal
 Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres.
 There is a music in the midst of desolation
 And a glory that shines upon our tears.

 They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
 Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
 They were staunch to the end against odds uncountered:
 They fell with their faces to the foe.

 They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
 Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
 At the going down of the sun and in the morning
 We will remember them.

 They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
 They sit no more at familiar tables at home;
 They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
 They sleep beyond England's foam.

 But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
 Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
 To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
 As the stars are known to the Night;

 As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
 Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
 As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
 To the end, to the end they remain.
-- Laurence Binyon
I think the most quoted passage in this poem is the fourth stanza, but I
always remember it for the last two lines -- "As the stars that are starry
in the time of our darkness / To the end, to the end they remain" purely for
the beauty of the image.

I don't know much about Laurence Binyon, except that he wrote this poem in
September, 1914.  It gets quoted a lot on war memorial days.


ANZAC stands for the Australia New Zealand Army Corps.  It was formed by
combining the Australian Imperial Force and the New Zealand Expeditionary
Force stationed in Egypt in 1914.  On the 25 of April 1915 the Corps was
part of an assault on Gallipoli.  By the time its soldiers were evacuated in
December 1915, 2721 New Zealanders and 8000 Australians had died.  (To give
a sense of scale, New Zealand's population had just reached a million people
7 years earlier.)  This was the first major participation in a war by either
country and at the time the incident was used to get a lot of nationalistic
fervour going.  Since then the 25th of April has been the war memorial day
in both Australia and New Zealand.


[broken link] - Poems by Laurence
Binyon - A biography - Good NZ resource,
essays, biographies, list of casualties, maps etc
[broken link] - the Aussie point of view


19 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Vivek Balaraman said...

Hmmm. Confess that it seems a rather bombastic and cliche ridden poem. Like
the Star Spangled Banner or something large on sound and fury which doesn't
really touch you. All this 'Straight of limb, true of eye, staunch to the
end...." stuff. Conveys neither the heroic nor the horror, either of war or
going to war.


Sven Holzheimer said...

I believe that the poem is not designed to discuss war, its horrors, its heroes, or the tragedy which it encompasses.
The poem describes the characteristics of those who have fallen; the war is their backdrop.
We may condemn war - indeed it behoves all sane people to do so - but to condemn those who fight for what they believe in, even if it not aligned with our beliefs, is to belittle humanity - we as a race fight daily for what we have.

We fight in the boardrooms, in the stock-exchanges, and in the many offices of our cities.
We fight for life in the operating rooms and emergency rooms of our hospitals.
We fight for to feed our families in the mess of the corporate jungle every day.

Sadly, we also fight in the ruined streets of our cities, in the ghettoes, and in the shanty-towns.
We fight for life in under-equipped and undefended tents in refugee camps and makeshift hospitals.
We fight to feed our families from the war under-funded landscape and meagre hand outs.

The people who refuse to give up hope for their own survival, who survive despite horrific circumstance, and those who actively pursue the improvement of the lives of others have as much claim to honour as those in classical war.

There are not many of us who, when we pass, we be able to say that we "fell with our faces to the foe" or that we were "staunch to the end against odds uncounted".

If this poem fails to touch you, maybe you should consider the world you live in a little more closely.
Think about all of the things that you can take for granted: a computer and the Internet, electricity, daily food and shelter.
You may wish to think about all of the men and women who sacrificed so much so that we can live the way we do.
While the phraseology my be somewhat dated, consider the date it was written, and then look to the meaning that the poem conveys.

Sven Holzheimer
20 April 2002

see also

David Stawick/NCBC said...

No commentary on the poem, but a bit of trivia. The fourth stanza was
excerpted and used in a memorial advertisement by Marshall Field's
department stores in Chicago newspapers the day after the space shuttle
Challenger accident in January, 1986. The first three lines were split and
the last was left unchanged, thus leaving seven lines on the full-page ad
(which had no art work and only the words, "In Memoriam" at the top, a
citation of the title and poet, and "The Crew of the Space Shuttle
Challenger" and "Marshall Field's" at the bottom). I suspect this was done
for balance in the layout but it was also fitting in that there were seven
members of the crew, all of whom were killed.

Dave Stawick
Washington, DC

judy brett said...

hi i dont wish to throw a can of worms into the ring but there has been a lot of discussion of late in OZ that the word in the 4th stanza - at the end of line two should actually be 'contemn' - i stumbled across your site hoping to find an original copy somewhere - thank you good luck peter on the murray river down under

Craig Borland said...

I have been reseaching this poem for a scout group here in Aus and believe that the argument over contem or condem is cleared up on the site
for your information "ludy brett "

new_user said...

This poem was written at the START of WWI. Therefore it doesn't convey the horrors that are so aptly put across in later poems such as Wilfred Owen's "Dulce et Decorum est"

Knight Andrew CHAP said...

The word is definitely condemn. I have also investigated this and have
sighted the book the poem was published in (a copy is in the ADFA library,
Canberra Australia). It is an excellent example of internet garbage taking
on the appearance of truth - but only Ozzies got taken for the ride!

suresh said...

this poem is not about the horror of wars or anything like that it instead takes a very romantic and chavalier type of attitude to the ideas of fighting in a war, being a solier and so on. it should be carefully noted that the poem was written by a poet who DID NOT FIGHT IN A WAR.... this poem served instead as an inspirational piece to all the would be warriors... and soldiers who would fight for Englands pride and fight for their mother land....

Patricia Diffner said...

Hello: I just happened upon your comments on the Laurence Binyon poem
"For the Fallen." I think you may be missing the point about the
"straight of limb, true of eye" etc. I believe he's commenting upon the
sadness of the healthy beautiful youth being killed and maimed. It may
not convey the heroics or horror of war (as you say), just the sorrow.

Just a thought! All the best! Patricia

Bill Paterson said...

Our daughter Siobhan was killed in a road accident close by Lancaster,
birthplace of Laurence Binyon, on 23 December twelve years ago.
The lines ‘they shall not grow old as we that are left grow old ---‘
express a poignancy not associated with war
In this instance but as tragic.

- William, Johannesburg, South

YellowThunder7 said...

I am privileged to be safe keeping, for this my brief time in history, a
holograph manuscript of this work. Mr. Binyon scribed the word in question as

Scott Thomas Pauli
Shorewood, Wisconsin

December 2003

rphillips52 said...

It is true that Laurence Binyon, the librarian who wrote this poem, did not 'fight' in the war; nor was he, himself, a youth - being then aged 40yrs. He joined up immediately and was posted to France where he served as a stretcher bearer. In that capacity he saw and handled as many of the fallen as any combatant.

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KIRKWOOD Roger said...


Felix Molski said...

the word 'condemn' should actually be contemn

Anonymous said...

We are all blabbering about Binyon yh yh he was a good writer but he was 2 faced he did not experience war first hand like the troops would have called it in those days its all a lie a good poet is Wilfred Owen he was a great writer and he was against war and you could feel it from the choice of words the poems calle 'dulce et decorum'

'Call me if you dont understand this poem or any other english litereture stuff, i ahve adegree in english and i would be delighted to help'

Fred 07944393707

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