Gouzeaucourt - The Deceitful Calm

How unpurposed, how inconsequential
Seemed those southern lines when in the pallet
Of the dying winter
First we went there!

Grass thin - waving in the wind approached them,
Red roofs in the near view feigned survival
Lovely mockers, when we
There took over.

There war’s holiday seemed, nor though at known times
Gusts of flame and jingling steel descended
On the bare tracks, would you
Picture death there.

Snow or rime – frost made a solemn silence
Bluish darkness wrapped in dangerous safety:
Old hands thought of tidy
Living trenches!

There it was, my dears, that I departed,
Scarce a greater traitor ever! There, too
Many of you soon paid for
That false mildness.

Published in “Undertones of War” Edmund Blunden 1928

 

 

Edmund Blunden 1896-1974 

Gouzeaucourt - The Deceitful Calm

The original poem was hand-written in February 1918 while Blunden was stationed just outside Gouzeaucourt in Gauche Wood, then on the front line - the German army was just a few hundred metres away at Villers-Guislain. It is written on the back of New Zealand government official notepaper, the cipher of which shows through it at the top.  

The Deceitful Calm: refers to Blunden’s removal from the scenes at Passchendaele where he had been serving shortly beforehand, to the relative calm of Gouzeaucourt. Calm during those weeks and deceitful because, although all was quiet and peaceful, the front line was only about half a mile away and a German attack was expected at any time. It did not come however until 21 March 1918, just a few days after Blunden had returned to England on rest leave. Gouzeaucourt fell to the Germans the next day: 22 March 1918.

Blunden served continuously on the western front from 1916 to 1918, the longest of any of the wartime poets. He fought at the Somme, Ypres and Passchendaele, all the bloodiest of the First World War battles. Although gassed, he was physically uninjured, something he put down to his small stature, explaining in later years that he presented a poor target for the enemy.  

His long later career as a poet, journalist, literary critic and university professor was permanently overshadowed by his experiences during the war. Having been awarded the Military Cross during the war, he later became a CBE and was awarded the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry.

The poem, written in 1918, was not published until 1928 in ‘Undertones of War’.