On this day, one of the best-known English-language poets of the Second World War came into the world. Alun Lewis was born on 1 July 1915 in Cwmaman, Wales.
A year later, on 1 July 1916, the British Army would see its bloodiest day as The Battle of the Somme commenced, and over 57,000 British Soldiers became casualties on the first day alone.
Our Friday Poem this week is both in celebration of Alun Lewis’ birth, and in remembrance of all those who fought and died on the Somme.
Some critics see Lewis as the last of the great Romantic poets, a twentieth century Keats. Others view him as the bridge between pre-war poets like Auden and Yeats to post-war poets such as Hughes and Gunn. He was born and raised in Depression-struck south Wales and, following degrees in history at Aberystwyth and Manchester, became a teacher there. Early in 1940, despite his pacifist inclinations he enlisted and, after long periods of training, joined the war in India.
‘All Day It Has Rained’ was written whilst Lewis was stationed with the Royal Engineers at Longmoor, Hampshire. It is among the poems featured in Alun Lewis: Collected Poems.
All Day It Has Rained
All day it has rained, and we on the edge of the moors
Have sprawled in our bell-tents, moody and dull as boors,
Groundsheets and blankets spread on the muddy ground
And from the first grey wakening we have found
No refuge from the skirmishing fine rain
And the wind that made the canvas heave and flap
And the taut wet guy-ropes ravel out and snap.
All day the rain has glided, wave and mist and dream,
Drenching the gorse and heather, a gossamer stream
Too light to stir the acorns that suddenly
Snatched from their cups by the wild south-westerly
Pattered against the tent and our upturned dreaming faces.
And we stretched out, unbuttoning our braces,
Smoking a Woodbine, darning dirty socks,
Reading the Sunday papers – I saw a fox
And mentioned it in the note I scribbled home; –
And we talked of girls and dropping bombs on Rome,
And thought of the quiet dead and the loud celebrities
Exhorting us to slaughter, and the herded refugees:
Yet thought softly, morosely of them, and as indifferently
As of ourselves or those whom we
For years have loved, and will again
Tomorrow maybe love; but now it is the rain
Possesses us entirely, the twilight and the rain.
And I can remember nothing dearer or more to my heart
Than the children I watched in the woods on Saturday
Shaking down burning chestnuts for the schoolyard’s merry play,
Or the shaggy patient dog who followed me
By Sheet and Steep and up the wooded scree
To the Shoulder o’ Mutton where Edward Thomas brooded long
On death and beauty – till a bullet stopped his song.
Want to see more Alun Lewis titles? Take a look at our website for biographies, short stories, poetry, and Lewis’ previously unpublished 1930’s novel, Morlais.