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The Well Read Poem

Sep 18, 2023

For the thirteenth season of the Well Read Poem, we will be reading six poems about war. War is, of course, one of the oldest subjects that has inspired the imagination of poets. The first of our great epics has at its center the war of the Greeks against the Trojans and the deadly hatreds it inspires. In times neare to our own, poets have written about war both with enthusiasm and delight, as well as skepticism and horror at its brutalities. The poems we will share this season cover the span of many centuries.

Today's poem is "The English War" by Dorothy L. Sayers. Poem begins at timestamp 3:55. 

“The English War” 

by Dorothy L. Sayers

Praise God, now, for an English war
The grey tide and the sullen coast,
The menace of the urgent hour,
The single island, like a tower,
Ringed with an angry host.
This is the war that England knows,
When all the world holds but one man

King Philip of the galleons,
Louis, whose light outshone the sun’s,
The conquering Corsican.
When Europe, like a prison door,
Clangs, and the swift, enfranchised sea runs narrower than a village brook;
And men who love us not, yet look
To us for liberty;
When no allies are left, no help to count upon from alien hands,
No waverers remain to woo,
No more advice to listen to,
And only England stands.

This is the war we always knew,
When every county keeps her own,
When Kent stands sentry in the lane
And Fenland guards her dyke and drain, Cornwall, her cliffs of stone;
When from the Cinque Ports and the Wight,
From Plymouth Sound and Bristol Town,
There comes a noise that breaks our sleep,
Of the deep calling to the deep
Where the ships go up and down.
And near and far across the world
Hold open wide the water-gates,
And all the tall adventurers come
Homeward to England, and Drake’s drum Is beaten through the Straits.

This is the war that we have known
And fought in every hundred years,
Our sword, upon the last, steep path,
Forged by the hammer of our wrath
On the anvil of our fears.
Send us, O God, the will and power
To do as we have done before;
The men that ride the sea and air are the same men their fathers were
To fight the English war.

And send, O God, an English peace –
Some sense, some decency, perhaps
Some justice, too, if we are able,
With no sly jackals round our table,
Cringing for blood-stained scraps;
No dangerous dreams of wishful men
Whose homes are safe, who never feel
The flying death that swoops and stuns,
The kisses of the curtseying guns
Slavering their street with steel;
No dream, Lord God, but vigilance,
That we may keep, by might and main,
Inviolate seas, inviolate skies –
But if another tyrant rise,
Then we shall fight again.