Poems written by Canadian poets and Poet Laureates were read at the planting of the ‘repatriated’ Vimy Oaks in 2017 in France for the 100th Anniversary of the battle, and Canada’s 150th birthday.
Everyone read poetry, most wrote it, you had to learn some in school, and poems are found in almost all the war diaries and letters. Of course, the most famous being In Flanders Fields…
Poems were read at the planting of the ‘repatriated’ Vimy Oaks in 2017 in France for the 100th Anniversary of the battle, and Canada’s 150th birthday. The trees represent our fallen soldiers and present Canadians who are standing on guard for democracy and freedom. They ‘say’ to the French (and other allies) that Canada answers the call. 100 years later the acorn has returned. We have not forgotten.
London's Poet Laureate, 2010-2013
Battle’s devastation cut down men and oaks,
leaving Vimy Ridge bare from ’16 till now.
But one veteran sent a few acorns to Canada
and raised a grove memento. Now these trees
will stand as metaphor for endurance, mingled
roots living on in lieu of the soldiers who fell.
Now our Canadian branches will be returning
home to be grafted on European oak saplings.
They’ll respond to wind in the crackling Fall.
These oaks will listen through trembling roots
to news that travels in the near neighbourwood:
subtle climate shiftings from drought to deluge.
The lobed leaves that open to embrace sun, to
soak in rain: they will know a longer time we
can only imagine, knowing history’s record.
This copse you plant now may not remember
a war a century past though it could realize its
own long span to last the whole millennium.
The oaks you plant on Vimy Ridge will not be
thinking of men today or ever: their work is in
attending to the rise from heartwood out to leaf.
These oaks may not thank you personally but
their presence is gratitude enough, is witness.
Thriving, they will return life to Vimy Ridge.
In the slow dream of trees may the men awake
who died here. May they be recalled by name
in their prime, rising as hope from desolation.
Prince Edward Island Poet Laureate, 2016-2018
for James Francis Feely (1894-1973)
Our grandfather was wiry and strong all his life;
at the end, he was an oak leaf,
clinging to the stem through winter winds,
not letting go until spring.
“What happened, Jim?”
We always called him by his first name.
We little children would stare at the back of his neck.
How we longed to touch the scars. Never dared.
“Watch out!” Jim’s voice gruff, gravelly.
“Or the pollywog will jump out and get you.”
This was how we learned the word pollywog.
We never figured out how one would live inside Jim’s neck.
Our grandmother told us Jim was wounded by shrapnel,
and he was gassed. Mustard gas. His voice never the same.
This was how we learned about war.
When he returned from France
he weighed eighty-eight pounds.
“Don’t ask him about the war,” she said,
but we asked anyway. It was two wars ago, Jim.
Why won’t you tell us about it?
“I was always at the front of the line,” he said.
Cold rain fell into the trench where Jim crouched.
Water pooled under planks of ripsawn oak
torn from a disappeared barn.
Bloated dead horses on the battleground.
Across a field, trenches of the enemy.
All the men longing for a parting glass of the water of life.
I imagined Jim Feely the way he looked at sixteen
in a photograph—thick black hair,
handsome Irish face, fierce eyes and stance;
he’d run away from home at twelve.
“Yep. I was always at the front of the line…
…when we were retreating.”
All he ever said about the war. A joke.
An oak leaf holds fast through bitter weather.
When April promises warmth, signals new growth,
it is time to let go.
Barrie's Poet Laureate
– We remember, we forget and forget completely
Acorns keep their Brodies bound
as they dig into a patch of ground
and stand on guard, unaware, someday,
they will grow into their history,
their arms spread wide to shade
a hallowed place as oaks remade
against the odds of time and death.
Lifetimes from now they will be proof
someone remembered. An oak tree,
it stands to reason, preserves memory,
lives beyond generations, when an April
morning in the rage of hell will
be recited on rising swaths of wind
to speak of Canada. What does not bend,
lives on to grow in us, the history
in every fibre and leaf planted on Vimy
buds, blossoms, and strives for light
among winds that never forget a moment
when those who gave every tomorrow
planted our future there and bade it grow.
New Westminster's Poet Laureate, 2010-2016
The spirits of the fallen soldiers,*
Ghostly sentinels of the Vimy Oaks, still stand on guard;
They witness the return of the acorns
And know they are remembered and held in high regard.
They live on in our memory
Those architects of liberty,
Who gave their lives at Vimy Ridge;
Victims of war’s sacrilege.
They set their boots on foreign land;
Canada’s sons on command.
Gunfire echoed overhead.
Men fell wounded; men fell dead.
Reverberating through the years:
The emptiness and the tears;
The stain of anguish and bloodshed;
The silent bodies of the dead.
They gave their lives to keep us free,
Those architects of liberty.
We wear the blood red poppy…
Lest We Forget.
*Three thousand five hundred and ninety-eight (3,598) Canadian soldiers were killed during the battle of Vimy Ridge (April 9, 1917) but the result was an impressive victory over German forces. The “return of the acorns” acts as a reminder that their bravery and sacrifice will never be forgotten.