There was a very moving Remembrance Sunday service in Durham Cathedral this morning. The Cathedral was packed, not only with civic dignitaries, and representatives of the various uniformed organisations but with the people of Durham itself and with young men in uniform some of whom stood through the silence with tears in their eyes, clearly remembering good friends and perhaps recent experience in war zones. An occasion that had seemed, in my childhood to be about distant and receding history seemed now completely relevant and contemporary. The words of the service and the sermon certainly remembered the horrors and waste of war as well as the extraordinary courage and service those horrors brought out in so many, glimpses of heaven in the midst of hell, as the preacher put it. Afterwards there was an amazing parade through the town with people standing on the streets and applauding the veterans as they passed. And in the early afternoon I sat on a bench by the river as the November sunlight shone off the Wear and, just below me fisherman quietly cast their lines, and that seemed to me as good an image as any of the peace for which we had been praying in the Cathedral. Sitting where I was I composed these lines:
(As always you can hear the poem by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button)
Remembrance Sunday Afternoon
November sunlight shimmers on the Wear,
Wide waters slip unhurried by each bank
And soothe Remembrance Sunday afternoon.
After the service, after the parades,
After the poppies, after the last post,
I sit and drink in quietness and peace,
The peace those Durham infantry forsook
To keep it sacred for the likes of me.
Some of them surely fished this very spot
Where Durham fishermen are sitting still
On folded camp stools. May those fallen men
Whom we remembered in the high cathedral
Drink deep now from the river of true life
Where all their wounds are healed, where living light
Flows from the source of every time and tide
And may they know that we remember them.