Saturday, 7 November 2009


On Remembrance Day, I thought it would be appropriate to offer another of the poems by the Hexham-born poet, Wilfrid Wilson Gibson, this time entitled Otterburn.

Gibson was very good at telling a story in verse, and some will be familiar with his fine narrative poem Flannan Isle which was published in 1912. In that year, at the age of 34, he took a train to London where he met Rupert Brooke and, at about the same time, Geraldine Townshend who was to become his wife. The couple moved to Gloucestershire where they set up home in a cottage called The Old Nailshop in Dymock. There, they walked and drank cider with Brooke and other poets, among them the American, Robert Frost, whose first visit to England was prompted by his wanting to meet Gibson.

The start of the Great War, when Gibson already had half-a-dozen books of poems in print, brought an abrupt end to this rural idyll. From the beginning, he was concerned about the fates of ordinary soldiers and was publishing poems depicting their sufferings as early as October, 1914, long before any other writer. Although he served as an Army clerk in England, his ill health prevented him from being accepted to serve abroad; this makes the poems published in Battle, portraying the horrors of war and the terrible effects on the young men who went to fight in the trenches, all the more remarkable.

A carved sandstone lintel over the entrance to Otterburn Memorial Hall records the names of the nine local men who died in the Great War. Two carved stones on either side of the door name fifty seven others who served in the conflict. Whether Gibson had in mind any of these men when he wrote the poem Otterburn is unknown but it prompts us to remember them all, and others, on Remembrance Day.


The lad who went to Flanders -
Otterburn, Otterburn -
The lad who went to Flanders,
And never will return -

Though low he lies in Flanders,
Beneath the Flemish mud,
He hears through all his dreaming
The Otterburn in flood.

And though there be in Flanders
No clear and singing streams,
The Otterburn runs singing
Of summer through his dreams.

And when peace comes to Flanders,
Because it comes too late,
He'll still lie there, and listen
To the Otterburn in spate -

The lad who went to Flanders -
Otterburn, Otterburn,
The lad who went to Flanders,
And never will return.

W. W. Gibson's poem Otterburn is included in a collection of his work entitled Homecoming, published by the Wagtail Press in 2003 to celebrate the 125th anniversary of his birth in Hexham. It is included here with the publisher's permission.


Citybirding said...

Well said.
A nice post Emma.

Alcester nature photography. said...

Interesting post, and a moving poem.
There is a programme on the tv tonight about the Somme, looks quite interesting.
Cheers Colin.

holdingmoments said...

A lovely post, and tribute Emma.

ADRIAN said...

Thanks for posting this Emma. Will look out some more of his work, it really got to me.

Anonymous said...

This is a marvellous tribute for today Emma. Thanks for posting.

Emma Anderson said...

Thank you all for your comments.

JRandSue said...

Lovely colourful Image.

The Early Birder said...

A very appropriate tribute for this day Emma. FAB.