Trevor Wedlake's Writings
November 11th and Lawrence Binyon
First published in the Village Journal November, 1975
|November is different. September and October foster the dreamy shortening days of sheep fairs, ploughing matches and harvest festivals.
December embraces the tinsel and glitter, the burning logs and, for some the extraordinary message of Christmas. The frail light of January illumines the promise and hope and sentiment of a brand new year. But November is a shadowy sombre time. And before 1939 on the eleventh day of November at 11 am the Western world came to a dramatic halt.
The post 1945 vvorld changed all that. Its weekday wheels could not be stopped on any account. But the modern method of keeping the two minutes' silence on a Remembrance Day Sunday near to November 11th almost certainly has less emotional impact, and there are many who would like to return to the old way.
One strong link remains between the romantic two minutes' silence of between-the-wars and ceremonies today, and that is the poet Laurence Binyon. Laurence Binyon wrote the immortal lines “They shall not grow old..” This famous verse has so imprinted itself on the English imagination at least, that it is recited still as it always was from every cenotaph in services great and small throughout the country. It is one of the best known verses in all English poetry; it comes from an otherwise rather pedestrian poem entitled "For the Fallen" written in 1914.
Born in 1869 Robert Laurence Binyon was educated at St. Paul's school and Trinity College, Oxford. The annual Newdigate prize, open to Oxford undergraduates, for English verse, he won in 1890. As well as being a poet he was famous as a painter and was an authority on English watercolours.
They shall not grow old as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
In 1914 it was, for a shocked and bereaved people, a perfect condolence. For the dead it was then and is now, an immaculate epitaph.