Prisoners of War

John Jarmain

Like shabby ghosts down dried-up river beds
The tired procession slowly leaves the field;
Dazed and abandoned, just a count of heads,
They file away, these who have done their last,
To that grey safety where the days are sealed,
Where no word enters, and the urgent past
Is relieved day by day against the clock
Whose hours are meaningless, whose measured rate
Brings nearer nothing, only serves to mock.
It is ended now.   There's no more need to choose,
To fend and think and act; no need to hate.
Now all their will is worthless, none will lose
And none will suffer though their courage fail.
The tension in the brain is loosened now,
Its taut decisions slack: no more alone
-- How I and each of us has been alone
Like lone trees which the lightnings all assail --
They are herded now and have no more to give.
Even fear is past.  And death, so long so near,	
Has suddenly receded to its station
In the misty end of life.  For these will live,
They are quit of killing and sudden mutilation;
They no longer cower at the sound of a shell in the air, 	
They are safe.  And in the glimmer at time's end
They will return -- old, worn maybe, but sure --
And gather their bits of broken lives to mend.

Editor's note: written in Sicily. August - October, 1943.

John Jarmain was an officer with the 51st Highland Division's anti-tank unit. He served in the Western Desert, returned to England, and was killed on 26 June 1944. He had gone forward on a reconnaisance into Ste. Honorine la Chardonnerette in Normandy and was killed by a German mortar-bomb.

The Editors of From Oasis into Italy considered John Jarmain one of the truly great but neglected poets of the Second World War.

From Oasis into Italy -- Shepheard-Walwyn Ltd (1983)