“The Sky-Sent Death” by Walter J. R. Turner

My thanks go to SCS member Lucy London for sharing this poem by Walter J. R. Turner (1889–1946), an Australian-born writer, critic and musician who lived in England. The poem is from “The Dark Wind” by W. J. R. Turner (E.P. Button & Co., New York,1920), which is available to view as a free download on Archive.

“A German aeroplane flew over Greek territory, dropping a bomb which killed a shepherd.”

Sitting on a stone a Shepherd,
Stone and Shepherd sleeping,
Under the high blue Attic sky;
Along the green monotony
Grey sheep creeping, creeping.

Deep down on the hill and valley,
At the bottom of the sunshine,
Like great Ships in clearest water,
Water holding anchored Shadows,
Water without wave or ripple,
Sunshine deep and clear and heavy,
Sunshine like a booming bell
Made of purest golden metal,
White Ships heavy in the sky
Sleep with anchored shadow.

Pipe a song in that still air,
And the song would be of crystal
Snapped in silence, or a bronze vase
Smooth and graceful, curved and shining.
Tell an old tale or a history;
It would seem a slow Procession
Full of gestures: limbs and torso
White and rounded in the sunlight.

Sitting on a stone a Shepherd,
Stone and Shepherd sleeping,
Like a fragment of old marble
Dug up from the hillside shadow.

In the sunshine deep and soundless
Came a faint metallic humming;
In the sunshine clear and heavy
Came a speck, a speck of shadow —
Shepherd, lift your head and listen,
Listen to that humming Shadow!

Sitting on a stone a Shepherd,
Stone and Shepherd sleeping,
In a sleep dreamless as water.
Water in a white glass beaker,
Clear, pellucid, without shadow;
Underneath a sky-blue crystal
Sees his grey sheep creeping.

In the sunshine clear and heavy
Shadow-fled a dark hand downward ;
In the sunshine deep and soundless
Burst a star-dropt thing of thunder —
Smoked the burnt blue air’s torn veiling
Drooping softly round the hillside.

Boomed the silence in returning
To the crater in the hillside,
To the red earth fresh and bleeding,
To the mangled heap remaining:
Far away that humming Shadow
Vanished in the azure distance.

Sitting on a stone no Shepherd,
Stone and Shepherd sleeping,
But across the hill and valley
Grey sheep creeping, creeping,
Standing carven on the sky-line.
Scattering in the open distance.
Free, in no man’s keeping.

You can find out more about poetry from the First World War on Lucy’s blog or by reading her book on female poets of the First World War.

Author: SCS Web Editor

Robin Braysher joined the SCS in 2003 and soon after became editor of the Society's journal - 'The New Mosquito' - a role he held until 2008. He then became the Society's web editor, a role he seems unable to shake off. His interest in the campaign comes from his grandfather, Fred, who served as a cyclist with the BSF from 1915 to 1917, mainly in the Struma valley. Opinions expressed in these posts are his and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Society.

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