Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE PROPHET, by EDMUND CHARLES BLUNDEN

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THE PROPHET, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: It is a country
Last Line: This sometime seer, crass but cassandra-like.
Alternate Author Name(s): Blunden, Edmund
Subject(s): World War I; First World War

IT is a country,
Says this old guide-book to the Netherlands,
-- Written when Waterloo was hardly over,
And justified "a warmer interest
In English travellers" -- Flanders is a country
Which, boasting not "so many natural beauties"
As others, yet has history enough.
I like the book; it flaunts the polished phrase
Which our forefathers practised equally
To bury admirals or sell beaver hats;
Let me go on, and note you here and there
Words with a difference to the likes of us.
The author "will not dwell on the temptations
Which many parts of Belgium offer"; he
"Will not insist on the salubrity
Of the air." I thank you, sir, for those few words.
With which we find ourselves in sympathy.
And here are others: "here the unrivalled skill
Of British generals, and the British soldier's
Unconquerable valour..." no, not us.
"The necessary cautions on the road"...
Gas helmets at the alert, no daylight movement?
"But lately much attention has been paid
To the coal mines." Amen, roars many a fosse
Down south, and slag-heap unto slag-heap calls.
"The Flemish farmers are likewise distinguished
For their attention to manure." Perchance.
First make your mixen, then about it raise
Your tenements; let the house and sheds and sties
And arch triumphal opening on the mud
Inclose that Mecca in a square. The fields,
Our witness saith, are for the most part small,
And "leases are unfortunately short."
In this again perceive veracity;
At Zillebeke the cultivator found
That it was so; and Fritz, who thought to settle
Down by Verbrandenmolen, came with spades,
And dropped his spades, and ran more dead than alive.
Nor, to disclose a secret, do I languish
For lack of a long lease on Pilkem Ridge.

While in these local hints, I cannot wait
But track the author on familiar ground.
He comes from Menin, names the village names
That since rang round the world, leaves Zillebeke,
Crosses a river (so he calls that blood-leat
Bassevillebeek), a hill (a hideous hill),
And reaches Ypres, "pleasant, well-built town."
My Belgian Traveller, did no threatening whisper
Sigh to you from the hid profound of fate
Ere you passed thence, and noted "Poperinghe.
Traffic in serge and hops"? (The words might still
Convey sound fact. Perhaps some dim hush envoy
Entered your spirit when at Furnes you wrote,
"The air is reckoned unhealthy here for strangers."
I find your pen, as driven by irony's fingers,
Defend the incorrectness of your map
With this: it was not fitting to delay,
Though "in a few weeks a new treaty of Paris
Would render it useless." Good calm worthy man,
I leave you changing horses, and I wish you
Good blanc at Nieuport. -- Truth did not disdain
This sometime seer, crass but Cassandra-like.

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