Simon Armitage reads 'The Bed' at centenary service for Unknown Warrior

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The poet laureate, Simon Armitage, on Armistice Day - Wednesday 11 November - read a new poem, ‘The Bed’, to mark the 100th anniversary of the burial of the Unknown Warrior at Westminster Abbey. The poem charts how the fallen soldier is transported from being “broken and sleeping rough in a dirt grave” to being buried “among drowsing poets and dozing saints” in the abbey.

Armitgae said: “The poem tells the story of the retrieval and repatriation of the body of the Unknown Warrior from the battlefields of World War I to his grave in Westminster Abbey. I was very struck by the ritualistic detail that had gone into the making of the coffin and the tomb, and thought of it as a bed, somewhere to rest in peace.

“His anonymity makes him everyone's son, everyone's responsibility, and the poem concludes that we owe him his rest, because our restfulness was paid for with his life.”





by Simon Armitage


Sharp winds scissor and scythe those plains.

And because you are broken and sleeping rough

in a dirt grave, we exchange the crude wooden cross

for the hilt and blade of a proven sword;

to hack through the knotted dark of the next world,

yes, but to lean on as well at a stile or gate

looking out over fens or wealds or fells or wolds.

That sword, drawn from a king’s sheath,

fits a commoner’s hand, and is yours to keep.


And because frost plucks at the threads

of your nerves, and your bones stew in the rain,

bedclothes of zinc and oak are trimmed

and tailored to fit. Sandbags are drafted in,

for bolstering limbs and pillowing dreams,

and we throw in a fistful of battlefield soil:

an inch of the earth, your share of the spoils.


The heavy sheet of stone is Belgian marble

buffed to a high black gloss, the blanket

a flag that served as an altar cloth. Darkness

files past, through until morning, its head bowed.

Molten bullets embroider incised words.

Among drowsing poets and dozing saints

the tall white candles are vigilant sentries

presenting arms with stiff yellow flames;

so nobody treads on the counterpane,

but tiptoeing royal brides in satin slippers

will dress and crown you with luminous flowers.


                                                       All this for a soul

without name or rank or age or home, because you

are the son we lost, and your rest is ours.


◄ 'That dove, I thought, will house his sable spirit, coat feathered like joy in the wind'

Hokusai's Passion: John Sewell, Offa's Press ►


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John Marks

Wed 18th Nov 2020 15:31

I agree Greg. I've not been a fan of the position, or holder, of the poetry laureateship but this is a superb poem, regardless of author.

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Greg Freeman

Wed 11th Nov 2020 23:39

I agree, Paul. As we all know, this is a subject that is turned naturally and famously into poetry. But I do think this is the best laureate poem that I can remember over the last few years.

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Paul Sayer

Wed 11th Nov 2020 23:12

This is indeed a masterfully crafted piece of fine poetry.

A fitting tribute to a kindred soul lost to the horrors of war.

For all those gallant and brave souls fallen in all wars past, present and future. May we always remember them.

I bow my head to thee.

Paul Sayer 11/11/20. 11:11pm.

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