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Laurence Binyon's "For the Fallen"

Poetry became my passion after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class circa 1962.

Introduction and Text of "For the Fallen"

In Laurence Binyon's "For the Fallen," the speaker is paying tribute to the brave British soldiers who died in World War I. The poem consists of seven stanzas, each with the rime scheme, ABCB.

(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

For the Fallen

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill: Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres.
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not 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.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England's foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain,
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

Reading of "For the Fallen"

Commentary

The speaker is celebrating the transcendence of the soldiers who have fought so bravely and died for freedom.

First Stanza: England as Mother

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

In the opening stanza, the speaker metaphorically compares England to a mother who is in mourning for her children who have died. England's literal children are, of course, her soldiers who have bravely fought and given their lives "in the cause of the free."

Second Stanza: Profound Sorrow

Solemn the drums thrill: Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres.
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

The speaker portrays the profound sorrow of the mourners, emphasizing its significance as he creates his tribute: "Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal / Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres." Sadness of the heart on the earthly level may be transcended if, "There is music in the midst of desolation / And a glory that shines upon our tears."

Third Stanza: Music of Transcendence

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.

The speaker avers that music is one of the instruments of transcendence for warriors: "They went with songs to the battle, they were young." The young soldiers died heroes as they met their enemy face to face.

Fourth Stanza: A Special Logic

They shall grow not 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.

With a similar logic used by A. E. Housman in "To an athlete dying young," this speaker declares about the fallen soldiers, "They shall grow not old // Age shall not weary them." Those of us left behind will still face these disfiguring life qualities, and "We will remember [those who fell.]"

Fifth Stanza: Mourning Proscriptions

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England's foam.

In the fifth stanza, the speaker mourns as he details the activities that are now proscribed the fallen heroes: they will not laugh with their friends again nor share meals with family, nor will they hold day jobs—all because they metaphorically "sleep beyond England's foam."

Sixth Stanza: Profoundly Grateful

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

Even though the young fallen soldiers will not return to their normal lives on the earth plan, memories of them will be held in the hearts and minds of their fellow countrymen, who will remain profoundly and eternally grateful for their service: "To the innermost heart of their own land they are known / As the stars are known to the Night." They shine brightly for their fellow citizens.

Seventh Stanza: Celebratory Tribute

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain,
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

Finally, the speaker concludes his celebratory tribute by similaically comparing their mission to that of "the stars." He states: "As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust, / Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain; / As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness, / To the end, to the end, they remain."

The speaker likens the souls of the fallen to the stars, that "march[ ] upon the heavenly plain." Yet the soldiers' souls, of course, will live eternally in God, even if the stars cease to shine.

Portrait of Laurence Binyon

Portrait of Laurence Binyon

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

Comments

Linda Sue Grimes (author) from U.S.A. on July 31, 2020:

Thank you, Umesh. Laurence Binyon is one of the poets who deserves more attention. His work is clear and forceful with wonderful insights. Such poetry always satisfies the heart and mind, intellectually profound and emotionally honest.

Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on July 31, 2020:

Very well explained and nicely presented.

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