The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Poet punch to war

London, April 3 (Reuters): Britain’s official poet has taken the highly unusual step of writing a poem condemning the war in Iraq.

Andrew Motion said that from Eden to Babylon, death was cutting a swathe through one of the cradles of civilisation.

But the poet laureate insisted he was not unpatriotic, saying that he “wished well” for the British troops fighting to topple Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

The poem, entitled Regime Change, was a break from tradition for the poet laureate, who is appointed by Queen Elizabeth’s household and traditionally writes non-political poems to commemorate major national and royal occasions.

After reading the poem out on BBC Radio on Thursday, Motion said: “I wouldn’t say this poem is precisely unpatriotic but I would say it is violently opposed to the war.

“Even though my opposition to the war is very vehement, like many other people who are opposed to it, I do nothing but wish well to the troops themselves.”

It is Motion’s second anti-war poem. He wrote a 30-word poem. Causa Belli, questioning the motives of war in January.

His work followed a rich tradition of British protest poets — Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen — famed for graphic imagery bringing home the horrors of World War I trenches.

Those protest poets buried the romantic view of war epitomised by Shakespeare’s Henry V as the young monarch urged his troops to “stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood”.

Britain has had a poet laureate since the mid-17th century and the famous roll-call ranges from John Dryden to William Wordsworth and Lord Tennyson. Tennyson sparked controversy after the Crimean War when he wrote of the brave but foolhardy Charge of the Light Brigade with the line ‘The soldier knew someone had blundered’.

Motion wrote a ceremonial poem to mark the death of Britain’s Queen Mother last year but has also written about Nelson Mandela, homelessness, national identity and bullying.

“My underlying feeling is that poetry ought to be part of general life rather than being ghettoised,” he said.

So today, he pitched into a fierce national debate about the war which has polarised opinion in Britain. Reflecting on the irony of war being fought amid names famed in different cultures, he read the poem on BBC radio:

Advancing down the road from Nineveh

Death paused a while and said, Now listen here

You see the names of places round about

They are mine now and I have turned them inside out.

Take Eden further south. At dawn today I ordered up my troops to tear away its walls and gates so everyone can see that gorgeous fruit which dangles from its tree. You want it don’t you' Go and eat it then and lick your lips and pick the same again.

Take Tigris and Euphrates. Once they ran through childhood-coloured slabs of sand and sun. Not any more they don’t. I have filled them up with countless different kinds of human crap.

Take Babylon. The palace sprouting flowers which sweetened empires in their peaceful hours. I have found a different way to scent the air. Already it’s a by-word for despair.

Which leaves Baghdad, the star-tipped minarets, the marble courts and halls, the mirage heat. These places and the ancient things you know you won’t know soon. I am working on it now.’

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