'The Wind on the Downs’, was written by Marian Allen in May 1917. Allen wrote the poem a few days after she heard the tragic news that her fiancé, Arthur Tylston Greg, had been killed in an air battle over France. He was 22 years old.
To mark the centenary of the First World War and as part of our ongoing Waterlines project, the Poetry Society and the Canal & River Trust have commissioned a new animation of Allen's poem by artist Linda Hughes. The poem is read by National Theatre actress Olivia Vinall who is a similar age to Marian Allen when she wrote the poem.
Watch on Vimeo
I like to think of you as brown and tall,
As strong and living as you used to be,
In khaki tunic, Sam Brown belt and all,
And standing there and laughing down at me.
Because they tell me, dear, that you are dead,
Because I can no longer see your face,
You have not died, it is not true, instead
You seek adventure some other place.
That you are round about me, I believe;
I hear you laughing as you used to do,
Yet loving all the things I think of you;
And knowing you are happy, should I grieve?
You follow and are watchful where I go;
How should you leave me, having loved me so?
We walked along the towpath, you and I,
Beside the sluggish-moving, still canal;
It seemed impossible that you should die;
I think of you the same and always shall.
We thought of many things and spoke of few,
And life lay all uncertainly before,
And now I walk alone and think of you,
And wonder what new kingdoms you explore.
Over the railway line, across the grass,
While up above the golden wings are spread,
Flying, ever flying overhead,
Here still I see your khaki figure pass,
And when I leave meadow, almost wait,
That you should open first the wooden gate.
The poem began life as two unnamed sonnets in Allen’s collection called The Wind on the Downs. As they appeared one after the other, later anthologists have conflated them into one poem and adopted the title of the collection. Confusingly Allen wrote another poem titled ‘The Wind on the Downs’ but these two unnamed sonnets have become better known under that title.
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