On White Horse Hill (May 1944)
The Vale is so serene you'd never guess
that D-Day's near; the lapwing hovers silent,
poised on the gentle rising airs that bless
the turfed close of the ancient down-land fort;
only the lark is heard, a voice ascending
lost in light; hidden the great abstract horse
that immemorially pranced the slope
below the fort—the gouge down to the naked
chalk that gave him form now filled and turfed,
lest hunting airmen take him for a guide.
The young man in American uniform
loves ancient things, regrets the absent horse,
whose festal scouring by the folk around
had so rejoiced him in a boyhood story.
There is a horse though: were the upward track
gives way to downland, a small bay mare stands
tethered to a meagre whitethorn: placidly
waits for her rider, that drowsing girl cupped
in a hallow near where the bird comes down—
slow, slow, as though his song alone held him in
air, then falls silent, folds his wing and drops:
but soon mounts up again till dazzled eyes
once more have lost him. The young man and woman,
unmet strangers, yet know themselves in league:
joint tenants of a fragile glove of peace,
a wartime grace conveyed precariously,
here where old bloody deeds like soft in myth.
Shattered before they ever knew the cause:
the plane at once upon them and gone, leaving
a world consumed by sound as it drops
and flees across the Vale: one of our own,
designed to trace the ground, a famed intruder—
Just a Mosquito on a training flight.
Only that, but now the lapwing clamors,
the mare is frantic, and the lark, fluttering
too high, has left his little life in the air.
First t oreach the plunging mare, the young man
evades flying hoofs, brings her down, whispers her,
strokes her taut neck, follows her nervous dance.
Then, two young allies meet on their own ground:
try, in returning calm, to mend what's shivered—
know if they never meet again they're bound
each to each, in what's there to be remembered.
On White Horse Hill (May 1944) is reprinted from the late Edward Pols's collection Remembrance of Things to Come (Bowdoin College, 2007). To order a copy of the collection call the Bowdoin Bookstore at 800-524-2225 or
visit the Bookstore online.