4

There are a few left who will find it hard to forget
Polygonveld.
The earth was scarr’d and broken
By torrents of plunging shells;
Then wash’d and sodden with autumnal rains.
And Polygonbeke
(Perhaps a rippling stream
In the days of Kneeshaw’s gloom)
Spread itself like a fatal quicksand, –
A sucking, clutching death.
They had to be across the beke
And in their line before dawn.
A man who was marching by Kneeshaw’s side
Hesitated in the middle of the mud,
And slowly sank, weighted down by equipment and arms.
He cried for help;
Rifles were stretched to him;
He clutched and they tugged,
But slowly he sank.
His terror grew –
Grew visibly when the viscous ooze
Reached his neck.
And there he seemed to stick,
Sinking no more.
They could not dig him out –
The oozing mud would flow back again.

The dawn was very near.

An officer shot him through the head:
Not a neat job – the revolver
Was too close.

From ‘Kneeshaw Goes to War’ in Collected Poems (1966)
By Herbert Read

First published in The Low Countries, 1998