Posted in John Anstie, Peace & Justice, Poems/Poetry

Hearts of Oak

poppy-fieldThis is primarily for Remembrance Day, at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the Armistice. It speaks not just, as used to be so often the case, those who gave up their lives in war, but for all those countless others, from civilian and service life, who suffered as a result of war, their lives damaged in so many different ways.  It begs the question: “what is the point of war?”

In all that’s written of this day
I will say only this:
for every single life that’s lost
hereafter may be bliss,
but not the kind of bliss that you
can feel of heavenly truth,
those dreamy summer days that lost
the innocence of youth.

It isn’t here that rapture’s found
nor magic hearts of oak.
Instead, to free the body’s hurt
and love of life that broke,
in time, the route from suffering,
when they could fight no more,
was caring for their brotherhood,
and yielding life to war.

How soon forgot the agony,
the torture of their ends
and freeing them from all the tears
that tragedy portends.
By all the loved ones left behind
a lasting price is paid.
For they must live with pain of loss,
their own release delayed.

By all the soldiers left behind
another price is paid.
For they must live with damaged soul
a mind forever frayed.
So on remembrance day be sure,
when you recall the lost,
remember too the broken soul,
their bliss a greater cost.

– John Anstie

© 2013, poem, John Anstie, All rights reserved
Photo credit ~ Martin Birkin, Public Domain

John_in_Pose_Half_Face351w-rH34dTL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_JOHN ANSTIE (My Poetry Library and 42) ~ is a British poet and writer, a contributing editor here at Bardo, and multi-talented gentleman self-described as a “Family man, Grandfather, Occasional Musician, Amateur photographer and Film-maker, Apple-MAC user, Implementation Manager, and Engineer.  John participates in d’Verse Poet’s Pub and is a player in New World Creative Union. He’s been blogging since the beginning of 2011. John is also an active member of The Poetry Society (cover1UK).

John has been involved in the recent publication of two anthologies that are the result of online collaborations among two international groups of amateur and professional poets. One of these is The Grass Roots Poetry Group, for which he produced and edited their anthology, “Petrichor* Rising. The other group is d’Verse Poet Pub, in which John’s poetry also appears The d’Verse Anthology: Voices of Contemporary World Poetry, produced and edited by Frank Watson.

Petrichor – from the Greek pɛtrɨkər, the scent of rain on the dry earth.


“Life is short and art long, the crisis fleeting, experience penniless and decision difficult” ~ Hippocrates. As a young man, John enjoyed being fit and sporting. It was then as much his recreational therapy as a cappella harmony singing, music, walking in the hills and writing is now. Playing Rugby Union for over twenty years, encouraged in the early days by a school that was run on the same lines as Gordonstoun, giving shape and discipline to a sometimes precarious early life. This fitness was enhanced by working part time jobs in farming, as a leather factory packer and security guard, but probably not helped, for a short time, by selling ice cream! His professional working life was spent as a Metallurgical Engineer, Marketing Manager, Export Sales Manager, Implementation Manager and Managing Director of his own company. Thirty five years spent, apparently in a creative desert, raising a family, pursuing a career and helping to pay the bills, probably enriched his experience, because his renaissance, on retirement, realised a hidden creative talent as a writer of prose and poetry. He also enjoys music, with a piano and a forty-nine year old Yamaha FG140 acoustic guitar. He sings bass in three a cappella harmony groups: as a founding member of a mixed voice chamber choir, Fox Valley Voices and a mixed barbershop quartet. He is also a member of one of the top barbershop choruses in the UK, Hallmark of Harmony (the Sheffield Barbershop Harmony Club), who, for the eighth time in 40 years, became UK Champions in 2019. He is also a would be (once upon a time or 'has been') photographer with drawers full of his own history, and an occasional, but lapsed 'film' maker. In his other life, he doubles as a Husband, Father, Grandfather, Brother, Uncle, Cousin, Friend and Family man. What he writes is sometimes autobiographical, often political, sometimes dark and frequently pins his colours to the mast of climate change and how humans are trashing the Earth. In 2013, he published an anthology of the poetry (including his own) of an international group of poets, who met on Twitter in 2011. He produced, edited and steered the product of this work, "Petrichor Rising", to publication by Aquillrelle. His sort of strapline sort of reads: “ iWrite iSing iDance iVolunteer ”

9 thoughts on “Hearts of Oak

  1. It all comes at such a great cost. Here’s to the days when there is no more strife among the peoples of the human race, John. We seem to have such a gift for killing off one another’s children instead of loving them.


  2. Dear sweet lord, Jamie, when you put it like that “We seem to have such a gift for killing off one another’s children instead of loving them.” it makes my stomach churn at the thought: what if my own children, or those of our friends, were falling at the front line …


  3. Gretchen, could you share that remembrance with us, or is it a deep, genetically programmed kind of remembrance?

    My father was in the RAF in WW2 and flew Spitfires. He was shot down, but survived ( His older brother, my Uncle John, was not so lucky; shot down and died. My grandmother had a lot to do with my upbringing in my very early years and I think this, along with Uncle John’s war diaries, photographs and letters, influenced my perspective, not in a bad way, but in a way that left me with a deep insight, a kind of deep memory of what it must have been like: every day, the churning stomach at the thought of the high risk of death …


  4. And as we’ve discussed before, John, my father was a US Army Air Corp pilot of a B-24 and did not survive. I never knew him, but this has had a huge influence on my life and my writing. I’m sure regular readers are weary of hearing me speak of it. But it’s part of my reality and I have to think influence my life working with death, dying and bereavement.

    Thank you for this touching remembrance.


  5. I invited a guest at the museum where I work to try the Flight Simulator. He declined and said, “I went into the Service hoping to learn how to fly. They wouldn’t let me be a pilot. Instead, they taught me how to shoot down planes.” I didn’t know how to respond. I wish I’d had the presence of mind at least to say, “I’m sorry.” Loss of life, loss of future, loss of hope, loss of trust, loss of autonomy, loss of peace….how many values are lost, not just in wartime, but in military service, we cannot count. And some would say much is gained: skill, pride, money, honor, security. Measuring the cost of military action and making wise decisions is everyone’s responsibility, and it’s not an easy or painless process. I wish we could slow down more, listen more, brainstorm more, understand more, and allow more compassion and creativity to arise.


  6. Yes! Beautiful poem, John. I was thinking the other day how my generation (probably yours too) fought a war of ideologies: we bucked the idea of being cannon-fodder for the British establishment and challenged the status quo. Alas, we still wage war on others and people still find a reason in it ~ usually manipulated by the propaganda of those in power.


    1. Primarily driven by commercial interest, Niamh. The big issue is big corporates, whose balance sheets are now bigger than even large developed countries – compare RBS with the UK economy, for example, at least how big and ambitious they were prior to the crash in 2008. These large companies OWN governments. And, as soon as there is a whiff of rebellion in the air, governments run scared and start steamrollering legislation through parliament, like gagging, like the new anti-social behaviour act …Scary stuff.


  7. Scillagrace, I like your story about the chap who wasn’t allowed to fly. “I’m sorry” would have been the perfect answer, which could neither offend nor be interpreted as an apologist’s response to war! I do so hope that within our lifetime we will see a seed change in the culture of imperialism in all its guises.


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