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Space to Think, a new book celebrating ten years of the Dublin Review of Books More Information 

In Praise of Forgetting

Historical Memory and Its Ironies
David Rieff
Yale University Press


From Chapter 1: Footprints in the Sands of Time, and All That

Lawrence Binyon's poem "For the Fallen" was first published in the London Times on September 21,1914, six weeks after the Great War had begun. It is some­times suggested that Binyon, who was a distinguished art historian as well as a poet (he was the British Museum's Keeper of Oriental Prints and Drawings when the war began), wrote the poem in despair over how many had already died and how many more were being condemned to the same fate. But there is no basis for such a reading. Binyon simply could not have known this, if for no other reason than that it was not till the end of the First Battle of Ypres two months later, an engagement at which the majority of Britain's prewar profes­sional army was either killed or wounded, that people at home began to realize just how terrible a toll the war promised to exact.

In reality, "For the Fallen" is a classic patriotic poem, far closer in spirit to Horace's "Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori" (It is sweet and fitting to die for one's country)—an injunction that actually had been graven into the wall of the chapel of the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst in 1913— than to the work of the great British soldier-poets such as Wilfred Owen, who would appropriate the motto for one of his finest poems, but only in order to call it "the old lie."