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Former poet laureate Andrew Motion drew inspiration from personal inscriptions to write Armistice.

Armistice by Andrew Motion

Now one thousand five hundred and sixty-four days end

every hour hand of every watch on the face of the earth

snaps to attention a fraction shy of the number eleven.

Their minute hands are still quivering with the effort

to complete the circle and therefore give the signal.

Whenever has machinery fine-tuned or otherwise

been able to refute with such a passionate precision

the idea that the body of time might flow like a river

and reveal it instead as a wide continuous landscape

a block universe where the sudden spotlight moon

introducing her face between cloud-curtains alights

now on one man dead already and now on one dying

while the scattered hinterland suffers its consequences

or delivers its warnings all connected but unavailable.


Then the minute hand in a spasm seals its promise

while penny whistles shriek and church bells clamour

while whizzbangs and 59s complete their trajectories

while long-faced telegram boys prop their bicycles

on lampposts and front gates and for the last time

press forward to deliver their dreadful condolences

and lark music like a distillation of daylight itself

which a moment before was neither here nor there

sweetens as it escapes the pulsing throat of the bird

and rain also accustomed to no discernible voice

patters and pounds and performs on barren ground

and a very simple breath of wind entirely fills the air

and everyday clouds performing manifold contortions

saunter off and dissolve in the horizon of their origin.


Soon rolling out plans from their corridors and offices

highly efficient angels of the resurrection will descend

to align with names they went by in their earthly lives

nine million or thereabouts bodies and body-fragments.

What is the duration of individual grieving they allow

beyond an agreed upper limit of sixty-six characters.

Think of Private Roy Douglas Harvey who was killed

a reserved and thoughtful schoolboy from Hillhead

leaving behind among other valuable relics a diary

completed up to the evening before his dawn attack

along with a much-thumbed Collins Gem dictionary

from the pages of which rose and will continue rising

these words as time and space maintain their relation

my task accomplished and the long day done.


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