Thursday, November 11, 2010

Laurence Binyon and the Ode of Remembrance

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

Extract from "For the Fallen" (1914) aka "The Ode of Remembrance" by Robert Laurence Binyon (1869-1943)
Did you know that the man who wrote these famous words which are heard at many a ceremony to honour those who have died in wars was actually an art historian? 

The Red Poppies (1885) by Arthur Melville
oil on canvas, 24" x 30"
Private Collection
Robert Laurence Binyon was born in Lancaster in 1869.  He was the son of a clergyman, and educated at St Paul's School and Trinity College, London.  He read classics at Oxford where he won the Newdigate Prize for Poetry.

From Oxford Binyon went in 1893 to work in the British Museum's Department of Printed Books, before transferring two years later to the Department of Prints and Drawings where he eventually became Keeper, and an authority on Oriental Art.

His book Painting in the Far East (1908) was the first book on the subject to be written in any European language. Binyon was also an expert on Japanese and Chinese Art.

Binyon was moved by the opening of the Great War and the already high number of casualties of the British Expeditionary Force and in 1914, while visiting the cliffs near Pentire Head in north Cornwall,  Binyon wrote his poem For the Fallen.

An extract from this poem has become known as the Ode of Remembrance,  The piece was published by The Times newspaper in September, when public feeling was affected by the recent Battle of Marne.

The "Ode of Remembrance" is now regularly recited at memorial services held on days commemorating World War I, such as ANZAC Day, Remembrance Day, and Remembrance Sunday.

In 1915, Laurence Binyon volunteered at a British hospital for French soldiers, Hopital Temporaire d'Arc-en-Barrois, Haute-Marne, France, where he worked briefly as a hospital orderly. In the summer of 1916, he returned and took care of soldiers taken in from the Verdun battlefield. His poems, "Fetching the Wounded" and "The Distant Guns", were inspired by his hospital service in Arc-en-Barrois.

After the war, he returned to the British Museum and wrote numerous books on art.
  • His specialities were William Blake, Persian art, and Japanese art.
  • His work on ancient Japanese and Chinese cultures inspired, among others, the poets Ezra Pound and W.B. Yeats. 
  • His work on Blake and his followers kept alive the then nearly-forgotten memory of the work of Samuel Palmer.
The painting of the red poppies is by Arthur Melville. It's a very painterly portrait of poppies with fallen petals by a painter who has been called the Scottish Impressionist, an associate of the Glasgow Boys and a supreme experimenter in image making and technique.

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