She was a city of patience; of proud name,
Dimmed by neglecting Time; of beauty and loss;
Of acquiescence in the creeping moss.
But on a sudden fierce destruction came
Tigerishly pouncing: thunderbolt and flame
Showered on her streets, to shatter them and toss
Her ancient towers to ashes. Riven across,
She rose, dead, into never-dying fame.
White against heavens of storm, a ghost, she is known
To the world's ends. The myriads of the brave
Sleep round her. Desolately glorified,
She, moon-like, draws her own far-moving tide
Of sorrow and memory; toward her, each alone,
Glide the dark dreams that seek an English grave.
Ypres, an ancient city in West Flanders, Belgium, is the subject of this haunting poem, set against the backdrop of the unimaginable horrors of the first world war. Ypres was a center of several prolonged battles between German and Allied forces during the war, and as the poem alludes, experienced awful devastation. The war did come upon "her" as the poem personifies, with a "sudden fierce destruction." It was an ancient city, mentioned as far back as Roman times, and more recently in The Canterbury Tales, and remains an important cultural center today. Ypres was one of the first places to experience chemical warfare, and as such, today is an advocate for cities never being targets of war again.
The poem itself, in addition to recounting the awful destruction which fell upon the city, celebrates its longevity. "She rose, dead, into never-dying fame." The city, a bombed out, hollowed out shell, is forever remembered in the mind of the world. All around the ruined cities lie "the myriads of the brave," those war dead who fell in and around it.
I don't often like doing this, but I feel it's important in this case. Here is what the city looked like after its bombing in the war:
And to end this entry on a happier note, here is Ypres today, restored: