NZ'S FIRST WORLD WAR CENTENARY 2014–2019

Ending Song – Armistice centenary poem

To mark the centenary of the Armistice that ended the First World War, WW100 commissioned Airini Beautrais to write a poem to express the complex emotions of relief, joy, grief and hope that New Zealanders felt 100 years ago.

"When I wrote this poem," Airini explained, "I had in my mind my two great-great-uncles, both teachers, who were killed in the war, and their mother. I tried to imagine her heartache. Then there was their younger brother, who was too young to fight, and their littlest sister, who I remember from my childhood. I thought of them, too, and I imagined how they made sense of it all. Families all over New Zealand have stories like these. With Ending Song, I tried to bring about a communal voice that represents the diversity of stories."

Hear the poem's debut at the Armistice Centenary National Ceremony

Ending Song

We who are weary, spent, in doubt,

we who have hoped the world could be better,

we who have opened the dreaded letter,

whose brightest stars have been put out,

pause at the news an end has come.

 

We who have given, and shouldered so much,

we who were shelled, and gassed, and shot,

we who are dead, and we who are not:

the empty sleeve, the patch, the crutch;

blink as we slide into some strange dream.

 

The trumpets blare, the whistles shrill,

the band blasts out its wild refrain.

There is dancing for joy, and dancing for pain,

siren and signal and ringing bell,

a surge of noise; a surging calm.

 

Southern spring, a wind-blown sky,

the orange-lit east, a fading gloom,

a beating of feet on the drum of the womb,

the orchard in leaf, the pastures high,

the melting snow fills the swelling stream.

 

Beyond this day when at last it is over,

beyond the lantern, the firework, the flame,

beyond each stone and each carven name,

beyond the lives that will never recover,

we will remember what we have come from.