Many years ago I watched a BBC adaptation of Vera Brittains book '' Testament to Youth".
It is a simple but tragic story. The agonizing story of a lost generation - the youth who fought and died during the First World War. A story of anguish, pain, horror and waste. It is a poignant and heart rending story told from the heart by the author Vera Brittain.
Vera is a very bright and capable girl. She meets a very bright and talented young man, a scholar and a poet called Roland Leighton who is studying at Oxford University. They fall in love and plan their future together. It is a great love in the nature of all true love - a great wonder, a great magical alchemy, a great facet of the spiritual dimension and a very great gift from the gods.
In the midst of this love the second world war intervenes and Roland goes off to war. He is posted to France. Vera is of course at her wits end worrying about his safety. Later all her fears are confirmed by the news that Roland has been killed on the slaughter fields of the western front.
Close to the time of his death Roland writes Vera a prophetic poem. This poem haunts me still, long after hearing it spoken in the BBC dramatisation. It is one of those poems which because of the context of the story and its real life, heart breaking loss, clutches at my throat. It takes my breath away not only because of a real sense of tragedy of that loss, but because of the audacity of its wisdom, its prophetic quality, its love, its tenderness, its giving and its attempt to set free. It also stands as a symbol of all the lost young love of a generation destroyed by war
Hedauville. November 1915.
The sunshine on the long white road
That ribboned down the hill,
The velvet clematis that clung
Around your window - sill,
Are waiting for you still.
Again the shadowed pool shall break
In dimples round your feet,
And when the thrush sings in your wood,
Unknowing you may meet
Another stranger, Sweet.
And if he is not quite so old
As the boy you used to know,
And less proud, too, and worthier,
You may not let him go
(And daisies are truer than passion - flowers)
It will be better so.
Roland writes with words that show an emerging poetic gift, a gift cut down well before its prime. He manages with sparseness of line and graphic imagery such tenderness of heart and mind. Such amazing wisdom well beyond his young years.
When I read the poem I have an image in my mind of Roland standing amongst the mud of the trenches and the futile banality of war. He has a butterfly cupped in his hands. He offers his hands skyward and opens them. In his love and in his wisdom he lets her go. He is saying - go, live your life. Don't look back. Where you go I cannot follow. It will be all right - my heart gives you permission to love again - and he releases the butterfly onto the winds of the future.
This is the archetypal act of great love - to truly love is to run the risk of losing that love. Letting go for the growth and happiness of the other.
But the heroism of this story does not stop there. Vera goes on to be a writer and an antiwar campaigner. Years later she meets another young man, who knows of her story. He has always admired her from a distance. He courts her with sensitivity, intelligence and devotion. They are married and have a family. The marriage isn't a great love, (And daisies are truer than passion flowers), rather one of affection, friendship and devotion.
I think there is a lesson here, and it is this. If you have a great love in your life then nurture it, feed it, grow it, cherish it, fight for it, live it - and unless some extraordinary circumstance requires you to do so - while you have breath in your body, never, never, never let it go.