Simon Armitage’s poem commemorates Unknown Warrior

Poet Laureate Simon Armitage has penned a poem which marks the 100th anniversary of the burial of the Unknown Warrior.

The Bed was read during the Armistice Day service at Westminster Abbey on Wednesday.

The poem charts how the fallen soldier is transported from being “broken and sleeping rough in a dirt grave” to being buried “among drowsing poets and dozing saints” in Westminster Abbey.

King George V paying his tribute to the Unknown Warrior
King George V paying his tribute to the Unknown Warrior

The Bed by Simon Armitage:

Sharp winds scissor and scythe those plains.

And because you are broken and sleeping rough

in a dirt grave, we exchange the crude wooden cross

for the hilt and blade of a proven sword;

to hack through the knotted dark of the next world,

yes, but to lean on as well at a stile or gate

looking out over fens or wealds or fells or wolds.

That sword, drawn from a king’s sheath,

fits a commoner’s hand, and is yours to keep.

And because frost plucks at the threads

of your nerves, and your bones stew in the rain,

bedclothes of zinc and oak are trimmed

and tailored to fit. Sandbags are drafted in,

for bolstering limbs and pillowing dreams,

and we throw in a fistful of battlefield soil:

an inch of the earth, your share of the spoils.

The heavy sheet of stone is Belgian marble

buffed to a high black gloss, the blanket

a flag that served as an altar cloth. Darkness

files past, through until morning, its head bowed.

Molten bullets embroider incised words.

Among drowsing poets and dozing saints

the tall white candles are vigilant sentries

presenting arms with stiff yellow flames;

so nobody treads on the counterpane,

but tiptoeing royal brides in satin slippers

will dress and crown you with luminous flowers.

All this for a soul

without name or rank or age or home, because you

are the son we lost, and your rest is ours.

Unknown Warrior 100, the service from Westminster Abbey, will be available on BBC iPlayer.