John Cornford




 

 

 


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Rupert John Cornford, the son of the poet, Frances Cornford, was born in Cambridge in 1915. He was educated at Stowe School and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he studied history. He also spent time at the London School of Economics. While at university he began writing poetry.

In 1933 Cornford joined the Communist Party and in August 1936 he became the first Englishman to go to fight for the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War. While in Spain Cornford served with Worker's Party (POUM) army and fought at Aragon in August 1936.

John Cornford was killed just outside Madrid on 29th December 1936. His best known work is The Last Mile to Huesca (1936) and Poems from Spain (1936).

 


 

(1) John Cornford, A Letter From Aragon (1936)

This is a quiet sector of a quiet front.

We buried Ruiz in a new pine coffin,

But the shroud was too small and his washed feet stuck out.

The stink of his corpse came through the clean pine boards

And some of the bearers wrapped handkerchiefs round their faces.

Death was not dignified.

We hacked a ragged grave in the unfriendly earth

And fired a ragged volley over the grave.

You could tell from our listlessness, no one much missed him.

This is a quiet sector of a quiet front.

There is no poison gas and no H.E.3

But when they shelled the other end of the village

And the streets were choked with dust

Women came screaming out of the crumbling houses,

Clutched under one arm the naked rump of an infant.

I thought: how ugly fear is.

This is a quiet sector of a quiet front.

Our nerves are steady; we all sleep soundly.

In the clean hospital bed my eyes were so heavy

Sleep easily blotted out one ugly picture,

A wounded militiaman moaning on a stretcher,

Now out of danger, but still crying for water,

Strong against death, but unprepared for such pain.

This on a quiet front.

But when I shook hands to leave, an Anarchist worker

Said: "Tell the workers of England

This was a war not of our own making,

We did not seek it.

But if ever the Fascists again rule Barcelona

It will be as a heap of ruins with us workers beneath it."

 

 

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