Letters to the Front
for soprano and piano (1997)
duration: 11’
text by Ross Baglin
GRT • 032

score available from
Australian Music Centre

Letters to the Front (1915-1975)
Fromelles, July 1975:
How should I hope to find your grave
Among white stones that never gave
The mud a name for the missing?
Four deep, annealed in green
The silence of buried iron,
The straying light of stars
Rolls you softly over;
You will not wake to the Anzac Day Parade,
The drift and falling of the bells
Sows no sound in stopped ears,
Blows no ghosts to a windy drill.

Richmond, March 1915:
Marjorie sends her love, she is proud of you
And the Empire which is stronger for your youth
Though I know it’s our duty and we must make do
Tom, this war’s so much like a distant drum
Carried on ships that carry off our sons
And it’s so hard to hear the report of the gun
In the newspapers these days
They say only a coward would stay.

Richmond, December 1915:
Shadows furl a yellow blind of sun
A foot of evening’s in the street -
Past red brick and paspalum
The paving cracks in Summer heat,
Brown as iron the flowers retreat
From pale and picket in Coppin St.

Passing over Jolimont Bridge
I note an ivy progress
Reaches over broken tools
Discarded at the rails edge;
Pray so my love may cover you
And hide you ‘til the fighting cease
Generals love what they can use
And they’ve no use for peace.

Richmond, August 1916:
They want a vote, Tom, for to send
Away more able working men
This war to end wars
Is a war without end.
“I would-to-god that I could go”
The fat rheumatic Empire gent
Puffs at club and pours Bordeaux
I would to God that they all went.

Victoria Dock, July 1917:
The painted ships have sailed,
And the streamers that we held
Have twirled to the gleaming tide;
Bearing letters from the King,
Waves warp a silver crease
Of moonlight to the empty pier,
And names we hailed two years ago
Creep over water, wind and echo
Turning dockward, sailing home.

Fromelles, July 1975:
Death came to you as summer willed
Dumbfounded trees to whisper green
And seedlings grafted heaving fields
Of dead men into memory
And when the letter came, I prayed
To God whose noiseless finger cast
The ancient Blackberries, hard and sparse
The sinews in the stone;
Oleander and Rose,
The whispering grass
That covers you, when you are gone.

O Lord, whose thorns encircle the brow
Whose crosses plough down all the dead
Do brighter Gods preserve the flowers
In the lineal gardens,
And only burn the bristling thistles
That spawn in the vacant grasses?