Promoting Poetry in Scotland

My Day Among the Cannonballs | edwin morgan


Europe is all wars. Its plains are drenched in blood.

Treaties signed, treaties broken, forgotten,

Empires bursting from the gun of history,

Empires burnt out by the fires of history

Should we worry, sitting here at peace?

Of course not. Yes we should. I don’t know.

I know I have fought, have had allegiances,

But I am left with reminiscences,

Which are my best, least understood credentials.

Let me lay one before you. Gather round.

Come on, it’s a cracker, you’ll not find its like.


My company was stationed ‘somewhere in Europe’,

I don’t remember the name of the grim town

We were besieging. It was well fortified

With gates chains embrasures machicolations

Batteries redouts vigilantes god knows what,

A bristly sort of come-and-get-me place

We had tried in vain to penetrate.

Logic, I said to myself, think logic.

We cannot infiltrate, what’s left but up

Up and over, what goes up and over?

A balloon? Don’t be silly, they’d shoot it down.

There’s only one way, and I should emphasize

I was at the peak of my physical powers

A long time ago, yes yes I know

I climbed up onto our biggest cannon

And when the next huge ball began to emerge

I jumped it, like on horseback, and was off

Whizzing into the smoky air. Aha,

I thought, this is how to do it! But then,

Halfway towards the enemy, I wondered:

Would they not catch me, string me up as a spy?

Not good! I must get back, but back how?

Logic again saw just one solution:

Transfer to the next enemy cannonball

Coming towards me: a delicate operation,

But I accomplished it, and so back home.


Not the most glorious of episodes,

I hear you say. Oh but it was, it was!

Was the siege lifted? I really don’t know.

Did the enemy surrender? I cannot recall.

What I remember is the exhilaration

Of the ball between my knees like a celestial horse

And the wind whistling its encouragement

And at the high point of my flight an eagle

Shrieking at the usurper of that space

Between ground and sky, between friend and foe,

Between the possible and the impossible.

I shrieked back to the wild bird in my gladness.

What an unearthly duetbut life, life!

happiness | the bearsden shark | at poppy’s | heaven