Thursday, 2 December 2010

In the bones of the earth

Following the Pike River mining disaster that has consumed New Zealand for the past two weeks, my Aunt Sylvia sent me some pictures of my great great grandfather, Yorkshireman Stephen Ruberry, and his family.  He bady injured his back in a mining accident, and never recovered.

Stephen Ruberry and Elizabeth Shepherd at the time of their marriage

Later in life

"The fatal explosion at the Altofts Colliery, near Wakefield"
Sylvia also sent me this poem by that great and tragic poet of World War One, Wilfred Owen


There was a whispering in my hearth,
A sigh of the coal,
Grown wistful of a former earth
It might recall.
I listened for a tale of leaves
And smothered ferns,
Frond-forests, and the low sly lives
Before the fawns.
My fire might show steam-phantoms simmer
From Time's old cauldron,
Before the birds made nests in summer,
Or men had children.
But the coals were murmuring of their mine,
And moans down there
Of boys that slept wry sleep, and men
Writhing for air.
I saw white bones in the cinder-shard,
Bones without number.
For many hearts with coal are charred,
And few remember.
I thought of all that worked dark pits
Of war, and died
Digging the rock where Death reputes
Peace lies indeed:
Comforted years will sit soft-chaired,
In rooms of amber,
The years will stretch their hands, well-cheered
By our life's ember;
The centuries will burn rich loads
With which we groaned,
Whose warmth shall lull their dreaming lids,
While songs are crooned;
But they will not dream of us poor lads
Lost in the ground.

It makes you wonder why anyone would want to work down there, in the darkness of the earth.  For an answer, see this brilliant interview clip from Welsh actor Richard Burton, whose father was a miner.