Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red: The Ceramic Poppies at the Tower of London

The Tower, the Shard and the Poppies

I’d heard of the ceramic poppies at the Tower of London and I’d seen numerous photos but nothing prepared me for the first time I saw them. I was on a bus speeding past the Tower and suddenly I could see them before me and they took my breath away. I knew that I had to go back.

And so on the day when I tracked down the Books About Town and revisited St Dunstan-in-the-East, I slowly made my way across London to the Tower. As I approached the Tower, they took my breath away again. The sight of the red ceramic poppies against the green grass and grey walls of the Tower is really quite impressive.

The White Tower and the poppies

There were volunteers below planting more poppies. I know that Sue Hillman from It's Your London was one of those volunteers but try as I might, I could not spot her!

The ceramic poppies at the Tower of London

I was pleased to discover that despite the large number of people lining the walkway to get a view of the poppies, people were very patient in allowing each other to take photos or simply stand and reflect.

Ceramic towers spilling out of the Tower of London

I stood at this point and reflected for a very long time. In 1918, my great-grandfather Corporal John Quinn was on his way home after serving in World War I when he was shot in the eye by a sniper in a French village.

He survived and a year later my grandmother was born. I can’t begin to express how profoundly grateful I am that he survived and that his blood line continued down through the generations. You can read more about my great-grandfather and about my grandfather’s brush with Kamikaze pilots here.The outer Tower and the poppies

The late summer day was certainly turning blustery and cold and eventually I decided to make my way around to the main entrance of the Tower. I love this photo below, it shows the unique style of the Tower so well. That is the White Tower you can see there, just left of the flag.

The Tower of London

I was able to get quite close to the poppies to see some of the detail on them. Definitely click on the photo below to see how beautifully they are designed.

The ceramic poppies up close

At the front of the Tower, the poppies cascade over into the dry moat.

A cascade of ceramic poppies

It really is an excellent visualisation of the anonymous poem written by a World War I soldier Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red:

The Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red

By Anonymous (Unknown Soldier)

The blood swept lands and seas of red,
Where angels dare to tread.
As I put my hand to reach,
As God cried a tear of pain as the angels fell,
Again and again.

As the tears of mine fell to the ground
To sleep with the flowers of red
As any be dead

My children see and work through fields of my
Own with corn and wheat,
Blessed by love so far from pain of my resting
Fields so far from my love.

It be time to put my hand up and end this pain
Of living hell, to see the people around me
Fall someone angel as the mist falls around
And the rain so thick with black thunder I hear
Over the clouds, to sleep forever and kiss
The flower of my people gone before time
To sleep and cry no more

I put my hand up and see the land of red,
This is my time to go over,
I may not come back
So sleep, kiss the boys for me

Ceramic poppies cascading into the Tower of London

In homage to the poem and to honour the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, the installation is named “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red”. The poppies are created by ceramic artist Paul Cummins with setting by designer Tom Piper.

Blood swept lands and seas of red

From 17 July when the first poppy was planted to 11 November 2014, a total of 888,246 poppies will be planted in the moat, each poppy representing one British fatality in World War I. The poppies will then be sold and the proceeds will be divided equally between 6 charities that provide support to those in service and the armed forces.  You can click here to Buy a Poppy.

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© 2008 - Mandy Southgate | Emm in London

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