Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy creates poem for Pages of the Sea in Sunderland

Pages of the Sea will see images of soldiers etched in the sand
Pages of the Sea will see images of soldiers etched in the sand

A sonnet written by the Poet Laureate for Danny Boyle’s national event to mark the centenary of the end of the First World War has been unveiled.

Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy was asked by Boyle to write a piece for Pages of the Sea, his commission from 14-18 NOW to mark the centenary of Armistice Day.

Sunderland has been chosen as one of a handful of coastal towns and cities to take part in Pages of the Sea, and Duffy’s sonnet, The Wound In Time, will play a central role in the Sunderland event.

Each project centres on the drawing of a large-scale portrait of a casualty from the First World War, designed by sand artists Sand In Your Eye, which will be washed away as the tide comes in.

The Sunderland event will take place from noon until 3pm on November 11 at Roker Beach, during which members of the public will be able to listen to Duffy’s poem. Sunderland Culture is delivering Pages of the Sea at Roker and at Redcar Beach on Teesside.

Danny Boyle said: “I hope that Carol Ann Duffy’s poem will be something that you’ll read privately as individuals, or with friends, or publicly among people on the beach on November 11. Poetry in [the] first world war was such an extraordinary art form – it reported, in the way that television does now, on experiences that were unimaginable to the people at home.”

The event is named after the last line in Duffy’s poem, in which she mourns those lost in the war. “History might as well be water, chastising this shore; / for we learn nothing from your endless sacrifice. / Your faces drowning in the pages of the sea,” she writes.

Helen Green, head of performance at Sunderland Culture, and producer of the Sunderland and Redcar Pages of the Sea events, said: “It’s a moving, hauntingly beautiful poem – a reminder of the hundreds of thousands of young people who left these shores full of hope and optimism, but who didn’t return. It’s also about the futility of war and the fact that we don’t appear to have learned anything from the sacrifices of a generation.”

In addition to the etching of the casualty into the sand, and Carol Ann Duffy’s poem, the Sunderland event will feature a choir led by Catherine Stephens of The Cornshed Sisters. Singers will perform Look to the Sea, a song written by Bristol singer songwriter Heg Brignall.

The public will also be asked to join in by creating silhouettes of people in the sand, remembering the millions of lives lost or changed forever by the conflict.

The Wound in Time by Carol Ann Duffy

It is the wound in Time. The century’s tides, 

chanting their bitter psalms, cannot heal it. 

Not the war to end all wars; death’s birthing place; 

the earth nursing its ticking metal eggs, hatching 

new carnage. But how could you know, brave 

as belief as you boarded the boats, singing? 

The end of God in the poisonous, shrapneled air. 

Poetry gargling its own blood. We sense it was love 

you gave your world for; the town squares silent, 

awaiting their cenotaphs. What happened next? 

War. And after that? War. And now? War. War. 

History might as well be water, chastising this shore; 

for we learn nothing from your endless sacrifice. 

Your faces drowning in the pages of the sea.