Rhian Gallagher, a contemporary poet from New Zealand, wrote ‘Distant Fields/ANZAC Parade’, remembering her childhood memory of gathering in the ANZAC parade. This military parade is observed every year on 25 April, commemorating and glorifying soldiers’ service in past wars. The term ANZAC stands for Australia and New Zealand Army Corps. The ANZAC day is historically important as on this date, the soldiers of Australia and New Zealand led their first campaigns in World War I. The title of the poem alludes to this event.
Explore Distant Fields/ANZAC Parade
‘Distant Fields/ANZAC Parade’ by Rhian Gallagher is a commemorative poem depicting an ANZAC parade observed on Anzac day.
At the very beginning of the poem, Gallagher presents a band of soldiers parading in memory of those who died fighting for their country. All the soldiers are bearing medals and ribbons hinting at their ranks. According to the speaker, the minds of the soldiers are still at the war. The speaker went to see the ANZAC parade along with her father. Her uncles took part in the parade along with their fellow soldiers. It was hard for her to see the parade from the crowd. Her father lifted her on his shoulders to help her daughter see the parade. At the end of the parade, she was particularly touched by the bugle’s sound that she thought reached the sky.
You can read the full poem here.
Medalled, ribboned chests, an effort
carried through them, the war
still going on inside their heads,
gathered up for roll call.
Rhian Gallagher’s poem ‘Distant Fields/ANZAC Parade’ begins with a description of an ANZAC parade observed every year on 25 April in Australia and New Zealand. The poet shares her experience of attending one such parade commemorating the contribution and suffering of soldiers for their nation. She was very young when she attended the parade along with her father. Using the first-person narration technique, she briefly describes her experience in the past tense.
The soldiers bearing medals and ribbons were marching forward during the ANZAC parade. The speaker thinks the parade is an “effort” to continue the tradition of sacrifice. Those who were in the parade somehow carried on the tradition through their active involvement in the war. Even though they attended the parade in order to remember and sympathize with their fellow soldiers’ suffering on the battlefield, they did not think closely enough about the horrific effects of war. No matter what, they have to continue with their “effort.”
This is why the speaker says that the war was still inside their heads and hearts. The horrific events did not touch or move their mind. In an unemotional fashion, they gathered for the roll call of the parade as they did on the actual battlefield or during military training.
Where all the flowers had gone
As if the grainy footage played above the leafy street
my father lifted me on to his shoulders to see
It was difficult for the speaker to see what was happening around from the crowd. She was curious to know where the parading soldiers kept the flowers that they carried with them. After they paid their respect to the deceased souls, there came a death-like silence. This silence is described by the phrase “quiet of ash.” The “ash” is symbolic of death. When the soldiers put the flowers near the memorial, they stood in their position silently.
The speaker felt as if someone played grainy footage of some old film above the leaf-covered street. Being an adult, her childhood memory of the parade is similar to old, grainy film footage. She can clearly remember how her father lifted her up on his shoulders as she could not witness the important event from the crowd.
My uncles looked to the back of the one in front,
took flight into the bird-light zone.
In the fourth stanza, the speaker describes how her uncles paraded. It could be her own uncles or she is just describing the soldiers as if they were her own uncles. The soldiers behind the one who was in the front turned backward. They marched along with the beating of drums that resonated with the sound of heartbeats.
At the end of the procession, the soldiers blew the bugle that filled the air. They gave the bugle call one after another, which is described by the phrase, “life unto life.” In the final lines, the speaker describes how a single breath in the form of the bugle sound reached where the birds flew. It is a reference to the sky that is metaphorically described as the “bird-light zone.”
Structure and Form
Gallagher’s poem ‘Distant Fields/ANZAC Parade’ is written in free-verse. The poem has no set rhyme scheme or meter. Gallagher uses a number of internal rhymings in the poem. For instance, the first two words, “Medalled” and “ribboned” end with the same rhyme. Structurally, the poem contains five stanzas with four, three, two, two, and three lines, respectively. Like a sonnet, the poem has fourteen lines, but there is no rhyming pattern or metrical scheme. Besides, the lyrical speaker narrates her experience of watching an ANZAC parade from the first-person point of view.
In ‘Distant Fields/ANZAC Parade,’ Gallagher makes use of the following literary devices:
- Enjambment: This device is used throughout the poem. For instance, readers can find run-on lines in the first stanza. Gallagher cuts the sentence in the middle and continues them in the following lines: “Medalled, ribboned chests, an effort/ carried through them, the war/ still going on inside their heads.”
- Metaphor: The phrase “quite of ash” contains a metaphor. Through this phrase, Gallagher refers to the silence after one’s death. This device also occurs in the phrases, “heart-beat drum” and “bird-light zone.”
- Repetition: There is a repetition of the term “line” in “line after line after line.” This repetition depicts the long line formed by the marching soldiers. In the last stanza, “life unto life” contains another repetition.
- Consonance: The recurrence of consonant sounds in closely placed words can be found in “Medalled, ribboned,” “inside their heads,” “roll call,” etc.
The New Zealand poet Rhian Gallagher’s ‘Distant Fields/ANZAC Parade’ is about the ANZAC parade that is observed every year on 25 April. In this poem, the speaker shares her experience of attending the parade with her father when she was a child.
The “bird-light zone” in the last line of the poem is a metaphorical reference to the sky where the birds generally fly. Gallagher describes the sky using the militaristic term “zone.” She depicts how the bugle sound rose high into the sky and filled the air.
The main theme of Gallagher’s poem ‘Distant Fields/ANZAC Parade’ is the memorialization and glorification of soldiers who died fighting for their country. Throughout her poem, the poet describes how she felt when she was attending the ANZAC parade in her childhood.
The following list contains a number of poems that similarly tap on the themes present in Rhian Gallagher’s lyrical piece ‘Distant Fields/ANZAC Parade.’
- ‘Inspection’ by Wilfred Owen — The setting of this poem is a military parade, and it describes the loss and cheapness of soldiers’ lives at the time of war.
- ‘A Ritual to Read to Each Other’ by William Stafford — This poem acts both as a warning and reminder for those who are in relationships regarding the dangers of withholding emotions.
- ‘O What Is That Sound’ by W. H. Auden — This tragic poem reminisces the trauma soldiers and other individuals endure during times of war.
- ‘An Army Corps on the March’ by Walt Whitman — This poem paints an exhaustive and overworked image of the parade of an army brigade.
You can also explore these best-known poems about war.