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A Farewell Song for Papaw (Clair Shadwell Smith)

Below is the poem I read at Papaw’s funeral on Saturday. The poem is full of allusions to Papaw’s own poetry and life story, and may or may not make perfect sense to those who didn’t know him.

It was a beautiful service, honoring a beautiful man and celebrating a long, beautiful life. It started with the church bell ringing once for each of his ninety years and ended with full military honors. In between, his daughter sang a beautiful hymn and his son (my Dad) led the service, telling touching stories and the truth about the grace of God. It was a memorable memorial. My brother read a touching poem that I’m amazed he got through and my cousin honored a life of service, including his service in World War II as a ball-turret gunner on a B-17. To end the funeral, Dad asked me to read this poem. I took my 6 year-old son up with me and he recited this passage before I read my poem:

“But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
(1 Corinthians 15:20-26 ESV)

A Farewell Song for Papaw (Clair Shadwell Smith)

A rare gem indeed, this gentle man,
Without a title, and precious, little land,
          But true native soul.

Saw ribbons of highway, held fantasy wars,
With daisies and tenderly, imagined much more,
          Wept over daisies killed.

A ball-turret gunner, with crippling dreams,
How many angels, guarded Chute 13?
          Misnamed as it was.

Rode a flying a fortress, into flak-ridden hell,
You lost Don and many, many others as well.
          Irreplaceable, inescapable loss.

In a Northampton church, an ancestral sound,
There you felt kinfolk, long-laid in the ground.
          Your own, whispering over the years.

It was a true war and now, more daisies cut down,
And gathered to grace the fresh graves in the ground.
          But you came through, at last.

You had a last mission, saw, breaking through clouds,
The fine shore of England, bright as a crown,
          England! and thank God.

You and so many others, fought on gallantly,
Got the hell out of Europe, and set millions free,
          Saved England and endless others.

Home again, then, America for you,
Back to the New World and old life you knew,
          The green, familiar hills.

Married your Myrtle, a family tree grew,
We have these dispatches, of the joy you knew,
          A country poet’s verse.

A daughter to start, and many to come,
A warrior whose quiver brimmed daughters and sons,
          Life, hard and happy, you knew.

You got your own Don, to honor the fallen,
Who served in his turn, then heeded a calling,
          To an even-nobler cause.

And your life was grand, here in your home,
A fine man and good, who was never alone,
          Surrounded by loving ones.

Grandsons competed to be your most beloved,
And maybe all felt that they were, I know I did.
          Each granddaughter was.

And to the great-grands, you were a King out of Faerie,
They loved you and believed your fried eggs legendary,
          Even as I always had.

The last thing I saw, was the best ever done,
You spoke words of blessing to my daughter and son,
          Tender, life-giving words.

And words make up much, of our prized patrimony,
It’s the loving of words, not the words we love, only.
          But oh, what words!

I remember keenly, the great blaze that roared,
In my soul, when over your poems, I poured.
          Reshaping all my life.

And so you did, I suppose, all your days,
Reshaped the world in a thousand bright ways,
          An instrument of God.

Blunt instrument, yes, a man clearly flawed,
But a good man, yes perfect, in the eyes of God,
          Clinging to Christ’s work alone.

What can we say, now here as we lay,
This precious body, down in its grave?
          It’s you, but not you, entire.

When Christ the firstfruits, comes once again,
To make of black death an inglorious end,
          Clair Shadwell Smith shall rise.

Your mission is over, for you, no more war.
You land at last, on a lovelier shore,
          Than England ever was.

12 Comments

  1. Aunt Missy gave me a copy of this and I was just reading it yesterday! Beautiful! You are very talented. I will also always cherish the poem you wrote and read at my mother’s funeral!

  2. Such a beautifully fitting tribute to a very gifted poet. Sam, Dad often said of you that you were a true poet. A high honor coming from him.

  3. Sam, this brought tears to my eye as I think of my dad. He has the same impact on his grandsons. He’s still with us, but the reality of living reminds me time is short. Your papaw would be very proud of you!

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