We all know that words can heal or hurt, encourage or discouraged. Specific words can mean victory or defeat for a politician. Words can give birth to a child’s joy or bring tears of pain almost unbearable for so small a child with so huge a heart. But have you ever thought of the wide range of emotions and results that one set of words can bring to many different people – the same letters, the same words, the same sentences, written in the same order?
I want to tell you about a poem and its wide ranging influence on three very different people. You have probably never heard of Leo Marks, but I think you will never forget him. Young Leo was born in 1920, in England. He was always interested in puzzles and such things from an early age. So, when his country went to war it made sense for the intelligent 22 year old man to join the secret Special Operations Executive organization. He thought he would be set to work breaking codes, but was disappointed. The only one from his class put to work creating codes. He created codes for the resistance agents to use behind enemy lines.
He met and fell in love with Ruth, a nurse in the air ambulance service. She died in a plane crash in 1943. In his grief he wrote a poem for Ruth and recited it to her while gazing at the stars above in a belief that she would hear his words.
In 1944, he was working with French resistance agents. He devised a code where each agent would remember their own unique code through a line they would remember. One of his trainees, Violette Szabo could not remember her line (and hence her unique code) no matter how hard she tried. So, Leo gave her his poem to Ruth as her new code, and tested her the next morning. She knew it perfectly and never had a problem remembering her code again. She gave Leo a miniature chess set out of gratitude.
Later Violette was captured by the Gestapo in an ambushed. She was tortured and executed with two other female agents while they held hands kneeling on a floor. But her work, along with many of her compatriots, laid the ground work for the invasion at Normandy, D-Day.
After the war Violette’s life story was made into a movie, “Carve Her Name with Pride.” A young boy saw the movie and wrote to Leo asking him what Violette’s code was. The young eight year old boy wrote to Leo in his own code, which Leo had to work hard to break so he could read the letter. The young boy said that he planned on being a spy when he grew up.
The boy’s father enclosed a letter to Leo too, his son was seriously ill. Leo responded to the little boy in the little boy’s own code and included the chess set along with an invitation to visit Leo and meet some of Violette’s fellow spies when he got better. The boy was so delighted when he received his package from Leo that he rallied for a month afterwards and did much better. The miniature chess set and code poem were on a stand by his bed when he died.
This one little poem, written in grief, gave the strength to continue to its author.
This one little poem gave confidence to Violette to do the work that eventually took her life, but saved the lives of thousands upon thousands.
This one little poem gave joy and raised the spirits of one little dying boy.
The life that I have
Is all that I have
And the life that I have
The love that I have
Of the life that I have
Is yours and yours and yours.
A sleep I shall have
A rest I shall have
Yet death will be but a pause.
For the peace of my years
In the long green grass
Will be yours and yours and yours.
Grief, confidence, joy, courage, life and death, so much meaning to three very different people – what does it mean to you?