Ode for the Fallen
The Significance of the Ode
The Ode is derived from the fourth stanza of the poem ‘For the Fallen’ by Lawrence Binyon and is sometimes referred to as ‘Binyon’s Lines’. English poet, dramatist, art scholar and Assistant Keeper of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum, Laurence Binyon (1869–1943) wrote ‘For the Fallen’ in response to the outbreak of the First World War while sitting on The Rumps, Polseath Polzeath, Cornwall. It
was first published in The Times (London) on 21 September 1914 and subsequently in Binyon’s The Winnowing Fan; Poems on the Great War. The composer Edward Elgar set to
music three of Binyon’s poems, including ‘For the Fallen’, as The Spirit of England (1917).
Although too old to enlist in the First World War, Binyon went to the Western Front in 1916 to work for the Red Cross as a medical orderly with an Ambulance Unit. He wrote about his experiences in For Dauntless France (1918). Binyon returned to the British Museum after the war and retired as the Keeper of the Prints and Drawings Department. He died in 1943.
The Ode was used at the unveiling of the Cenotaph in Whitehall London on 11 November 1919 and, like so many remembrance traditions, passed into common usage across the Commonwealth.
History in New Zealand
In New Zealand, and even prior to the unveiling of the Cenotaph in London, Major Fred Waite utilised the third and fourth stanzas from ‘For the Fallen’ as the dedication to the memory of those who died at Gallipoli in his official history of the Gallipoli Campaign, published during 1919. Several First World War memorials also incorporated Binyon’s lines.
The Ode became a part of commemorative services during the 1920s and today is the central feature of the regular, if not daily, remembrance ceremony held at RSA clubs.