‘The Ode’ – as it is commonly known – is taken from a poem written by the English poet Laurence Binyon. It was first published in The Times (London) on 21 September 1914 and has been recited at commemorative services (not necessarily related to Anzac Day) since 1919.
“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old; Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning We will remember them.”
The audience then responds: “We will remember them.”
Binyon’s use of the word ‘condemn’ has been widely debated in Australia with some scholars claiming it is the result of a typographical error. They claim that Binyon intended to use the word ‘contemn’ (meaning to treat someone with contempt) and not condemn (meaning to strongly disapprove of). According to the AWM and DVA there is no evidence to support such claims.
The poem honoured the World War I British war dead of that time, and in particular the British Expeditionary Force, which by then already had high casualty rates on the developing Western Front. The poem was published when the Battle of the Marne was foremost in people’s minds. Over time, the third and fourth stanzas of the poem (although often just the fourth) were claimed as a tribute to all casualties of war, regardless of state. Laurence Binyon wrote For the Fallen, which has seven stanzas, while sitting on the cliffs between Pentire Point and The Rumps in north Cornwall, UK.
A stone plaque was erected at the spot in 2001 to commemorate the fact.
The plaque bears the inscription:
- For the Fallen
- Composed on these cliffs 1914
There is also a plaque on the beehive monument on the East Cliff above Portreath in central North Cornwall which cites that as the place where Binyon composed the poem.
A quotation appears on the Calgary Soldiers’ Memorial.
A plaque on a statue dedicated to the fallen in Valleta, Malta, is also inscribed with these words:
They went with songs to the battle, they were young.
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England’s foam.