Lest We Forget – The Origins of the Ode of Remembrance

Lest We Forget Australia

The phrase “lest we forget” is use most commonly in Australia on Remembrance Day and ANZAC day, and is stated by a ceremonial official as a responsory following a reading of the Ode of Remembrance.

The Ode of Remembrance is drawn from the poem “For the Fallen”, wiritten by celebrated English poet and writer Laurence Binyon. The Ode, and its subsequent responsory “lest we forget”, has been used as a key part of commemoration services in Australia since 1921.

The key part of the Ode is the second stanza, which is stated as follows:

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.

Immediately thereafter, the ceremonial official then states the responsory “lest we forget”, to which the full gathering responds “lest we forget”. This is followed by an extended period of reflectional silence, before the ceremony continues.

On an interesting side note, there has been persistent debate over the years that the word “condemn” on the second line of the second stanza of the Ode should in fact be “contemn”. This stems from the belief that Binyon had in fact used the latter term when writing the poem, but the former term had been used instead as a typographical error when originally published in The Times on 21 September 1914. It is believed by supporters of the usage of the latter term that “contemn”, which means to ‘treat or regard with contempt’, better fits the context of the poem than the term “condemn” which means to ‘express complete disapproval of; censure’ or ‘sentence (someone) to a particular punishment, especially death’. However, this debate seems only to exist primarily in Australia, with most British historical accounts of the original publication of the poem stating that Binyon was a highly educated and articulate man who would not have made such a fundamental semantic error as confusing the meaning of the two terms.

However, regardless of the original meaning of the Ode of Remembrance, its original context of publication and any debate that may exist about its wording, its second stanza, and its companion responsory “lest we forget” will forever mark the deep respect and appreciation that all Australians have for those men and women who have sacrificed their lives in the defence of this country, be at at the shores of Gallipoli, or in contemporary theatres of battle such as Afghanistan.

If you would like to have your own “Lest We Forget” flag for use each year on occasions such as ANZAC Day, Remembrance Day and Australia Day, then you can order one now through the Custom Flags Australia Online Store.

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