Archive for ‘First World War’

Monday, 15 November 2021

God! How I Hate You, You Young Cheerful Men! by Arthur Graeme West

On a University Undergraduate moved to verse by the war.

Phrases from H. Rex Feston’s “Quest of Truth”: Poems on Doubt, War, Sorrow, Despair, Hope, Death, Somewhere in France. He was killed in action and was an undergraduate at Exeter.

His attitude is that God is good, amused, rather, at us fighting. “Oh, happy to have lived these epic days,” he writes (of us). This (he had been three years at Oxford) is his address to the Atheists:

“ I know that God will never let me die.
He is too passionate and intense for that.
See how He swings His great suns through the sky,
See how He hammers the proud-faced mountains flat;
He takes a handful of a million years
And flings them at the planets; or He throws
His red stars at the moon; then with hot tears
He stoops to kiss one little earth-born rose.
Don’t nail God down to rules, and think you know!
Or God, Who sorrows all a summer’s day
Because a blade of grass has died, will come
And suck this world up in His Iips, and lo!
Will spit it out a pebble, powdered grey,
Into the whirl of Infinity s nothingless foam.'”

This ruined the reputation of all English Atheists for months!

God! How I hate you, you young cheerful men,
Whose pious poetry blossoms on your graves
As soon as you are in them, nurtured up
By the salt of your corruption, and the tears
Of mothers, local vicars, college deans,
And flanked by prefaces and photographs
From all you minor poet friends—the fools—
Who paint their sentimental elegies
Where sure, no angel treads; and, living, share
The dead’s brief immortality

Oh Christ!
To think that one could spread the ductile wax
Of his fluid youth to Oxford’s glowing fires
And take her seal so ill! Hark how one chants—
“Oh happy to have lived these epic days”—
“These epic days”! And he’d been to France,
And seen the trenches, glimpsed the huddled dead
In the periscope, hung in the rusting wire:
Choked by their sickly fœtor, day and night
Blown down his throat: stumbled through ruined hearths,
Proved all that muddy brown monotony,
Where blood’s the only coloured thing. Perhaps
Had seen a man killed, a sentry shot at night,
Hunched as he fell, his feet on the firing-step,
His neck against the back slope of the trench,
And the rest doubled up between, his head
Smashed like and egg-shell, and the warm grey brain
Spattered all bloody on the parados:
Had flashed a torch on his face, and known his friend,
Shot, breathing hardly, in ten minutes—gone!
Yet still God’s in His heaven, all is right
In the best possible of worlds. The woe,
Even His scaled eyes must see, is partial, only
A seeming woe, we cannot understand.
God loves us, God looks down on this out strife
And smiles in pity, blows a pipe at times
And calls some warriors home. We do not die,
God would not let us, He is too “intense,”
Too “passionate,” a whole day sorrows He
Because a grass-blade dies. How rare life is!
On earth, the love and fellowship of men,
Men sternly banded: banded for what end?
Banded to maim and kill their fellow men—
For even Huns are men. In heaven above
A genial umpire, a good judge of sport,
Won’t let us hurt each other! Let’s rejoice
God keeps us faithful, pens us still in fold.
Ah, what a faith is ours (almost, it seems,
Large as a mustard-seed)—we trust and trust,
Nothing can shake us! Ah, how good God is
To suffer us to be born just now, when youth
That else would rust, can slake his blade in gore,
Where very God Himself does seem to walk
The bloody fields of Flanders He so loves!

From: West, Arthur Graeme, The Diary of a Dead Officer, being the posthumous papers of Arthur Graeme West, 1918, G. Allen & Unwin, Ltd: London, pp. 79-81.
(https://archive.org/details/diaryofdeadoffic00westrich/)

Date: 1918 (published)

By: Arthur Graeme West (1891-1917)

Sunday, 14 November 2021

Last Song by Henry Lamont Simpson

All my songs are risen and fled away;
(Only the brave birds stay);
All my beautiful songs are broken or fled.
My poor songs could not stay
Among the filth and the weariness and the dead.

There was bloody grime on their light, white feathery wings,
(Hear how the lark still sings),
And their eyes were the eyes of dead men that I knew.
Only a madman sings
When half of his friends lie asleep for the rain and the dew.

The flowers will grow over the bones of my friends;
(The birds’ song never ends);
Winter and summer, their fair flesh turns to clay.
Perhaps before all ends
My songs will come again that have fled away.

Written on 13 June 1918.

From: https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/56671822/henry-lamont-simpson

Date: 1918

By: Henry Lamont Simpson (1897-1918)

Saturday, 13 November 2021

Trenches: St Eloi by Thomas Ernest Hulme

(Abbreviated from the Conversation of Mr TEH)

Over the flat slopes of St Eloi
A wide wall of sand bags.
Night,
In the silence desultory men
Pottering over small fires, cleaning their mess-tins:
To and fro, from the lines,
Men walk as on Piccadilly,
Making paths in the dark,
Through scattered dead horses,
Over a dead Belgian’s belly.

The Germans have rockets. The English have no rockets.
Behind the line, cannon, hidden, lying back miles.
Beyond the line, chaos:

My mind is a corridor. The minds about me are corridors.
Nothing suggests itself. There is nothing to do but keep on.

From: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/oct/10/poem-of-the-week-t-e-hulme

Date: 1915

By: Thomas Ernest Hulme (1883-1917)

Friday, 12 November 2021

After a Bad Dream by Gerrit Engelke

I am a soldier and stand in the field
And know of no-one in the world.
Thus I cannot celebrate this rainy day,
So tenderly concerned, damp and leaden
Since at night your image broke my sleep
And brought me near to you.

I am a soldier and stand in the field,
Gun on the arm and far from the world.
Were I at home, I would close door and window
And remain alone for a long time,
Sink into the sofa’s corner,
With closed eyes, think of you.

I am a soldier and stand in the field.
Here the old human world ends.
The rain sings, the wet skeins flow.
I can do nothing – only shoot lead.
Don’t know why, I still do it, as if I must
Into the grey weather a shot cracks!

From: https://warpoets.org.uk/splashpage/blog/poem/after-a-bad-dream/

Date: 1918 (original in German); 2015 (translation in English)

By: Gerrit Engelke (1890-1918)

Translated by: Penelope Monkhouse (19??- )

Thursday, 11 November 2021

After Court Martial by Francis Edward Ledwidge

My mind is not my mind, therefore
I take no heed of what men say,
I lived ten thousand years before
God cursed the town of Nineveh.

The Present is a dream I see
Of horror and loud sufferings,
At dawn a bird will waken me
Unto my place among the kings.

And though men called me a vile name,
And all my dream companions gone,
‘Tis I the soldier bears the shame,
Not I the king of Babylon.

From: Ledwidge, Francis, The Complete Poems of Francis Ledwidge, 1919, Herbert Jenkins Limited: London, p. 252.
(https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Complete_Poems_of_Francis_Ledwidge/Last_Songs/After_Court_Martial)

Date: 1916

By: Francis Edward Ledwidge (1887-1917)

Wednesday, 10 November 2021

Battle on the Marne (September 1914) by Wilhelm Klemm

Slowly the stones begin moving and speaking
The grasses freeze to green metal. The woods,
Deep dense hideouts, devour distant platoons.
The heavens, the chalk-white mystery, threaten to burst.
Two colossal hours roll out to two minutes.
The empty horizon expands upwards

My heart is as large as Germany and France together,
Bored through by all the bullets of the world.
The battery raises its lion voice
Six times out into the land. The shells howl.
Stillness. In the distance the infantry fire seethes,
For days, for weeks.

From: https://warpoets.org.uk/worldwar1/blog/poem/battle-on-the-marne-september-1914/

Date: 1917 (original in German); 2015 (translation in English)

By: Wilhelm Klemm (1881-1968)

Translated by: Penelope Monkhouse (19??- )

Tuesday, 9 November 2021

To Belgium in Exile by Owen Seaman

[Lines dedicated to one of her priests, by whose words they were prompted.]
[Reprinted by permission of the Proprietors of Punch.]

Land of the desolate, Mother of tears,
⁠Weeping your beauty marred and torn,
Your children tossed upon the spears,
⁠Your altars rent, your hearths forlorn,
Where Spring has no renewing spell,
And Love no language save a long Farewell!

Ah, precious tears, and each a pearl
⁠Whose price—for so in God we trust
Who saw them fall in that blind swirl
⁠Of ravening flame and reeking dust—
The spoiler with his life shall pay,
When Justice at the last demands her Day.

O tried and proved, whose record stands
⁠Lettered in blood too deep to fade,
Take courage! Never in our hands
⁠Shall the avenging sword be stayed
Till you are healed of all your pain,
And come with Honour to your own again.

May 19, 1915.

From: Clarke, George Herbert (ed.), A Treasury of War Poetry: British and American Poems of the World War, 1914-1919, 1917, Hodder and Stoughton: London, New York and Toronto, pp. 76-78.
(https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/A_treasury_of_war_poetry,_British_and_American_poems_of_the_world_war,_1914-1919/Belgium)

Date: 1915

By: Owen Seaman (1861-1936)

Monday, 8 November 2021

The Red Cross Spirit by John Huston Finley

“I kneel behind the soldier’s trench,
I walk ‘mid shambles’ smear and stench,
The dead I mourn;
I bear the stretcher and I bend
O’er Fritz and Pierre and Jack to mend
What shells have torn.

“I go wherever men may dare,
I go wherever woman’s care
And love can live;
Wherever strength and skill can bring
Surcease to human suffering,
Or solace give.

“I am your pennies and your pounds;
I am your bodies on their rounds
Of pain afar;
I am you, doing what you would
If you were only where you could—
Your avatar.

“The cross which on my arm I wear,
The flag which o’er my breast I bear,
Is but the sign
Of what you’d sacrifice for him
Who suffers on the hellish rim
Of war’s red line.”

From: Finley, John H., ‘The Red Cross Spirit’ in The Journal of Education, Volume 86, Number 9 (2145), 13 September 1917, p. 229.
(https://www.jstor.org/stable/42829093)

Date: 1917

By: John Huston Finley (1863-1940)

Sunday, 18 July 2021

Not Yet by Edith C M Dart

Someday I’ll know again, maybe,
All that once made Spring rich for me
Strange sense of beauty’s leaping thrill
At the first budding daffodil,
Swift echo of the blackbird’s song
Within the heart; the sudden throng
Of bud and flower the whole wood through
As when … I walked it, once . . . with you.
Surely I shall be glad again
For April meadows after rain,
For hawthorns white along the lea,
Sky bluer than a summer sea.
When years have gone, will earth not show
Once more her treasures ‘neath the snow,
Waking my heart with crocus gold
Against the darkness of the mould?
Shall I rejoice then o’er and o’er
In the great bounty of Earth’s store?
Maybe . . someday . . . when I forget.
Not yet, beloved, ah! not yet!

From: http://femalewarpoets.blogspot.com/2021/05/edith-cm-dart-1873-1924-british-poet.html

Date: 1920

By: Edith C M Dart (1873-1924)

Sunday, 25 April 2021

The Letters of the Dead by Edward George Dyson

A letter came from Dick to-day;
A greeting glad he sends to me.
He tells of one more bloody fray–
Of how with bomb and rifle they
Have put their mark for all to see
Across rock-ribbed Gallipoli.

“How are you doing? Hope all’s well,
I in great nick, and like the work.
Though there may be a brimstone smell,
And other pungent hints of Hell,
Not Satan’s self can make us shirk
Our task of hitting up the Turk.

“You bet old Slacks is not half bad
He knows his business in a scrim.
He gets cold steel, or we are glad
To stop him with a bullet, lad.
Or sling a bomb his hair to trim;
But, straight, we throw no mud at him.

“He fights and falls, and comes again,
And knocks our charging lines about.
He’s game at heart, and tough in grain,
And canters through the leaded rain,
Chock full of mettle–not a doubt
‘T will do us proud to put him out.

“But that’s our job; to see it through
We’ve made our minds up, come what may,
This noon we had our work to do.
The shells were dropping two by two;
We fairly felt their bullets play
Among our hair for half a day.

“One clipped my ear, a red-hot kiss,
Another beggar chipped my shin.
They pass you with a vicious hiss
That makes you duck; but, hit or miss,
It isn’t in the Sultan’s skin
To shift Australia’s cheerful grin.

“My oath, old man, though we were prone
We didn’t take it lying down.
I got a dozen on my own–
All dread of killing now is flown;
It is the game, and, hard and brown,
We’re wading in for freedom’s crown.

“Big guns are booming as I write,
A lad is singing ‘Dolly Grey,’
The shells are skipping in the night,
And, square and all, I feeling right
For, whisper, Ned, the fellows say
I did a ripping thing to-day.

“Soon homeward tramping with the band,
All notched a bit, and with the prize
Of glory for our native land,
I’ll see my little sweetheart stand
And smile, her smile, so sweet and wise–
With proud tears shining in her eyes.

“Geewhiz! What price your humble when
Triumphant from the last attack,
We face a Melbourne crowd again,
Tough, happy, battle-proven men,
And while the cheer-stormed heavens crack
I bring the tattered colors back!”

*   *   *

A mist is o’er the written line
Whence martial ardor seems to flow;
A dull ache holds this heart of mine–
Poor boy, he had a vision fine;
But grave dust clouds the royal glow;
He died in action weeks ago!

He was my friend–I may not weep.
My soul goes out to Him who bled;
I pray for Christ’s compassion deep
On mothers, lovers–all who keep
The woeful vigil, having read
The joyous letters of the dead.

From: Dyson, Edward, ‘Hello, Soldier!’: Khaki Verse, 2005, Project Gutenberg: San Francisco, p.[unnumbered].
(http://www.gutenberg.org/files/16904/16904.txt)

Date: 1915

By: Edward George Dyson (1865-1931)