Archive for ‘First World War’

Sunday, 26 April 2020

Demobbed by Donald Henry Lea

And as no splendid vision came my way,
As soldier-men are apt to live ‒ from day to day ‒
I lived; and ate my rations, had my smoke,
With fear’s head (like an ostrich) hid in joke.
More oft with somewhat frank and lurid speech
Gibed at the joys of battle poets preach ‒
Strange ‘joy’ that lair’d with rats and fear,
Fled when a barrage fell so near, so near!
Then rest was mine, and rest and peace did bring
Transition and a self-examining;
How one had fail’d! The great became the small.
Walks humbleness my brothers with you all?
No idle curiosity doth bring
My pen to frame so blunt a questioning.

From: Ricketts, Harry, “’Fear’s head hid in joke’: Donald H. Lea and Alfred Clark, Two New Zealand First World War Poets” in New Zealand Literature, Vol. 33, No. 2, December 2015, pp. 59-60.
(https://search-informit-com-au.ezproxy-f.deakin.edu.au/documentSummary;dn=652525097687761;res=IELLCC)

Date: 1919

By: Donald Henry Lea (?1879-1960)

Saturday, 25 April 2020

An Epitaph by Charles Rischbieth Jury

You who shall come, exalt these childless dead
As your great fathers, from whose fire you are bred;
The dead beget you now, for now they give
Their hope of sons, that you, their sons, may live.

From: T.W.E., E.F.A.G. and D.L.S., Oxford Poetry 1918, 1918, B. H. Blackwell: Oxford, p. 35.
(https://archive.org/details/oxfordpoetry1918oxfouoft)

Date: 1918

By: Charles Rischbieth Jury (1893-1958)

Saturday, 28 March 2020

Neutral by John Hogben

Spoken in the name of the Allies.

Her spawn of spies — forerunners — filled the world;
Right from its ancient pedestal was hurled;
Rapine and lust, twin-sisters, followed fast
Upon her cloven footprints as she passed
From fury unto fury, demon-driven,
Vaunting the while her kinship still with Heaven;
She broke on every hand the laws of war;
Fair chivalry forsook her evermore:
She turned and smote each gallant little land
That to the death took up its valorous stand
In front of her amazing march of Hell,
Till, loyal to the last, each, fighting, fell.
To stay her course, — was it not Freedom’s task?
“How shall I help?” surely the thing to ask.
We fought the whole world’s battle, yet there stood
Her future victims in a doubting mood, —
Faint calling on the god of war to cease,
While smoking their war-gilded pipes of peace:
Some were too proud to fight; too timid some;
Much cried for protest — but their lips were dumb:
As if, forsooth, morality were dead,
And devil-worship reigned alone instead;
As if — and this the years to come will show —
To save their own our braver blood must flow.
On Europe’s chart, as it is known to-day,
Satanic fingers hellish pigments lay:
‘Tis monstrous, surely, crimson crimes’ imprint
Should neighbour be to any neutral tint!

From: Hogben, John, The Highway of Hades: War Verses: With Some Prose, 1919, Oliver and Boyd: Edinburgh, p. 52.
(https://archive.org/details/highwayofhadeswa00hogb/)

Date: 1916

By: John Hogben (18??-19??)

Friday, 20 December 2019

The Ballad of Private Chadd by Alan Alexander Milne

I sing of George Augustus Chadd,
Who’d always from a baby had
A deep affection for his Dad —
In other words, his Father;
Contrariwise, the father’s one
And only treasure was his son,
Yes, even when he’d gone and done
Things which annoyed him rather.

For instance, if at Christmas (say)
Or on his parent’s natal day
The thoughtless lad forgot to pay
The customary greeting.
His father’s visage only took
That dignified reproachful look
Which dying beetles give the cook
Above the clouds of Keating.

As years went on such looks were rare;
The younger Chadd was always there
To greet his father and to share
His father’s birthday party;
The pink “For auld acquaintance sake”
Engraved in sugar on the cake
Was his. The speech he used to make
Was reverent but hearty.

The younger Chadd was twentyisih
When War broke out, but did not wish
To get an A.S.C. commish
Or be a rag-time sailor;
Just Private Chadd he was, and went
To join his Dad’s old regiment,
While Dad (the dear old dug-out) sent
For red tabs from the tailor.

To those inured to war’s alarms
I need not dwell upon the charms
Of raw recruits when sloping arms.
Nor tell why Chadd was hoping
That, if his sloping-powers increased.
They’d give him two days’ leave at least
To join his Father’s birthday feast . . .
And so resumed his sloping.

One morning on the training ground.
When fixing bayonets, he found
The fatal day already round.
And, even as he fixed, he
Decided then and there to state
To Sergeant Brown (at any rate)
His longing to congratulate
His sire on being sixty.

“Sergeant,” he said, “we’re on the eve
Of Father’s birthday; grant me leave”
(And here his bosom gave a heave)
“To offer him my blessing;
And, if a Private’s tender thanks —
Nay, do not blank my blanky blanks!
I could not help but leave the ranks;
Birthdays are more than dressing.”

The Sergeant was a kindly soul.
He loved his men upon the whole.
He’d also had a father’s rôle
Pressed on him fairly lately.
“Brave Chadd,” he said, “thou speakest sooth!
O happy day! O pious youth!
Great,” he extemporized, “is Truth,
And it shall flourish greatly.”

The Sergeant took him by the hand
And led him to the Captain, and
The Captain tried to understand.
And (more or less) succeeded;
“Correct me if you don’t agree.
But one of you wants what?” said he,
And George Augustus Chadd said, “Me!”
Meaning of course that he did.

The Captain took him by the ear
And gradually brought him near
The Colonel, who was far from clear.
But heard it allpolitely.
And asked him twice, “You want a what?
The Captain said that he did not.
And Chadd saluted quite a lot
And put the matter rightly.

The Colonel took him by the hair
And furtively conveyed him where
The General inhaled the air,
Immaculately booted;
Then said,“ Unless I greatly err
This Private wishes to prefer
A small petition to you. Sir,”
And so again saluted.

The General inclined his head
Towards the two of them and said,
“Speak slowly, please, or shout instead;
I’m hard of hearing, rather.”
So Chadd, that promising recruit.
Stood to attention, clicked his boot.
And bellowed, with his best salute,
A happy birthday, Father!

From: Milne, A. A., The Sunny Side, 1922, E. P. Dutton & Company: New York, pp. 150-153.
(https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.168192/)

Date: 1922

By: Alan Alexander Milne (1882-1956)

Tuesday, 12 November 2019

The Dead Poet by Edward Richard Buxton Shanks

When I grow old they’ll come to me and say:
Did you then know him in that distant day?
Did you speak with him, touch his hand, observe
The proud eyes’ fire, soft voice and light lips’ curve?
And I shall answer: This man was my friend;
Call to my memory, add, improve, amend
And count up all the meetings that we had
And note his good and touch upon his bad.

When I grow older and more garrulous,
I shall discourse on the dead poet thus:
I said to him … he answered unto me …
He dined with me one night in Trinity . . .
I supped with him in King’s . . . Ah, pitiful
The twisted memories of an ancient fool
And sweet the silence of a young man dead!
Now far in Lemnos sleeps that golden head,
Unchanged, serene, for ever young and strong,
Lifted above the chances that belong
To us who live, for he shall not grow old
And only of his youth there shall be told
Magical stories, true and wondrous tales,
As of a god whose virtue never fails,
Whose limbs shall never waste, eyes never fall,
And whose clear brain shall not be dimmed at all.

From: Shanks, Edward, Poems, 1916, Sidgwick & Jackson: London, p. 39.
(https://archive.org/details/poemssha00shanuoft/)

Date: 1915

By: Edward Richard Buxton Shanks (1892-1953)

Monday, 11 November 2019

The Rainbow by Leslie Coulson

I watch the white dawn gleam,
To the thunder of hidden guns.
I hear the hot shells scream
Through skies as sweet as a dream
Where the silver dawnbreak runs.
And stabbing of light
Scorches the virginal white.
But I feel in my being the old, high, sanctified thrill,
And I thank the gods that dawn is beautiful still.

From death that hurtles by
I crouch in the trench day-long
But up to a cloudless sky
From the ground where our dead men lie
A brown lark soars in song.
Through the tortured air,
Rent by the shrapnel’s flare,
Over the troubless dead he carols his fill,
And I thank the gods that the birds are beautiful still.

Where the parapet is low
And level with the eye
Poppies and cornflowers glow
And the corn sways to and fro
In a pattern against the sky.
The gold stalks hide
Bodies of men who died
Charging at dawn through the dew to be killed or to kill.
I thank the gods that the flowers are beautiful still.

When night falls dark we creep
In silence to our dead.
We dig a few feet deep
And leave them there to sleep –
But blood at night is red,
Yea, even at night,
And a dead man’s face is white.
And I dry my hands, that are also trained to kill,
And I look at the stars – for the stars are beautiful still.

From: https://www.firstworldwar.com/poetsandprose/coulson.htm

Date: 1917 (published)

By: Leslie Coulson (1889-1916)

Sunday, 10 November 2019

Spiders by Ethel Talbot Scheffauer

(To All Munitions Profiteers)

The lean grey spiders sat in their den
And they were starved and cold—
They said—Let there be strife among men
That we may gather gold.

The young men at their toil were brothers
Over all the earth;
The proud eyes of all their mothers
Praised them with equal worth.

There came a word in the ears of the young men,
And they believed and heard,
And there was fire in the eyes of the young men
Because of that word.

Give yourselves to be shattered and broken,
Said the spiders aloud;
And know your enemy by this token
Out of the spider-crowd.

He that has in his eyes a flame,
And in his hands a trust!—
Him shall ye smite in Heaven’s name—
And they played with their yellow dust.

And over the world from morn till even
The young men awoke and heard,
And slew their like by seventy and seven
Because of the word.

And every one that died of the young men
Cried with the same voice
And the spiders at the fall of the young men
Crided from their dens—Rejoice—

And every mother of all the mothers
Bled from the same heart;
Yet cried to the young men that were brothers,
“In God’s name depart.”

And the spiders sat in their lighted palace
And feasted no more a-cold—
And redly, out of a burning chalice,
Gathered their minted gold.

From: Newman, Vivien, Tumult and Tears: The Story of the Great War Through the Eyes and Lives of its Women Poets, 2016, Pen & Sword History: Barnsley, South Yorkshire, pp. 28-29.
(https://books.google.com.au/books?id=A8YCDQAAQBAJ)

Date: 1927

By: Edith Talbot Scheffauer (1888-1976)

Tuesday, 23 April 2019

After Loos by Patrick MacGill

Was it only yesterday
Lusty comrades marched away?
Now they’re covered up with clay.

Seven glasses used to be
Called for six good mates and me —
Now we only call for three.

Little crosses neat and white,
Looking lonely every night,
Tell of comrades killed in fight.

Hearty fellows they have been,
And no more will they be seen
Drinking wine in Nouex les Mines.

Lithe and supple lads were they,
Marching merrily away —
Was it only yesterday?

From: https://www.poetrynook.com/poem/after-loos

Date: 1917

By: Patrick MacGill (1889-1963)

Tuesday, 25 December 2018

Christmas: 1915 by Percy MacKaye

Now is the midnight of the nations: dark
Even as death, beside her blood-dark seas,
Earth, like a mother in birth agonies,
Screams in her travail, and the planets hark
Her million-throated terror. Naked, stark,
Her torso writhes enormous, and her knees
Shudder against the shadowed Pleiades
Wrenching the night’s imponderable arc.

Christ! What shall be delivered to the morn
Out of these pangs, if ever indeed another
Morn shall succeed this night, or this vast mother
Survive to know the blood-spent offspring, torn
From her racked flesh?—What splendour from the smother?
What new-wing’d world, or mangled god still-born?

From: https://poems.khutchins.com/poem/489_christmas-.html

Date: 1917

By: Percy MacKaye (1875-1956)

Monday, 12 November 2018

The Silence by Arthur St John Adcock

In the bleak twilight, when the roads are hoar
And mists of early morning haunt the down,
His Mother shuts her empty cottage door
Behind her, in the lane beyond the town:
Her slow steps on the highway frosty white
Ring clear across the moor, and echo through
The drowsy town, to where the station’s light
Signals the 7.10 to Waterloo.

Some wintry flowers in her garden grown,
And some frail dreams, she bears with her to-day –
Dreams of the lad who once had been her own,
For whose dear sake she goes a weary way
To find in London, after journeying long,
The Altar of Remembrance, set apart
For such as she, and join the pilgrim throng
There, at that Mecca of the Broken Heart.

Princes and Lords in grave procession come
With wondrous wreaths of glory for the dead;
Then the two minutes smite the City dumb,
And memory dims her eyes with tears unshed;
The silence breaks, and music strange and sad
Wails, while the Great Ones bow in homage low;
And still she knows her little homely lad
Troubles no heart but hers in all the Show.

And when beside the blind stone’s crowded base,
’Mid the rich wreaths, she lays her wintry flowers,
She feels that, sleeping in some far-off place
Indifferent to these interludes of ours,
No solace from this marshalled woe he drains,
And that the stark Shrine stands more empty here
Than her own cottage, where the silence reigns,
Not for brief minutes, but through all the year.

From: https://allaboutheaven.org/observations/knight-dame-laura-and-st-john-adcock-024352/221

Date: 1930

By: Arthur St John Adcock (1864-1930)