Archive for ‘First World War’

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)

Sunday, 11 November 2018

To Those Who Wait by Donald S. White

Some sing of the glory of war,
Of heroes who die in the fight;
Of the shock of the battle, the roar of the guns,
When the enemies clash by night.

Some mourn the savagery of war,
The shame and the waste of it all;
And they pity the sinfulness of men
Who heard not the Master’s call.

They may be right, and they may be wrong,
But what I’m going to sing
Is not the glory of the war –
But the weariness of the thing.

For most of the time there’s nothing to do
But to sit and think of the past;
And one day comes and slowly dies –
Exactly like the last.

It’s the waiting – seldom talked about –
Oh, it’s rarely ever told –
That most of the bravery at the front –
Is waiting in the cold.

It’s not the dread of the shrapnel’s whine
That sickens a fighting soul;
But the beast in us comes out at times
When we’re waiting in a hole.

In a hole that’s damp and full of rats
The poisoned thoughts will come;
And there are thoughts of long dread days,
Of love, and friends and home.

Just sitting and waiting and thinking
As the dreary days go by
Takes a different kind of courage
From marching out to die.

From: Noakes, Vivien (ed.), Voices of Silence: The Alternative Book of First World War Poetry, 2006, The History Press: Stroud, Gloucestershire, pp. 79-80.
(https://books.google.com.au/books?id=7jxlAAAAMAAJ)

Date: 1918

By: Donald S. White (18??-19??)

Saturday, 10 November 2018

All Souls, 1914 by Gordon Bottomley

On All Souls’ night a year ago
The gentle, ghostly dead
Beat at my thoughts as moths beat low,
Near to my quiet bed,
Upon the pane; I did not know
What words they would have said.

They were remote within my mind.
Remote beyond the pane;
Whether with evil wills or kind,
They could not come again —
They had but swerved, as things resigned
To learn return was vain.

To-night the young uneasy dead
Obscure the moonless night;
Their energies of hope and dread,
Of passion and delight,
Are still unspent; their hearts unread
Surge mutinous in flight.

The life of earth beats in them yet,
Their pulses are not done;
They suffer by their nerves that fret
To feel no wind nor sun;
They fade, but cannot yet forget
Their conflicts are not won.

From: An Annual of New Poetry 1917, 1917, Constable and Company Ltd: London, p. 15.
(https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.39288/)

Date: 1917

By: Gordon Bottomley (1874-1948)

Friday, 9 November 2018

Leave in 1917 by Lilian M. Anderson

Moonlight and death were on the Narrow Seas
moonlight and death and sleep were on the land:
blindfold the lamps of home, but blinding bright
the wheeling, watching, search lamps of war.

To the lone pilot,
Homing like a dove,
his England was no England. Thought he not
of night-hushed fields and elms of sleeping farms
where bats, like swallows, hawked about the eaves,
and the white moonlight still as water lay
upon the farmyard and shippen roofs.
Thought he of hidden forts and hidden camps,
of  furnaces down-slaked to darkness towns
crouched slumbering beneath the threat of death.
North-west he held till, stopping, he could read
the map-small town of Bedford. Up and on.
Northampton, fell behind him, Twenty miles,
and Avon lay, a winding thread of steel,
among its wraith-white meadows.

Low and lower
swept the still wings. Beyond the many roofs,
beyond the chimney-shafts, behind the hills,
the moon hung pallid in an empty sky.
Ached in his throat the scent of morning frost.
The wren-shrill song of every harping wire
was joyful in the silence. Coventry
was yet asleep, but one among the sheds,
new-lit on frosty grass, he found a welcome.

The crystalled dawn grew red, and the sun crept
above the sharp-rimmed hills. And Sheringham,
seeing the rays smoke white athwart the field,
knew that from dawn to dawn, and once again
from dawn to eve, pain-precious every hours,
lay –  God be thanked for it! – two days of leave.

……He travelled south and west.
And still to him his England was no England
But, rocking the motion of the train,
Half-sleeping where he stood, and sleeping quite
Whenever chance and crowds and courtesy
Would give him the leave to rest, he dreamt of war,
Of flights and stunts and crashed’ tattered dreams
Of month-old happenings.

Until at last
his drowsiness was stirred by Devon names –
Exeter, Axminster,
Starcross and Dawlish Warren
and  from his dreams he woke to level waves
that broke on tide-wet shallows
Here was his England, stripped of mail and weapons,
child-sweet and maiden gentle. Here was Spring,
her feet frost-bright among the daffodils.

Four months ago
when ice hung from the ferns beside the spring
and robins came for crumbs, had Sheringham,
new-wedded, brought his wife to Devonshire.
The little house stood half-way up the hill,
with milk-white walls, and slated paths that went
like stepping-stones, from April to October,
among a foam of flowers. Apple trees
leaned from the orchard slopes; the hillside grass
showed apple-green beneath. Four months ago
had ice hung from the ferns beside the spring;
now, he climbed the hillside. Sheringham
saw snowdrops in the grass, and heard the lambs
in the Prior’s Acre and the valley fields
calling and calling, Clear dipped the spring
beside  the orchard-gate.

And ‘God’ he prayed,
for sunset lay along the upper boughs
of every twisted tree, and emerald dusk
lay stirlessly beneath. And, still as dusk
because she feared to meet her happiness,
his wife stood waiting on the orchard-steeps.

From: https://allpoetry.com/Lilian-M-Anderson

Date: 1917

By: Lilian M. Anderson (18??-19??)

Thursday, 26 April 2018

The Unburied by M.R., N.Z. Headquarters

Now snowflakes thickly falling in the winter breeze
Have cloaked alike the hard, unbending ilex
And the grey, drooping branches of the olive trees,
Transmuting into silver all their lead;
And, in between the winding lines, in No-Man’s Land,
Have softly covered with a glittering shroud
The unburied dead.

And in the silences of night, when winds are fair,
When shot and shard have ceased their wild surprising,
I hear a sound of music in the upper air,
Rising and falling till it slowly dies–
It is the beating of the wings of migrant birds
Wafting the souls of these unburied heroes
Into the skies.

From: Bean, C.E.W. (ed.), The Anzac Book, 1916, Cassell & Company: London, p. 69.
(http://davidmhart.com/liberty/WarPeace/Books/The_Anzac_Book1916.pdf)

Date: 1916

By: M. R., N.Z. Headquarters (fl. 1916)