Bonjour! I will in 2017 be posting French-Canadian poets’ relevant war related poems in the French language and ideally with at least adequate English translations of same!
Great news for 2017! Amongst other plans I will in 2017 be cross-referencing select poems that appear in this blog on YouTube with yours truly reciting such verses! You will thus be able to not only view but hear these poems as well. Thanks everyone for your consideration and support. Please feel free to follow this blog.
The Woman Speaks /
Oh, Death, how kind to bid him rest!
Only his spirit stirs against my breast;
So strong he was that day and brave and gay,
Singing and swinging his sword,
Running to action like a child at play,
Peace, be still!
He must not hear my anguished cry;
Only an old sweet song,
[ sgd. ] B. M. K.
This brief but poignant plus verse was published in “ECHOES: The Official Organ Of The Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire” Issue No. 87, December, 1921, page 53.
The I.O.D.E. was by far the most prominent woman’s war and post-war support group for soldiers, ex-soldiers, returned soldiers and veterans of World War I Canada. The I.O.D.E. sponsored a massive long-term and diverse War Memorial program from 1919 onwards that included scholarships or bursaries to family members of such Canadian war participants, flag presentations, war memorial or monument funding, war memorial or monument unveilings/inaugurations, school lectures/presentations, Canadian artworks (including famously reproductions of official Canadian War Artworks from WWI), etc….
This short verse is interesting socially as overtly manifesting the bereaved immediate family member’s sorrows in contrast to war-time “hero’s death glorification” verses. During the war several I.O.D.E. members penned verses written specifically for their died in the war male relatives in contrast to B. M. K.’s real emotional wallop of loosing her own flesh and blood. How women for such a long period of unanticipated time (several years instead of the few months initially expected in the summer of 1914) coped with such highly stressful life occurrences has never been properly researched. Without question this aspect of the war’s social history encompasses what we now call “secondary trauma.” Even the final word: “lullaby” is symbolic of pathetic family loss of those who have passed on far too young.
Cannon’s roar: Lieutenant Coningsby Dawson’s verse volleys from his “The Glory Of The Trenches” 1918
Photo of Dawson circa 1916 – 1917 taken in Newark, New Jersey, USA by Walters
Lieutenant Coningsby Dawson (born: February 26, 1883 High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, England – died: August 10, 1959) was a 1905 University of Oxford graduate who dropped out of his post-graduate theological studies and travelled to the United States to attempt becoming a writer. In fair measure successful Dawson focused on writing about Canadian subjects for the British press. When the war broke out he traveled to Ottawa and after a long training course at the Royal Military College, Kingston, Ontario he was commissioned in 1916 as a Lieutenant into the Canadian Field Artillery. Serving overseas he was wounded a couple of times and during latter 1917 – 1918 toured the United States to foster recruiting and Allied war support. He published several books during the war about his war experiences and while his prose work is known he did write several poems. From his book “The Glory Of The Trenches” 1918 he published the following war poems,viz.:
p. 5 “To You At Home”
p. 18 “In Hospital”
p. 52 “The Lads Away”
p. 104 “The Glory Of The Trenches”
“To You At Home
Each night we panted till the runners came, Bearing your letters through the battle-smoke. Their path lay up Death Valley spouting flame, Across the ridge where the Hun’s anger spoke In bursting shells and cataracts of pain; Then down the road where no one goes by day, And so into the tortured, pockmarked plain Where dead men clasp their wounds and point the way. Here gas lurks treacherously and the wire Of old defences tangles up the feet; Faces and hands strain upward through the wire, Speaking the anguish of the Hun’s retreat. Sometimes no letters came; the evening hate Dragged on till dawn. The ridge in flying spray Of hissing shrapnel told the runner’s fate; We knew we should not hear from you that day — From you, who from the trenches of the mind Hurl back despair, smiling with sobbing breath, Writing your souls on paper to be kind, That you for us may take the sting from Death.”
Hushed and happy whiteness, Miles on miles of cots, The glad contented brightness Where sunlight falls in spots.
Sisters swift and saintly Seem to tread on grass; Like flowers stirring faintly, Heads turn to watch them pass.
Beauty, blood and sorrow, Blending in a trance — Eternity’s to-morrow In this half-way house of France.
Sounds of whispered talking, Laboured indrawn breath; Then like a young girl walking The dear familiar Death.”
“The Lads Away
All the lads have gone out to play At being soldiers, far away; They won’t be back for many a day, And some won’t be back any morning.
All the lassies who laughing were When hearts were light and lads were here, Go sad-eyed, wandering hither and there — They pray and they watch for the morning.
Every house has its vacant bed And every night, when sounds are dead, Some woman years for the pillowed head Of him who marched out in the morning.
Of all the lads who’ve gone out to play There’s some’ll return and some who’ll stay; There’s some will be back ‘most any day — But some won’t wake up in the morning.”
“The Glory Of The Trenches
We were too proud to live for years When our poor death could dry the tears Of little children yet unborn. It scarcely mattered that at morn, When manhood’s hope was at its height, We stopped a bullet in mid-flight. It did not trouble us to lie Forgotten ‘neath the forgetting sky. So long Sleep was our only cure That when Death piped of rest made sure, We cast our fleshly crutches down, Laughing like boys in Hamelin Town. And this we did while loving life, Yet loving more than home or wife The kindness of a world set free For countless children yet to be.”
As the war dragged on and casualties mounted how did Canadian born or longer term residents in Canada poetically respond to the ultimate sacrifices made? Here is a late war probably written in latter 1917 or the first half of 1918 example of such a poetic response published by the Great War Comrades of Canada in a small undated pamphlet but probably dating from early or mid-1918: “A Treasury of War Poetry.” [ no place / no date ]: Distributed by the Great War Comrades of Canada 32 pages “The Debt” page 15. Unfortunately no author/poet is given! Athough presumably published in Canada with Canada the presumed focus Bignor Hill is of course in Sussex, England on the famous South Downs and the topographical textual focus is distinctly bucolicaly Anglophile!
No more of Canada will they see —
Those men who’ve died for you and me.
So lone and cold they lie; but we,
We still have life; we still may greet
Our pleasant friends in home and street;
We still have life, are able still
To climb the turf of Bignor Hill,
To see the placid sheep go by,
To hear the sheep-dog’s eager cry,
To feel the sun, to taste the rain,
To smell the Autumn’s scents again
Beneath the brown and gold and red
Which old October’s brush has spread,
To hear the robin in the lane,
To look upon the Canadian sky.
Here is a very rare 1916 poem written by Bertrand Lawrence Twinn (born August 27, 1887 near London, England – died: 1972) who served as a clerk in the Canadian Navy during WWI. The poem appeared inside a 1916 Greetings card from the ship. He had previously served in the Royal Navy from 1902 and marrying in 1909 with a daughter born in 1910 and a son in 1912 he probably was one of the huge wave of British immigrants in the few years just before WWI broke out to Canada. This is the first maritime / naval Canadian war poem to appear on this blog and it is fortuitously from a distinctively interesting ship history. HMCS Grilse was a donated American yacht bought by one of Canada’s wealthiest men from Montreal, Quebec and given to the Canadian Navy in July 1915. She served until decommissioned on December 10, 1918. What makes this 1916 dated in print poem quite interesting is that it was written probably whilst the ship was still in Canadian waters and before she departed Halifax, Nova Scotia on December 11, 1916 for the Caribbean Sea and the West Indies (given her structure which with an open bridge and deck was considered a more suitable cruising area for her). Steaming in a major winter North Atlantic storm in mid-December 1916 she was actually reported lost at sea though she entered Shelburne, Nova Scotia 3 days after leaving Halifax (though losing 6 men who had been swept overboard).
Out on the deep when the waves roll high,
When storm clouds scurry o’er sombre sky,
Plunging and rolling this way and that,
Scanning the seas for periscope’s cap.
Steaming along when folks are at rest,
Scorning each danger with many a jest,
Searching for mine or submarine’s lair.
By darkest night and the noonday glare.
Patrolling our beat on trembling keel,
With cheerful hearts and our nerves like steel,
Raging storm or foe — fear there is none;
Our duty’s clear and it SHALL BE DONE.
We dream of our loved ones so far away,
‘Tis them we’re guarding each night and day,
Our glorious Empire to Britons dear,
Her honour’s at stake, we’ll show no fear.
We’ll stick to our task till Vic’trys won,
Bring to his knees the treacherous hun,
Singing songs of the free and the Brave;
Britannia ever shall rule the wave.
Bertrand L. Twinn / 1916″
The Canadian War museum have an excellent collection of contemporary WWI artifacts including even a very unusual cap tally or ribbon for the sailor’s hats of the GRILSE online.
Arthur Lismer one of the Group of Seven and an official Canadian War Artist in WWI also did an often reproduced 1919 dated lithograph of the GRILSE :
From a Great Britain blog “Female Poets of the First World” – List of Female Poets which includes a separate section on Canadian female poets of the war (as of June 26 2016 39 listed!):
The most recent post on this blog refers to a poem attributed to Amelia Earheart. Amelia spent some time in Toronto and indeed was materially induced to become a pilot herself when Royal Air Force pilots took up her up in their training machines at Armour Heights (Toronto). This site is now part of mid-town Toronto, Ontario. Former Knox College is now being converted into a major component of the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Architecture building and is scheduled to open 2016 – 2017. In 1918 Amelia worked as a voluntary aid detachment worker at the Spadina Military Hospital located in the same building. Heritage Toronto has a plaque specifically mentioning Amelia which presumably will be preserved when the Faculty of Architecture opens.