The Invisible Poets of WW1
The creative flowering spurred by the First World War was not restricted to men. But whilst too many poets have been forgotten in the last 100 years, all but a few of the women who wrote have disappeared and with it the suffering and experiences of women and the war viewed from the female perspective, has been almost obliterated from history. In a shallow attempt to redress this, we present the lives and work of some women poets of the Great War.
The website 'Female War Poets Blogspot' lists an astonishing 676 British female poets alive during WW1 and a similar number from the other nations involved in the war. [Note that not all of these wrote poetry about the great war.] It is a fantastic resource for anyone wishing to learn more about the women who wrote 'war poetry' . There is a link below.
There are three key strands to the war for women.
As men left to fight, women were called to take their place working in factories, docks, armaments, on the land, running public and industrial transport. It brought new freedoms and experiences for women which would spur the demand for the vote and equality. It also bought additional challenges as many men resented the intrusion of women into the world of work.
Some women sought a closer involvement, enlisting as nurses and in other occupations closer to the killing and dying. For these women, war was as real as it was for the men they supported.
On enlistment, the overwhelming majority of men gave a woman as their next of kin - wife, mother, sister or sweetheart. As a result, the terrible news that a loved one was dead or missing in action was almost always received by a woman.
These female perspectives provide a different viewpoint on and experience of the war which is critical to our proper understanding of its scale and devastation.
Female War Poets Blog http://femalewarpoets.blogspot.com/p/female-poets-of-first-world-war-revised.html
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Born in Leicester and educated in the North London Collegiate School for Girls, Jessie Pope was a prolific writer and her work was widely published. She wrote over 170 humorous verses for Punch magazine between 1902 and 1922 leading to her being known as the “foremost woman humourist” in England.
After his death from TB, she edited Robert Tressell's novel of class struggle "The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists" published in 1914. Two books of poetry were published before the war, "Paper Pellets" (1906) and "Airy Nothings" (1909).
Her reputation rests on the patriotic verses she wrote during World War I, published in the Daily Mail and other papers and published as collections after the war ended. They typify the popular romanticized myth of the war glorifying combat and exhorting men to fight. Pope’s poems have been cricised as jingoistic doggerel. Wilfred Owen ironically dedicated "Dulce et Decorum Est" to her, though he subsequently removed the dedication.
After the war, Jessie Pope continued writing including novels, poetry and children's stories. She died in Devon in 1941
There's the girl who clips your ticket for the train,
And the girl who speeds the lift from floor to floor,
There's the girl who does a milk-round in the rain,
And the girl who calls for orders at your door.
Strong, sensible, and fit,
They're out to show their grit,
And tackle jobs with energy and knack.
No longer caged and penned up,
They're going to keep their end up
Till the khaki soldier boys come marching back.
There's the motor girl who drives a heavy van,
There's the butcher girl who brings your joint of meat,
There's the girl who cries 'All fares, please!' like a man,
And the girl who whistles taxis up the street.
Beneath each uniform
Beats a heart that's soft and warm,
Though of canny mother-wit they show no lack;
But a solemn statement this is,
They've no time for love and kisses
Till the khaki soldier-boys come marching back
1886 - 1968
One of the most remarkable women to have served in the First World War, May Borden is the outstanding female poet of the war and author of The Forbidden Zone, a collection of stories about her time as a nurse running a field hospital at the Somme.
Mary Borden (known as May) was the daughter of a Chicago millionaire. After his death she embarked on a world tour to escape her evangelical mother and settled in India with her first husband, a missionary. Her first novel was published in 1912 and a year later she moved her family to London. She was arrested for throwing a stone at the Treasury during a Suffrage demonstration shortly after her arrival. She became part of the literary circle, mixing with Ford Madox Ford, E.M. Forster, George Bernard Shaw and Ezra Pound. She became the patron and lover of the painter Wyndham Lewis.
At the outbreak of WW1, she funded a front line mobile hospital for the French Army, earning medals for her bravery under fire. She ran the biggest military hospital during the battle of the Somme.
Although famous as a novelist her greatest work was the poetry she wrote during the Somme although it went out of circulation until republished in 2008. Though many hundreds of poems sent from the trenches were of love, May Borden is the only known poet to write a 'love poem' from the Somme!
She met her second husband, Captain Edward Louis Spears, during the war setting up home in Paris, where she was host to writers, poets, artists and politicians. Their affair and marriage provoked an unpleasant custody battle over May’s three daughters who were kidnapped by their father. Her marriage to Spears endured for 50 years, despite his affair with his secretary that lasted almost as long.
In the interwar years May became an international, best-selling author, with literary friends such as Noel Coward, Freya Stark and Cyril Connolly. Her novels were often boundary breaking and controversial. Although their first film was shelved because of censorship, she made films with Alexander Korda and was sued by the Catholic Herald for her down to earth portrayal of Mary of Nazareth. A book advocating divorce and pre-marital sex caused a storm of protest. Although she helped her husband when he stood for parliament, she was an outspoken critic of government policy, campaigned for women’s rights and a vehement opponent of appeasement.
In WW2 she once again ran mobile hospitals at the front and had a terrifying escape during the fall of France. Back in England she became involved with the Free French and took a new unit to the M iddle East whilst helping her husband as first minister in the Levant.
She continued writing after the war publishing her last novel at the age of 70. She helped her nephew-in-law, Adlai Stevenson, run for presidency, writing some of his speeches. She was a guest of Albert Einstein’s at his home in Princeton where they debated, among other things, the existence of God. Until the end of her life in 1968, Mary was a high-profile public figure who supported young writers and artists and campaigned tirelessly for various causes.
The complete collection of her poetry was not published until 2015. Paul O'Prey who edited "Poems of Love and War" describes her as “the great forgotten voice of the war – the outstanding female voice of the first world war”.
In 2018 one of Borden’s ‘Sonnets to a Soldier’, was set to music by composer Mira Calix, who was commissioned by the Tower of London to create a soundscape as part of their Armistice Centenary project, "Beyond the Deepening Shadow" an art installation which saw the moat filled with thousands of tiny flames as Borden’s poem was played.
Note - for copyright reasons we are unable to reproduce May Borden's poems
For more information, visit :
We recommend - At The Somme: The Song Of Mud
1893 - 1970
Daughter of wealthy paper manufacturer Vera Mary Brittain educated in her aunts private school. Despite her father's initial objections, she read English Literature at Somerville College, Oxford delaying her degree after one year in the summer of 1915 to work as a Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) nurse England, Malta and France during WW1. Her fiancé Roland Leighton, her brother Edward and close friends Victor Richardson and Geoffrey Thurlow were all killed in the war. The pain of their loss and her experiences as a nurse led her to become a pacifist and to write her great work "Testament of Youth".
Returning to Oxford after the war to read history, where close friends and contemporaries included Winifred Holtby and Dorothy L Sayers.
She married George Catlin a political scientist in 1925. Their children were John Brittain-Catlin an artist, businessman and author and the politician Shirley Williams.
Brittain's first published novel, "The Dark Tide" (1923), caused a scandal for its caricature of Oxford. Ten years later, 15 years after the end of WW1 she poured her sorrow into the work for which she is famous, "Testament of Youth". followed by "Testament of Friendship" in 1940 which chronicles her friendship with Holtby and "Testament of Experience" in 1957). She also published novels, polemics and poetry.
As a prominent pacifist she faced often vitriolic opposition notably over her criticism of carpet bombing in WW2. It was later discovered that she was among nearly 3,000 people listed in the Nazi's 'Black Book' to be immediately arrested in Britain after a German invasion.
Vera Brittain died in Wimbledon in 1970, aged 76. At her request, her ashes were scattered on the grave of her brother Edward on the Asiago Plateau in Italy – "...for nearly 50 years much of my heart has been in that Italian village cemetery"
Note - for copyright reasons we are unable to reproduce Vera Brittain's poems
We recommend - Perhaps and Hospital Sanctuary
May Wedderburn Cannan
Daughter of a publisher and Dean of Trinity College, Oxford, May Wedderburn Cannan and her sisters created a family magazine, even publishing their own anthology The Tripled Crown when she was 14 with an introductory poem by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch a family friend.
During World War I, Cannan volunteered with the Oxford Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) and helped publish government propaganda with Clarendon Press. She volunteered running a railway canteen in France in 1915.
The experience inspired her most famous poem, “Rouen.” Unaware that she could enlist in the Red Cross, she returned to work at the Oxford University Press. When the Armistice was declared, Cannan was working for MI5 in the 'British Mission' in Paris.
Cannan published three books of poetry: In War Time (1917), The Splendid Days (1919), dedicated to her fiancée Bevil Quiller-Couch who died in the influenza pandemic of 1919, and The House of Hope (1923). Working as assistant editor of 'Oxford Magazine' she met and married Percival James Slater in 1923. Slater had contacted her because of his admiration for her poetry. She published one more book in her lifetime, the fictionalized memoir The Lonely Generation (1934). Slater’s reaction led her to give up publishing. Her autobiography Grey Ghosts and Voices (1976) was published posthumously. Her poems were included in an anthology by (among others) Philip Larkin. Her poetry and correspondence with Quiller-Couch were edited by her great-niece Charlotte Fyfe and published as The Tears of War: the Love Story of a Young Poet and a War Hero (2000).
Note - for copyright reasons we are unable to reproduce May Wedderburn-Cannan's poems
For more information, visit :
We recommend - August 1914 and After The War
1887 - 1977
Daughter of the poet laureate Robert Bridges, Elizabeth Daryush followed her father's lead in choosing poetry as her life's work writing in a similar traditional style. The themes of her work are often critical of the upper classes and the social injustice they imposed on others.
Her first two books of rather conventional poems were published under the name Elizabeth Bridges while still in her twenties. These include her war poems and, along with another written in her thirties, were later disowned by her. They have been criticised as being old fashioned in style. She met Ali Akbar Daryush whilst at Oxford and married in her mid- thirties living in Persia for four years, and her poetry changed significantly becoming critically aware social injustice.
Note - for copyright reasons we are unable to reproduce Elizabeth Dayrush's poems
We recommend - Flanders Fields and Subalterns
Eveline Jessie Dobell (Eva) was the daughter of a Cheltenham wine merchant and the niece of the Victorian poet Sydney Dobell. She volunteered as a nurse in the Voluntary aid Detachment (VAD) as a nurse in WW1. Deeply distressed by the suffering and loss of life she experienced led her to write poetry about the wounded soldiers she nursed and take part in the morale-boosting work of writing to prisoners of war. Her poem "Night Duty," is often cited as one by a female war-poet that shares the experiences of male poets such as Owen and Sassoon.
Though she lived most of her life in the Cotswolds, she also travelled extensively to Europe and North Africa, helped and encouraged young poet and campaigned for the protection of both wildlife and the countryside.
Note - this poem is copyright but has been released for educational purposes
We recommend - Advent 1916
Crippled for life at seventeen,
His great eyes seems to question why:
with both legs smashed it might have been
Better in that grim trench to die
Than drag maimed years out helplessly.
A child - so wasted and so white,
He told a lie to get his way,
To march, a man with men, and fight
While other boys are still at play.
A gallant lie your heart will say.
So broke with pain, he shrinks in dread
To see the 'dresser' drawing near;
and winds the clothes about his head
That none may see his heart-sick fear.
His shaking, strangled sobs you hear.
But when the dreaded moment's there
He'll face us all, a soldier yet,
Watch his bared wounds with unmoved air,
(Though tell-tale lashes still are wet),
And smoke his Woodbine cigarette.
1881 – 1965
Eleanor Farjeon is most famous for the many children's stories she wrote and for her hymn "Morning Has Broken" written in 1931 to an old Scottish tune and a hit recording for Cat Stevens in 1971 but she wrote plays, poetry, biography, history and satire. Many of her works for children were ilustrated by Edward Ardizzone and she received several literary awards for them including the first Hans Christian Anderson Award in 1956. A children's literature award is presented annually in her honour.
She was the sister of a thriller writer Joseph Jefferson Farjeon and composer Harry Farjeon, daughter of a novelist and granddaughter of a US actor and began writing on her fathers typewriter at the age of seven! At 18 she wrote the libretto of an opera set by her brother Harry which was produced by the Royal Academy of Music.
Known as "Nellie", she was a timid child who was educated at home, spending much of her time in the attic, surrounded by books. Her father encouraged her writing from the age of five when also began to create characters from plays and books with her brother Harry. Her childhood became the inspiration for her children's books.
She became a close friend of the Welsh poet Edward Thomas (see "The Lost Poets") and his wife Helen whom she supported in the years after his death in 1916, encouraging her to write.
Her literary friends Walter De La Mare, D.H. Lawrence, Robert Frost and Edward Thomas and his wife who she helped through the grief of Thomas's death in WW1. Thomas wrote to her from the trenches and her poem "Easter Monday" [Thomas was killed on Easter Monday April 9 1917 the first day of the Battle of Arras] was her response to his death.
Now that you too must shortly go the way
Which in these bloodshot years uncounted men
Have gone in vanishing armies day by day,
That Easter Monday was a day for praise,
It was such a lovely morning. In our garden
We sowed our earliest seeds, and in the orchard
The apple –bud was ripe. It was the eve.
There are three letters that you will not get.
Although Farjeon did not serve in the war, her poems from that time are poignant and express a distinctive understanding of the sacrifices and cruelty of WW1.
After the war, Farjeon earned a living as a poet, journalist and broadcaster. Her work for The Herald, Reynolds News and New Leader is some of the most accomplished of any socialist poet of the 1920s and 30s. She died in 1965.
Note - for copyright reasons we are unable to reproduce Eleanor Farjeon's poems
We recommend - Easter Monday and Now That You Must Shortly Go
Anna Gordon Keown
1899 - 1957
Anna Gordon Keown was an author and poet. She was married to a physician Philip Gosse son of the poet Edmund Gosse. Her best known work was a comic drama "The Cat Who Saw God" about a cat who settles down with an elderly spinster after becoming possessed by the spirit of the Emperor Nero!
Another is a sonnet she wrote during WW1 entitled "Reported Missing" It received the notable distinction of being a poem from the Great War written by a woman studied at GCSE (OCR Syllabus
Scornful I hear the flat things they have said
And all their piteous platitudes of pain.
[Extract from "Reported Missing"]
Note - for copyright reasons we are unable to reproduce Anna Gordon Keown's poems
We recommend - Reported Missing
Winifred Mary Letts
1882 - 1972
Winifred Letts was born in Salford but returned to her mother's home in Dublin Ireland after the death of her father a vicar. She trained as a masseuse and during WW1 worked at army camps in Manchester.
She began her career writing two one-act plays for the famous Abbey Theatre in Dublin before starting to write novels and children's books. Her first poetry collection, "Songs from Leinster", was published in 1913 though six of her poems had been set to music by the composer C.V. Stanford. She contined to publish poetry whilst working as a nurse during WW1. Her poem "The Deserter" " written in 1916 described the feelings and fate of a man terrified by the war and often appears in collections of WW1 poetry.
They might not heed his frightened eyes,
They shot him when the dawn was grey,
Blindfolded when the dawn was grey,
[Extract from "The Deserter"]
Note - for copyright reasons we are unable to reproduce Winifred Letts's poems
We recommend - The Deserter and The Spires of Oxford
Katharine Tynan/Katherine Tynan Hickson
1859 - 1931
Katharine Tynan was an Irish novelist and poet. She wrote under her own name and as Katherine Tynan Hickson or Katherine Hickson after her marriage an English writer and barrister Henry Albert Hinkson.
She was born in Dublin and educated at a convent school in Drogheda. Her first poetry was published when she was 19.. A major figure in Dublin literary circles until she married and moved to England, she was a close friend of Gerard Manley Hopkins, William Butler Years (who may have proposed marriage and been rejected by her), and corresponded with Francis Ledwidge*.
She was a prodigious author writing over 100 novels, several collections of poetry and five autobiographical volumes.
Her war poetry expresses a distinctly female perspective
A Song For The New Year (1915)
THE Year of the Sorrows went out with great wind:
Lift up, lift up, O broken hearts, your Lord is kind,
And He shall call His flock home where no storms be
Into a sheltered haven out of sound of the sea.
There shall be bright sands there and a milken hill,
They shall lie in the sun there and drink their fill,
They shall have dew and shade there and grass to the knee,
Safe in a sheltered haven out of sound of the sea.
He shall bind their wounds up and their tears shall cease:
They shall have sweetest pillows and a bed of ease.
Come up, come up and hither, O little flock, saith He,
Ye shall have sheltered havens out of sound of the sea.
The first day of New Year strewed the sea with dead.
Lift up, lift up, O broken heart and hanging head!
The Lord walks on the waters and a Shepherd is He
They shall have sheltered havens out of sound of the sea.
Joining the Colours
There they go marching all in step so gay!
Smooth-cheeked and golden, food for shells and guns.
Blithely they go as to a wedding day,
The mothers' sons.
The drab street stares to see them row on row
On the high tram-tops, singing like the lark.
Too careless-gay for courage, singing they go
Into the dark.
With tin whistles, mouth-organs, any noise,
They pipe the way to glory and the grave;
Foolish and young, the gay and golden boys
Love cannot save.
High heart! High courage! The poor girls they kissed
Run with them : they shall kiss no more, alas!
Out of the mist they stepped-into the mist
Singing they pass.
Dame Margaret Isabel Cole, DBE
1893 - 1980
Margaret Isabel Postgate was a Socialist politician, writer and poet. She was married to the Fabian political theorist and historian G.D.H. Cole with whom she wrote several detective stories. She held several important posts in London government in the period after the Second World War.
Margaret was educated at Roedean School and Girton College Cambridge where reading H.G.Wells and George Bernard Shaw led her to reject her background and become a Socialist. Athough Cambridge did not actual reward female students with a degree until 1947, she went on to be a classics teacher.
Her poem "The Falling Leaves" is another of the handful of poems b is another of the handful of WW1 poems by a woman to be on a GCSE syllabus.
For thinking of a gallant multitude
Which now all withering lay,
Slain by no wind of age or pestilence,
But in their beauty strewed
Like snowflakes falling on the Flemish clay.
[Extract from The Falling Leaves]
During the war she campaigned against conscription in support of her brother Raymond Postgate a pacifist. She married in a registry office in August 1918 and went on to work for the Fabian Society with her husband. Margaret abandoned her pacifism in reaction to the suppression of socialist movements in Germany and the Spanish Civil War. Her poetry became influenced by Latin poetry using long and short syllables to create mimetic effects. She became a politician on the Lndon County Council during WW2 becoming an education champion. She was awarded an OBE in 1965 and became a Dame (DBE) in 1970.
She wrote several books including a biography of her husband and many mystery novels with him. Margaret's brother Raymond was a labour historian, journalist and novelist and founded the "Good Food Guide" . Her nephew Oliver Postgate created children's television programmes including Noggin The Nog, Ivor The Engine, Clangers and Bagpuss.
Note - for copyright reasons we are unable to reproduce Margaret Cole's poems
We recommend - The Falling Leaves and The Veteran
Agnes Grozier Herbertson
1875 - 1958
Agnes Grozier Herbertson was born in Oslo and grew up in Norway, France, and Scotland. She never married and lived with her younger sister Jessie Leckie Herbertson, also a writer, from the late 1930s, in Cornwall and Edinburgh.
Her most well known poem is "The Seed Merchant's Son" which cleverly uses the irony of the death of a son of a man whose trade involves the germs of new life and points to the reality that the death of a child in the war was mirrored in the emotional death of the parent. It has also been included in the OCR GCSE syllabus.
Died in the war….And it seems his eyes
Must have looked at death with a child’s surprise.
The Seed-Merchant goes on his way:
I saw him out on his land today;
Old to have fathered so young a son,
And now the last glint of his youth is gone.
[Extract from The Seed-Merchant's Son]
Agnes Herbertson was a prolific author of children's books which included classic stories re-written for children such as Gulliver's travels. She wrote plays, poems, and six novels for adults beginning with "A Book Without A Man!" published in 1897.
For copyright reasons we are unable to reproduce Agnes Herbertson's poems
We recommend - The Seed Merchant's Son and and The Airman, R.F.C.
1858 - 1924
Edith Nesbit was an English author and poet who published her books for children under the name of E. Nesbit. She wrote or collaborated on nearly 80 children's books and was also a political activist and co-founder of the Fabian Society. She is most famous for her children's novel "The Railway Children".
She was born in Surrey but after her father's death when she was four her family moved a great deal seeking a resolution to her sisters ill-health living in Brighton, Buckinghamshire, various locations in France including Paris, Spain and Germany and Kent before settling in South East London.
She married at 17 heavily pregnant soon discovering that her husband, Hubert Bland a bank clerk, had fathered other children even forcing her to accept one woman, Alice Hoatson, as their housekeeper and fathering a further child with her. She bore three children by Bland (she dedicated "The Railway Children to the eldest Paul Cyril) and adopted Hoatson's children dedicating later books to them.
Edith was a follower of the socialist William Morris and she and her husband Hubert Bland were among the founders of the Fabian Society naming their second son after it. They edited the Society's journal "Today". She was an active lecturer and prolific writer on socialism during the 1880s. She was a guest speaker at the London School of Economics founded by the Fabian Society. Three years after Bland died, Nesbit married Thomas "the Skipper" Tucker, captain of the Woolwich Ferry.
Towards the end of her life she moved Kent. She died in 1924.
'E.' Nesbit wrote 40 children's books and collaborated on nearly 40 more. She reversed the Victorian tradition of children's literature turning away from stories that emphasised the secondary position of children to a more realistic portrayal of life including hard realities. She also pioneered the 'children's adventure story'. Noel Coward and Gore Vidal were among her admirers and she was she was a direct or indirect influence on many subsequent writers, including P.L. Travers, J.K. Rowling and C.S. Lewis.
Edith Nesbit also wrote eleven novels for adults, short stories and four collections of horror stories. Although she wrote a great deal of poetry, most of this was before WW1.
Edith Nesbit - Spring in War-Time
Now the sprinkled blackthorn snow
Lies along the lovers’ lane
Where last year we used to go-
Where we shall not go again.
In the hedge the buds are new,
By our wood the violets peer-
Just like last year’s violets, too,
But they have no scent this year.
Every bird has heart to sing
Of its nest, warmed by its breast;
We had heart to sing last spring,
But we never built our nest.
Presently red roses blown
Will make all the garden gay . . .
Not yet have the daisies grown
On your clay.
Charlotte Mew is often mistakenly listed as a Victorian poet and writer. She was an early modernist and her themes and the ideas she presented were often advanced and more humane than the era in which she lived.
Her life was full of tragedy which she used to illuminate her writing. Born the eldest daughter of seven children, three brothers died whilst she was a child and another brother and a sister were committed to mental hospitals in their twenties. Charlotte and her sister Anne both decided never to marry prevent the traits passing to children.
Although she is remembered for poetry, she wrote a number of short stories, including "Passed" in the journal Yellow Book, in 1894 her published her first work written in her twenties. It appeared in the Yellow Book, in 1894. Inspired by Mew's volunteer social work, it is a challenging work about prostitution and unusually empathetic.
Mew got her first real attention with the publication of a poem, "The Farmer's Bride," in 1912 a tragic story of unrequited love. With it came fame and notoriety partly because of her unusual style. She wore her hair short men's suits, always carried a black umbrella. There followed her most prolific period of poetry writing. The publication of her first collection of poetry "The Farmer's Bride" in 1916 won the admiration of the literary community including Siegfried Sassoon, Ezra Pound, Thomas Hardy, and Virginia Woolf who called Mew "the greatest living poetess."
Despite this success Mew did not have enough money to live on, and in the same year the home shared with her mother and sister was condemned. This caused her sister Anne to fall ill. Several influential literary friends recommend her for a government pension in 1923. In 1926 Anne was diagnosed with cancer and Charlotte nursed her until she died the following year. Charlotte sunk into despair and entered a nursing home in 1928 for treatment but committed suicide there later that year.
Not yet will those measureless fields be green again
Where only yesterday the wild sweet blood of wonderful youth was shed;
There is a grave whose earth must hold too long, too deep a stain,
Though for ever over it we may speak as proudly as we may tread.
But here, where the watchers by lonely hearths
from the thrust of an inward sword have more slowly bled,
We shall build the Cenotaph: Victory, winged, with Peace, winged too, at the column's head.
And over the stairway, at the foot—oh! here, leave desolate, passionate hands to spread
Violets, roses, and laurel with the small sweet
twinkling country things
Speaking so wistfully of other Springs
From the little gardens of little places where son or sweetheart was born and bred.
In splendid sleep, with a thousand brothers
To lovers—to mothers
Here, too, lies he:
Under the purple, the green, the red,
It is all young life: it must break some women's
hearts to see
Such a brave, gay coverlet to such a bed!
Only, when all is done and said,
God is not mocked and neither are the dead.
For this will stand in our Market-place—
Who'll sell, who'll buy
(Will you or I
Lie each to each with the better grace)?
While looking into every busy whore's and huckster's face
As they drive their bargains, is the Face
Of God: and some young, piteous, murdered face.
Lady Margaret Sackville
1881 – 1963
Lady Margaret Sackville was a children's author and poet. She was the youngest child of the 7th Earl De La Warr and second cousin to the poet and author Vita Sackville West. She was the first President of the Poetry Society.
At sixteen she became the protégée of the poet Wilfrid Scawen Blunt and had her early poems published in leading journals such as Country Life, The Spectator and Pall Mall Gazette. Her first book of poems, "Floral Symphony" was published in 1900 when she was 19. In 1910 she edited "A Book of Verse by Living Women". In her introduction, she noted that poetry was one of the few arts in which women were allowed to engage without opposition.
For fifteen years between 1913 and 1929 Sackville had a passionate love affair with the first Labour Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald. MacDonald repeatedly proposed to her, but she declined to be his wife because they were of different religions, hers Roman Catholic and his Free Church of Scotland. She never married.
Sackville joined the anti-war group at the outbreak of WW1 and in 1916 published a collection of poems called The Pageant of War. It included the poem "Nostra Culpa", denouncing women who betrayed their sons by not speaking out against the war. Her brother, Gilbert was killed during the conflict in 1915. Her war poems avoid the patriotic sentiments and, unlike most, do not just commemorate the military but all the dead; soldiers, non-combatants and refugees.
She became the first president of Scottish PEN, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and a member of the Whitehouse Terrace salon mixing with guests such as Henry James. In 1936 Sackville moved to Cheltenham where she died in 1963.
For copyright reasons we are unable to reproduce Margaret Sackville's poems
We recommend - A Memory and Nostra Culpa
Silence which might be felt, no pity in the silence,
Horrible, soft like blood, down all the blood-stained ways;
In the middle of the street two corpses lie unburied,
And a bayoneted woman stares in the market-place.
[Extract from - "A Memory"]
1863 – 1946
Said to be England’s “leading woman novelist between the death of George Eliot and the rise of Virginia Woolf,” May Sinclair was the pseudonym of Mary Amelia St. Clair author of over 20 novels and short stories and poetry. An active Suffragist, she was a member of the Woman Writers' Suffrage League. She was a leading critic of 'modernist poetry' and the first person to use the term "stream of consciousness" in a review.
After one year of education at Cheltenham Ladies College, she nursed four of her five brothers all suffering from a fatal congenital heart disease.
From her early 20's she wrote professionally to support herself and her mother. An active feminist, the themes of her writing were the position of women and marriage. In her 50's she introduced psychoanalysis ideas into her novels. A 1913 novel "The Combined Maze", the story of a London clerk and the two women he loves, received high praise from George Orwell and Agatha Christie who considered it one of the greatest English novels of the time. She was an early enthusiast of T.S. Eliot and friend of Ezra Pound.
In 1914, she volunteered to work in an ambulance unit working with Belgian soldiers on the Western Front in Flanders. Although sent home after only a few weeks, she wrote about the experience in both prose and poetry.
In the 1920's she began to suffer from Parkinson's Disease and ceased writing.
IF I could only see again
The house we passed on the long Flemish road
When the Army went from Antwerp, through Bruges, to the sea;
The house with the slender door,
And the one thin row of shutters, grey as dust on the white wall.
It stood low and alone in the flat Flemish land,
And behind it the high slender trees were small under the sky.
Through windows blurred like women's eyes that have cried too long.
[Extract from "After the Retreat"
For further information on May Sinclair and her work visit
The May Sinclair Society -
1885 - 1967
Born Muriel Stuart Irwin, she was regarded by the poet Hugh MacDiarmid to be the best woman poet of the Scottish Renaissance. Born in London, she began writing poetry at a very early age encouraged by Thomas Hardy who thought her work 'superlatively good'. Her first works appearing in the English Review in 1916 and two volumes of poetry were published in 1918 and 1922 and published in the USA.
Her poetry was particularly concerned with sexual politics, although she first wrote poems about WW1. Like other female poets of her era, she reflects the weight of social expectations on women and the experience of post-war spinsterhood. A notable example, her most famous, is "In The Orchard" which portrays a the heartless seduction and leaving of a young woman by the man she was fooled into believing loved her. It is an innovative poem consisting entirely of dialogues between the couple and in no kind of verse form though she does use rhyme: a mixture of half-rhyme and rhyming couplets. It is a stark and moving portrayal of sexual cruelty.
Muriel Stuart married twice. Later in life she stopped publishing poetry and wrote books on gardening.
I thought you knew it was fun.'
'I thought it was love you meant.' 'Well, it's done.' 'Yes, it's done.
I've seen boys stone a blackbird, and watched them drown
A kitten... it clawed at the reeds, and they pushed it down
Into the pool while it screamed. Is that fun, too?'
1859 – 1931
Katharine Tynan was an Irish writer known mainly for novels and poetry who married the English writer and barrister Henry Albert Hinkson and usually wrote under the name Katharine Tynan Hinkson.
Born in Dublin and educated in Drogheda her first poetry was published when she was 19. She met and became friends with the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins in her 20's and played a major part in Dublin literary circles until she moved to England. She was also a close friend of William Butler Yeats and it is possible he proposed to her and was rejected. She corresponded with the poet Francis Ledwidge* before his death in WW1.
She is thought to have written more than 100 novels and five autobiographical volumes . Her Collected Poems appeared in 1930 a year before her death.
A Girl's Song
The Meuse and Marne have little waves;
The slender poplars o'er them lean.
One day they will forget the graves
That give the grass its living green.
Some brown French girl the rose will wear
That springs above his comely head;
Will twine it in her russet hair,
Nor wonder why it is so red.
His blood is in the rose's veins,
His hair is in the yellow corn.
My grief is in the weeping rains
And in the keening wind forlorn.
Flow softly, softly, Marne and Meuse;
Tread lightly all ye browsing sheep;
Fall tenderly, O silver dews,
For here my dear Love lies asleep.
The earth is on his sealèd eyes,
The beauty marred that was my pride;
Would I were lying where he lies,
And sleeping sweetly by his side!
The Spring will come by Meuse and Marne,
The birds be blithesome in the tree.
I heap the stones to make his cairn
Where many sleep as sound as he.
The boys come home, come home from war,
With quiet eyes for quiet things --
A child, a lamb, a flower, a star,
A bird that softly sings.
Young faces war-worn and deep-lined,
The satin smoothness past recall;
Yet out of sight is out of mind
For the worst wrong of all.
As nightmare dreams that pass with sleep,
The horror and grief intolerable.
The unremembering young eyes keep
Their innocence. All is well!
The worldling's eyes are dusty dim,
The eyes of sin are weary and cold,
The fighting boy brings home with him
The unsullied eyes of old.
The war has furrowed the young face.
Oh, there's no all-heal, no wound-wort!
The soul looks from its hidden place
Unharmed, unflawed, unhurt.