Saturday, 17 April 2021

Herbert Trench (1865 –1923) - Irish poet, writer and playwright

Frederic Herbert Trench was born in Avonmore, County Cork, Eire on 12th November 1865. His parents were William Wallace Trench and his wife Elizabeth Trench, nee Allin.  Educated at Haileybury School and Keble College, Oxford, Herbert was elected a fellow of All Souls' College and in 1891, after some years spent travelling, he was appointed an examiner at the Board of Education. 

On 15th July 1891, Herbert married Lilian Isabel Fox and the couple had two daughters and a son.  He gave up working for the Board of Education in 1908 in order to devote himself to literary work and became Director of the Haymarket theatre, London.  Herbert wrote poetry from an early age;  his first volume of poems, “Deirdre Wedded” was published in 1901. That volume was soon followed by further poems, notably " Apollo and the Seaman," which was included in “New Poems” (1907) and “Lyrics and Narrative Poems” (1911).

In 1908, a Dramatic Symphony, opus 51, written by Joseph Holbrooke setting Trench's poem “Apollo and the Seaman” to music, was performed, under the directorship of Thomas Beecham. 

Herbert then began writing theatrical works, collaborating with his friend Thomas Evelyn Scott-Ellis, 8th Baron Howard de Walden. They put on “The Blue Bird” by Maeterlinck in 1909, and Ibsen's “The Pretenders in 1913, at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket. Afterwards, he went travelling again.

During the First World War, Herbert worked in Florence, Italy for the establishment of a better understanding between Great Britain and Italy. He died in Boulogne-sur-Mer on 11th June 1923.

Among Herbert Trench’s later publications were “Ode from Italy in Time of War”  (Methuen, 1915), “Poems with Fables in Prose” (Constable, 1917), a poetic play “Napoleon” (1918), which was produced in London by the Stage Society in 1919, “Selected Poems” (Cape, 1924) and “La Bataille de la Marne” (Oxford University Press, 1925) and he had poems included in five WW1 anthologies.

Mottarone is a mountain in the Western Alps of north-western Italy

The herd of glaciers from these brooks has run, 

Leaving great boulders lone to mark the sway 

Of their moraines, rude confines of a day. 

Through the same gates, fore-goers of the Hun, 

Goth, Carthaginian pierced, and passed away. 

We now, the riper peoples, rightly sure 

We must withstand the harsh and immature. 

The bitter-hearted, toss'd from dream to dream, 

Fiercely unstable — in ail things extreme — 

These overlordship-seekers ; we intent 

That the spirit of every folk shall take its bent 

Sunward, and wayward in experiment 

Adventure, — each small nation stand uncurbed — 

We shall put down the aggressors, unperturbed. . . . 

For what is life's chief enemy? Not they 

But the sense of human life's futility. 

The vainness of ourselves, as of our foes — 

To that swift passage what can Man oppose; 

Who, brawler between two lights, God and Death - 

Sun-marshall'd and moon-tended — journeyeth? 

What of clear natures and enduring can 

Enter the hot and childish discord, Man? 

Flowing or floating — what of worth can be 

Establish' d? 

Courage, Awareness, the pois'd Soul. 

The rooted forest-people's polity 

Profound; of forest verdure that stands true 

And rooted in its own slopes' golden bowl 

Spreads free. Here every happy mead 

Hath windflowers of a different hue; 

And sun-born Love, the mountain flower, is bred. 

And, family by starry family. 

Spreads chalices, whereof each petal young 

Is a new life : fresh Awareness — tenderly swung 

And diffused as moveth a breeze over grasses and trees 

Of more: all other men's lives, all other men's ease.. 

Guard we this new Soul against tyrannies. 

The soul is end enough, if nought else is 

To come to flower against the precipice. 

Yonder in Brescia bronze-wing' d Victory 

Doth still in her subalpine temple stand. 

Holding a vanish' d shield beneath her hand: 

Her sons will not to the north's menace yield. 

Rather than live unworthy of their land 

Some will forego existences and fames. 

Theirs will be written with the unknown names 

Inscribed for ever on the vanish'd shield; 

The viewless shield itself, their souls shall be.

From: “Ode from Italy in Time of War:  Night on Mottarone” by Herbert Trench (Methuen, London, 1915), p. 8


Find my past

Catherine W. Reilly, “English Poetry of the First World War: A Bibliography” (St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1978)  p. 317-318.