Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Christmas themed poems

Here are two poems commemorating Christmastide of the First World War:

The Christmas Truce 1914 by E. Blanche Terry

Fiercely, wildly, rages now the battle,
Around is desolation, pain and death,
And through the din is heard the dread death-rattle
Of victims gasping out their failing breath.

Cannons loudly roaring, bullets flying,
Everywhere the sound of shot and shell,
Making for the miserably dying
A terrible and deaf'ning funeral knell.

More desperately still the battle rages,
Many heroes fall and some must die,
No hope of armistice or peace assuages
Wounded victims' piercing agony.

Darkness now approaches; through the hours
Of night created for man's rest and peace,
Those unsatisfied, malignant powers,
Refuse e'en now to bid the conflict cease.

Hark! a distant sound which keeps repeating
From childhood's hour, known and loved so well:
Can it be the angels' Christmas greeting
Convey'd so sweetly in a Convent bell?

It makes the nerves with strange sensations tingle,
Brings thoughts of home, fond thoughts of happier times;
Is it fancy, or do voices mingle
With the ringing of those Christmas chimes?

Surely there are angel-voices stealing
Through the atmosphere of death and pain,
Heavenly messengers to earth appealing
For love and peace; must they appeal in vain?

“Christians, awake!” still faintly in the distance,
Far away, the sound comes faint and dim,
And yet those voices with a strange insistance
Repeat the words of that loved Christmas hymn.

It is no dream, for hark! ten thousand voices
Moved with one impulse the sad silence break,
And heart of friend and foe alike rejoices
At those familiar words “Christians, awake!”

A friendly face peeps out above the trenches,
The sun bursts forth in crimson splendour, while
A friendly hand the hand of foeman clenches
And demons flee aghast and angels smile.

And others quickly follow their example,
Too glad to spend a day of rest and peace;
This Holy Day is one most precious sample
Of days that are to be when battles cease.

Soft words from foreign lips console the dying,
For now, when all are friends, who is the foe?
And tender hands soothe those in anguish lying,
The very hands, perchance, which laid them low.

And all are now in harmony united,
Exchange of gentle, courteous words takes place;
Kind actions with kind actions are requited,
And God's own peace is shining on each face.

Too soon those precious hours of peace are ended,
Too soon must fade the soft'ning evening light,
No longer must the trench be undefended,
The Christmas truce must end on Christmas night.

And long before black night takes down her awning
That shields the sleeping world from light of day,
The murmuring voices of the troops give warning,
All thoughts of gentle peace have passed away.

For Britain's pledges must remain unbroken,
Her friends she cannot in their need deny,
Words are sacred still that once were spoken,
The knot of friendship nothing can untie.

Britain's hero sons can bear the anguish,
Of parting with the ones they love so well,
To fight—and die if needful—or to languish
Unloved, uncared for in a prison-cell.

Knowing that the fate of every nation
Hangs in the balance, and that Britain's hand
Must stay the power that carries devastation
Into every sweet, peace-loving land.

Some heroes still are fighting, some are sleeping,
In the deep silence which no voice can break,
Until the guardian-angels, vigil keeping,
Shall whisper tenderly—“Christians, awake!”


"A Carol from Flanders" by Frederick Niven

Frederick Niven (1878 - 1944)

Frederick Niven was born in Valparaiso in Chile.  His parents were originally from Scotland.  He was educated in Glasgow from the age of five at Hutcheson's Grammar School and then the Glasgow School of Art.  Niven worked for a time in his father's textile business and then worked as a librarian in Glasgow and Edinburgh.     He contracted a respiratory disease and in 1899 was sent to Canada for treatment.  Together with two friends, Niven trekked through the Okanagan Valley and the Kootenays.   Back in Scotland, he wrote about his experiences and the accounts were published in newspapers and magazines in Glasgow and London as well as in America.

In 1911, Niven married Mary Pauline Thorne-Quelch.   In 1912 and 1913 he again travelled to Canada as a freelance writer.

During the First World War, Niven worked at the Ministry of Food and the Ministry of Information.

After the war, Niven and his wife emigrated to Canada where they lived in British Columbia and he continued to write.  He died in 1944.

"A Carol from Flanders"

In Flanders on the Christmas morn
The trenched foemen lay,
the German and the Briton born,
And it was Christmas Day.

The red sun rose on fields accurst,
The gray fog fled away;
But neither cared to fire the first,
For it was Christmas Day!

They called from each to each across
The hideous disarray,
For terrible has been their loss:
"Oh, this is Christmas Day!"

Their rifles all they set aside,
One impulse to obey;
'Twas just the men on either side,
Just men — and Christmas Day.

They dug the graves for all their dead
And over them did pray:
And Englishmen and Germans said:
"How strange a Christmas Day!"

Between the trenches then they met,
Shook hands, and e'en did play
At games on which their hearts were set
On happy Christmas Day.

Not all the emperors and kings,
Financiers and they
Who rule us could prevent these things —
For it was Christmas Day.

Oh ye who read this truthful rime
From Flanders, kneel and say:
God speed the time when every day
Shall be as Christmas Day.

I wish you all a Happy and peaceful Christmas.