In the Foreword to his First World War poetry collection “Poems in Captivity”, which he dedicated to his wife, John explains how he came to write poetry during the three years he spent in captivity in Turkey:
“… each one of us was driven to seek inside himself some alleviation of the daily dullness, many of us there found things we had not suspected to exist. For, to find distraction, we were thrown back more upon our own creative powers, and were helped less by our surroundings than ever is the case in normal life.
In 1939, John went to live in Africa and he died in South Africa in 1941.
John Still’s poem “Christmas Day” is on page 66 of the collection:
"CHRISTMAS DAY", written on Christmas Day 1916
YEARS ago. Years ago.
Three years ago on Christmas day,
Out in a forest far away,
The monkeys watched me down below,
And saw me hide in the waving grass
While the elephant herd went trampling past.
Oh, the great wild herd that Christmas day !
And I as wild and free as they,
As free as the winds that blow.
The sentries pace the mud below ;
The wind is cold, the sky is grey ;
Christmas day in a prison camp,
With freedom dead as a burnt-out lamp.
The lions eat and the lions rage,
Three steps and a turn in a narrow cage,
And I am as free as they.
Rich and poor. Rich and poor.
Poor as a sparrow or rich as a king,
This world can offer but one good thing,
And my heart is sick to be free once more.
For the sun may shine in a sapphire sky,
But give me freedom or let me die :
Free and fresh is the forest breeze
Whose spirit rides on the tossing trees,
And the waves break free on the shore.
AFION KARA HISSAR, 25.xii.i9i6.
Sources: Find my Past, Catherine W. Reilly "English Poetry of the First World War A Bibliography" published by St. Martin's Press, New York, 1978 (p. 305), Wikipedia and Archive.