Tuesday, 26 February 2019

Coningsby Dawson (1883 - 1959) - British-born Poet and Writer

William Coningsby Dawson was born in High Wycombe, England, on 26th February 1883.  After graduating from Oxford University, he went to America to study theology at Union College in Schenectady, NY.

Coningsby’s family moved to America, settling in Newark, New Jersey.  Summer holidays were spent on the family fruit ranch in British Columbia, Canada.

Commissioned into the Royal Canadian Field Artillery, Coningsby was posted to France in September 1916, during the height of the Somme Offensive.   January 1917 brought some well-earned leave with his family in London, after which Coningsby returned to the front lines.  He was badly wounded during the fight for Lens in June 1917 and almost lost an arm. He returned to Britain for treatment and that was followed by some home leave convalescing  in America and Canada, during which time he wrote about his war-time experiences and had his work published.  Coningsby returned to his Regiment in France at the end of October 1917.

After the war, Coningsby returned to Britain on behalf of the American Government, in order to report back on the problems involved in rebuilding war-torn Europe,  reporting and lecturing on what he saw.

Coningsby died in 1959.

“The Glory of the Trenches” by Coningsby Dawson with an introduction by his father, W.J. Dawson, was published in 1918 by John Lane, New York.

“To You at Home” by Coningsbuy Dawson

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 mire,
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 runners' 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.

The book can be downloaded free from Project Gutenberg:


Photograph of Coningsby Dawson by Waters, Newark, New Jersey during WW1

Sunday, 24 February 2019

Frank Prewett (1893 - 1962) - Canadian-born WW1 soldier poet

Frank was born on 24th February 1893 on his grandfather’s farm in Ontario, Canada, where he grew up.

Studying at the University of Toronto when war broke out, Frank enlisted in the Canadian Army as a Private and was posted to the Western Front.  He was commissioned as an officer into the British Army, joining the Royal Horse Artillery.  He served on the Western Front during the Battle of Passchendaele and was severely shell-shocked when a shell burst near him. 

Frank was sent back to Britain for treatment at Lennell House in Berwickshire, where he met Siegfried Sassoon.  After repatriation to Canada, Frank returned to Britain and made his home there.

With Siegfried’s help, Frank had some of his poetry published – “The Rural Scene” was published in 1924.

Frank Prewett was included in the exhibition of Poets of Arras, Messines, Passchendaele & MOre, 1917" which was held at The Wilfred Owen Story in Birkenhead, Wirral, UK in 2017.  The photograph is of David Youngs, a relative of Frank Prewett, holding a copy of Frank's exhibition panel.

“Card Game” by Frank Prewett

Hearing the whine and crash
We hastened out
And found a few poor men
Lying about.

I put my hand in the breast
Of the first met.
His heart thumped, stopped, and I drew
My hand out wet.

Another, he seemed a boy,
Rolled in the mud
Screaming, "my legs, my legs,"
And he poured out his blood.

We bandaged the rest
And went in,
And started again at our cards
Where we had been.

Thomas Forrest Craig (1879 - 1918) - British soldier poet

Thomas Forrest Craig (1879 - 1918) – British soldier poet - Royal Army Medical Corps WW1 wounded died 2nd February 1918

Thomas was born on 24th February 1879 in Kelso, Roxburghshire, Scotland.  His parents were The Reverend Alexander McRae Craig, a Church Minister, and his wife, Margaret Craig.  Thomas had the following siblings:  Elizabeth I, b. 1871, Marion M., b. 1873, Maggie G., b. 1875, William, b. 1877, Hester, b. 1878, Eleonora, b. 1881, John, b. 1884, Alice Agnes B., b. 1886 and Archibald C., b. 1889.

Educated at Kelso High School and Edinburgh University, Thomas studied chemistry and qualified as a chemist. He began studying medicine in 1905, qualified and was in practice at St. John’s Tron, Ayrshire when war broke out.   He volunteered to join the Royal Army Medical Corps and was commissioned as a Captain in July 1915.  Posted initially to Malta, in 1917 Thomas was sent to Alexandria, Egypt .

Thomas was wounded while tending a wounded fellow officer at Beit Ur El Tahta.  Appearing to recover sufficiently to be sent back to Britain, Thomas was travelling home on a Hospital Ship but died on the way.  He is remembered on Chatby Memorial in Alexandria, El Eskenderiya, Egypt
MEMORIAL ID 14695887  several women of WW1 )

Thomas’s WW1 poetry collection “Poems” (Tingling, Liverpool, 1919) was published posthumously by his family.

Catherine Reilly “English Poetry of the First World War: A Bibliography” (St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1978),  p. 98
Find my Past

Friday, 22 February 2019

Hugo Ball (1886 - 1927) - German author, poet and founder of the Dada Movement

Hugo Ball was born in Pirmasens, Germany on 22nd February 1886. He went to University in Munich and Heidelberg, where he studied sociology and philosophy.  Aspiring to be an actor, Hugo moved to Berlin in 1910, where he worked with Max Reinhardt, the theatre and film director.

When war broke out in 1914, Hugo volunteered to join the German Army but was turned down due to health issues. At the time, Hugo said:  "The war is founded on a glaring mistake, men have been confused with machines." Branded a traitor, he fled to Switzerland with the cabaret performer and poet Emmy Hennings.  They were married in 1920

In 1916, Hugo Ball created the Dada Manifesto.  He also wrote the poem "Karawane," around that time.

Hugo was one of the founders of the Cabaret Voltaire in Zürich and was the leader of the Dada movement in Zürich.  Emmy Hennings, was also a member of Dada. Dada, or Dadaism, was an art movement in Europe during the early 20th century, with centers in Zürich, Switzerland, at the Cabaret Voltaire; New York Dada began in about 1915, and after 1920 Dada flourished in Paris.

Hugo died in Sant'Abbondio, Switzerland on 14th  September 1927.

His poem "Gadji beri bimba" was adapted for the song "I Zimbra" on the 1979 Talking Heads album “Fear of Music” and Hugo was credited as the lyric writer for the song on the track listing.

“Glanz um die Fahne”

Glanz um die Fahne!
Steh auf! Steh auf!
Trommler rufen und Hufschlag bellt
Lass den Sang und das Mekka der Nacht.
Alles ist lodern und hell.

Komm hervor aus den wehenden Schmerzen!
Schüttle die goldne Mähne.
Sei mir zerstückte Hyäne,
Schrei in der Brust und bronzener Aufstand.
Glühe durchs Land.
Blute und bete.

"Rally round the Flag"

Let us rally around the flag!
Arise! Arise!
Beat the drums and hear the beat of hoofs
Leave the songs and the temples of night.
Everything is blazing and bright.

Leave your aches and pains!
Shake those golden manes.
Be like a wounded hyena,
From deep within your chests howl
A bronze uprising.
Glow throughout all the country.
Shed your blood and pray.

Dada or Dadaism was an art movement of the European avant-garde in the early 20th century, with early centers in Zürich, Switzerland, at the Cabaret Voltaire; New York Dada began circa 1915, and after 1920 Dada flourished in Paris.

Photographs of Hugo Ball – portrait and reading his poem "Karawane", Club Voltaire, 1916 – photographers unknown.

Thursday, 21 February 2019

Remembering the Members of the South African Labour Corps who lost their lives in the sinking of the S.S. "Mendi" on 21st February 1917

With many thanks to David Walker who has a Facebook page commemorating the South Africans who died in the First World War for bringing Samuel Mqhayi to my attention.

The Steam Ship 'Mendi' was on her way to France from South Africa carrying members of the South African Labour Corps. The "Mendi" collided in thick fog at 5 a.m. on the morning of 21st February 1917 with the Royal Mail Packet Company's cargo ship  SS “Darro'.  The 'Mendi', which was the smaller of the two ships, rapidly sank with the loss of the lives of 616 South Africans and 30 members of the ship’s crew.

The South African Native Labour Corps (SANLC) was a force of workers formed in 1916 in response to a British request for workers at French ports. About 25,000 South Africans joined the Corps.  Although members of the Corps did not fight, their contribution to the war effort was extremely important.  The photograph shows King George V inspecting members of the SANLC in France.

From a translation of the Poem “Sinking of the Mendi” by Samuel Edward Krune Mqhayi

Yes, this thing flows as a normal thing from that.
The thing we know is not scared of that;
We say, things have happened as they should have,
Within our brains we say: it should have been so;
If it hadn’t been so, nothing would have come right.
You see Sotase, things came right when the Mendi sank!
Our blood on that ship turned things around,
It served to make us known through the world!

See the rest of the poem here: https://www.poetryinternationalweb.net/pi/site/poem/item/13291/auto/SINKING-OF-THE-MENDI

Samuel Edward Krune Mqhayi was born on 1st December 1875 in Gqumashe in Alice, Transkei, Cape Province, South Africa.  His family were Christians.  Samuel, whose mother tongue was Xhosa, trained to become a teacher in Lovedale and worked on the translation of the Bible into Xhosa.  He also worked as a journalist on Xhosa newspapers, as well as publishing novels and poems. Nelson Mandela considered Samuel to be a poet Laureate of the African people and heard him recite his poetry.  Samuel died in 1945.

The Xhosa language is one of the official languages of South Africa and is a tonal language, written with a Latin alphabet. It is a ‘click’ language, the word ‘Xhosa’ starts with a click.
In the western world, the singer Miriam Makeba (Zenzile Miriam Makeba 1932 – 2008) made the Xhosa language famous when she released a recording of the song “Pata Pata” in 1957. “Pata Pata” (meaning ‘touch touch’ in English) was written by Dorothy Masuka.   Miriam’s “Click Song”, the name given to the song Qongqothwane (in English “knock-knock beetle), which is sung at weddings to bring good luck, is another example of a song in Xhosa. 

Here is a link to Samuel's poem about the sinking of the S.S. "Mendi" - a ship carrying members of the South African Labour Corps to the Western Front which sank off the Isle of Wight with great loss of life http://www.poetryinternationalweb.net/pi/site/poem/item/13291/auto/SINKING-OF-THE-MENDI

Another of Samuel's poems can be seen here:

Sources: https://www.sahistory.org.za/article/ss-mendi
`Xhosa Poets and Poetry” by Jeff Opland, published by David Philip Publishers (Pty.) Ltd., Clarement, South Africa in 1998

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Walter E. Spradbery, DCM (1889 - 1969) - British Artist and Poet

With thanks to Historian Debbie Cameron for telling me about Walter and thanks to Walter’s cousin, Philip Spradbery, who has a lifelong passion for painting, who kindly supplied additional information and to Sergio Sbalchiero for finding paintings by Walter.

Walter Ermest Spradbery was born on 29th March 1889 in East Dulwich, London, UK. His parents were Joseph Spradbery and his wife Emily Spradbery, nee Feltham.  Walter had a brother, Charles V., b. 1879.  Walter studied at Walthamstow Art School, then worked as an art teacher. He regularly exhibited his work at the Royal Academy. His main artistic media were water colour, linocuts and poster design. Walter designed posters for London transport companies and for British Rail.

During the First World War, Walter, who was a pacifist, joined the Royal Army Medical Corps and served as a medical orderly and stretcher-bearer on the Western Front. He served with 36 Field Ambulance during the Somme Offensive in 1916 and was Mentioned in Despatches several times for bravery rescuing wounded men under fire.   He was awarded a Distinguished Conduct Medal.

On 11th November 1918, Walter wrote to his Mother:

"Hostilities ceased on all fronts at 11 o’clock today. Oh happy mothers, happy sweethearts, happy wives, whose loved ones will come safely back... and those lone souls who have lost their very own; today is too unkind to them - how can they face our joy? 'Peace on Earth, Goodwill towards men' - an unseen choir sings it in our breasts - prompting men to evolve a better world more worthy of our ideals and aspirations. Let us begin."

On 21st August 1929, Walter married opera singer Dorothy D’Orsay (maiden name Horsey) and the couple lived in Epping Forest.   They had two children. Walter died in Epping, Essex in 1969.

A biography of Walter Spradbery’s life and times, "My Dear Jim", has been compiled and published by his son, John Spradbery (Mail order from Elizabeth Spradbery: el.malet@gmail.com)

A poem by Walter Spradbery written in 1915 kindly supplied by his cousin, Philip Spradbery.


“Eyes Have They, But See Not”

The flowers that grow on Barnham’s plain
Are beautiful to see;
The bugloss and the speedwell’s blue
Fair as a summer’s sea,
Blue as a summer’s sky are they
As a child’s eyes may be:

And the tender little pansy’s
Uplifted cherub face,
With golden eye, and purple wings
And unpretentious grace,
Peeps shyly from amid the grass
In every shady place.

But wearily we drag our feet
Over the jeweled sods,
And discipline, it weighs us down
With the curse of an iron rod;
And ‘iron rods’ we carry
To kill the sons of God.

The cranebill’s starry floweret
Is scattered o’er the plain;
Its pale magenta blossoms
We trample in our pain,
And dully long for peace, and love
And our dear homes again.

With iron heels we tread them down,
We tread them in the sand;
We crush their beauty ’neath our feet
Too tired to understand
The ugly ruthless thing we do.
Now war is on the land.

The golden gorse, across the heath
Is a mass of yellow flame;
Its unconsuming fires praise
The Sun God’s glorious name.
But war it burns things black and dead,
And fills men’s hearts with shame.

And scarlet is the pimpernel
And bright the poppy’s red
But brighter still is the blood we’ll spill
Ere we ourselves are dead:
No flower so rich, in the deep dug ditch,
As the blood our guns may shed.

The grass is worn with the ceaseless tread
Of our marching to and fro,
And where we drill on the mossy hill
Great bare patches show;
For ’neath the heel of the War God’s foot
No fair thing may grow.

But time revenges the patient weak
Whom the Ruthless crush and kill,
And delicate things that droop and die,
Like the flowers on the grassy hill,
Will bloom again on another plain
Fairer and sweeter still.

The barren stretch of Flander’s plains
Is desolate and bare,
And the shriek of shell, and stench and smell
Float on the morning air
And splintered stumps are all that speak
Of what once blossomed there.

Yet the flowers our feet have trodden down
Will be born again,
And rich and fine, on Flander’s fields,
Will dance in the gentle rain
Will dance on the dead that feed their roots
The countless, ghastly slain.

The little flowers we’ve trodden down
Will scent each ugly grave,
Will hide the ghastly torn limbs
O the coward and the brave
And gaily smile at the morning sun,
O’er the foolish and the knave.

Oh, the river runs o’er Barnham’s plains
This where our horses drink –
And a thousand fair and charming things
Blossom on its brink.
But we have trod them in the mud
Nor paused to praise or think.

The pinkish purple loose-strife
Bows on the river’s edge,
Forget-me-not and orchids,
The flowering rush and sedge
While briar rose and bryony
Entangle in the hedge.

And crowsfoot gleams on the river,
Like snowflakes in the sun
And sways in the moving waters
That over the pebbles run.
But we cannot pause for such a thing,
Who’re crossing the stream with a gun.

But the rivers which flow in Flanders
Are rivers of blood methinks
And will, one day, colour the roses
Whose roots from that soil drink,
And a thousand flowers will blossom
Where a corpse now rots and stinks.

And we who train at Thetford
Parade on Barnham Hill
And prod coarse sack with bayonets
To gain the skill to kill
To disembowel and mutilate
Men who are brothers still.

While all around is beauty
And overhead the sky,
Where fleecy clouds in freedom float
Over the men that die;
And nature laughs at our folly
As we pass her treasures by.

With a garland of peaceful beauty
She tempts us to lay down our arms;
With a myriad of fearless blossoms
She mocks at our childish alarms,
With a tangle of wonderful flowerets
She seeks to ensnare us with charms.

Oh, he who sees God in a daisy,
Can see more clearly in man,
The light of the Glorious Eternal
That through all Living Things ran,
When the wheels of time first started,
And the Song of Life began.

Walter E. Spradbery (1915)

Sources:  http://www.xcsconsulting.com.au/walter-e-spradbery.html

Tuesday, 19 February 2019

James Howard Stables (1896 - 1917) - British Soldier Poet

I am indebted to Connie Ruzich for reminding me that, although James is included in the List of Poets of 1917 in the book “Arras, Messines, Passchendaele & More”, I had not yet researched him.

Born in 1896, the birth being registered in the third quarter, in Derby, Derbyshire, UK, James was the eldest son of the Rev. Walter Howard Stables, MA, an Anglican Church Minister and Vicar of St. Chad’s Church, Headingly, Leeds, and his wife Harriet Emily Stables, nee Morse. The family lived at Inverugie, Haslemere, Surrey.  James had the following siblings:  Katherine A., b. 1899 and Francis H., b. 1900.

Educated at St. David’s School in Reigate, Surrey, Culver House, Winchester College and Christ Church, Oxford, James joined 6th Hampshire Regiment on 29th September 1914.

Posted to Mesopatamia, James was commissioned in August 1916.  Wounded and missing during the Battle of Sannan-I-yat, on17th February 1917, James was later presumed to have been killed.  He is commemorated on the Basra Memorial in Iraq – Panel 55.
Also remembered on Haslemere – Cross Memorial (WMR 23646) Haslemere, Surrey.

James’s WW1 poetry collection “The Sorrow that Whistled, and Other Poems” was published by Elkin Mathews, London in 1916. Several of his poems were published in the “New Statesman”.  At the time of publication of his WW1 collection, a cricit said:  " ‘The Sorrow that Whistled’ is an unusual little book, as suits with its name.  The writer, whom one takes to be young, revels in Eastern colour and fragrance.  He can do something quite good and simple...On the other hand, he can do something extremely bad...Yet there is here a promise, and, not unconnected with it, indications that J.H. Stables is a young soldier.  There could be no better school for a young poet who wants to shed the faults of youth than the trenches." 

Sources:  Find my Past and Catherine W. Reilly “English Poetry of the First World War: A Bibliography” (St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1978) p. 302
The Photograph of James is from the Winchester College Memorial Website.

A poem by a poet called simply W.S.

“Lights Out at Newport Pagnell” - a poem penned by a local resident, regarding the Council’s decision not to undertake any street lighting of the town.

The very recent decision of the Newport Pagnell Urban District Council to economise in the matter of public expenditure, and to safeguard the town against.air raids by the enemy has prompted a local poet to pen the following satire on the resolution adopted by the "City Fathers " to keep the town in darkness - during the winter nights :—

Mr. Super, worthy councillors,
To your wisdom we submit,
But as little, struggling tradesmen,
Must admit we're being hit.

Did you plunge our town in gloom, sirs,
Just to save a fourpenny rate ?
Is it dread of German Zeppelins,
And a wish to save your pate?

When the rates are on the rise, sirs,
The tenant finds the pelf:
Will he get a slight rebate, or
Landlord pocket it him self ?

So much gloom must cause depression,
Accidents as well, I fear;
Think of drear and dull November,
When the frost and snow are here.

What about the early workman
Groping to his daily toil ?
Pitchy blackness-slipping, sliding -
Muttering curses all the while.

When a councillor-once and postman -
Slipped in Silver-street and fell -
He cried aloud : " Oh give jus light, sirs,"
And what else I dare not tell.

Light the lamps and let us see, sirs,
Give us that for which we pay,
If it's air raids that you're fearing
I will show a better way.

Build a watch-tower on the chambers-
Please don't thinks I wish to pun -
If a Zeppelin approaches
Fetch it down with Johnny's gun.

By W.S. published in the “Bucks Standard”,September 18th 1915

On a weekend leave a young soldier had arrived too late at Bletchley station to meet a train for Newport Pagnell, and so had to make the journey on foot through the night. Suddenly, on reaching Willen he heard a humming noise, and looking up saw a Zeppelin loom into view, whereupon he dived into a hedgerow and buried himself beneath a blackberry bush. Arriving in the early hours of Sunday morning he then recounted the tale to his parents at Newport Pagnell, where, with the incident seeming to reinforce this wisdom, during the month a decision was taken that where they were high the kerbstones would be whitewashed. In the interests of safety this was to make them more evident during the lighting restrictions, but at the meeting of the U.D.C. on Tuesday, October 5th 1915 the chairman, Mr. O. Bull J.P., moved that the resolution passed at the August meeting, that the street lamps should not be lit during the winter, be rescinded. He put forward the alternative “that an agreement be entered into with the Newport Pagnell Gas Company to light 24 specified lamps; eight of which shall be all-night lamps, and that the Lighting Committee be empowered to increase or alter the number when they consider the lighting necessity of the streets requires the same.” This was carried, and in consequence the Lighting Committee met on two occasions to consider a modified scheme. The Gas Company were duly approached to tender for an illumination which would render the streets safe to the public, but not offer a target for air raids, and by their reply they offered to light 18 lamps from November 1st to March 31st at a cost of £60. Yet with this having been rejected by the Lighting Committee, a meeting of the U.D.C. was held on the evening of Wednesday, October 27th 1915 to approve the decision or otherwise. The result was a rejection by four votes to three.

From a very interesting website which has one or two poems included: http://www.mkheritage.co.uk/mkha/mkha/projects/jt/newport/docs/newport-ww1.html

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Rev. Dr. Jesse Samuel Dancey (1876 – 1936) – American Church Minister and Poet

With many thanks to Historian Debbie Cameron for finding another
WW1 forgotten poet for us

Jesse Dancey was born on a farm in Fairbury, Illinois, USA in 1876. His father was a farmer who had emigrated to America in 1847 from County Cavan in Ireland.

After college, Jesse studied Theology and in 1898 he was ordained as a Deacon by Bishop William Nende. He graduated from Illinois Wesleyan College in 1899 and Boston School of Theology in 1902.   He studied at the University of Chicago for his Master’s Degree.

In 1901, Jesse married Lua Marion Akers and they had three children - Thomas Brooks Dancey, Alice Dancey Paul, and Marcia Dancey Ketcham.

During the First World War, Jesse served as a Red Cross Chaplin with the Northwestern University Medical Unit in England and France.

From 1889 until his death in 1936, Jesse was a Wesleyan Minister in Ohio, Illinois, Missouri and Iowa.

Dancey died in 1936 in Keokuk, Iowa.

Jesse's poem "Etaples Military Cemetery" was written in France on 30th May 1918 - America's Memorial Day is held annually on the last Monday in the month of May.



Monday, 4 February 2019

Random thoughts on The Great War, Poetry and Poets by Stephen Cribari

With thanks to Stephen Cribari for sending me his latest thoughts on WW1 Poetry 

Peter Jackson’s IWM-commissioned film “They Shall Not Grow Old” is finding some unexpected audiences in the U.S.  Released as a one-day-only showing in 3D it has lingered in the theatres.  I noticed that Edmund Blunden, poet, professor, writer, included in Lucy’s volumes on the Wester Front, is identified as one of the narrators used as a voice-over in the film.

I think Blunden is one of the more dispassionate and therefore significant prose writers about his war experience (see, for example, his “Undertones of War” (U. Chicago Press 1928)), perhaps because he was a poet and a teacher.  Paul Fussell, in “The Great War and Modern Memory” (OUP 1975), quotes Blunden’s reflection on the Somme that “by the end of the day both sides had seen . . . neither race had won, or could win, the War.  The War had won, and would go on winning.”

Frederick Manning (Australian), also involved in the Somme, was a multi-volume published poet ‎who also wrote in prose about The War.  His much more personal and initially controversial (and therefore highly edited) "The Middle Parts of Fortune" (now available in an unexpurgated form), is stark, gritty, and compelling.  It’s a sort of "day in the life" type of book about the Western Front. Hemingway supposedly re-read it every year.

There are many other cross-discipline examples, such as Sassoon's multi-volume third-person autobiography and Graves’s popular and unabashedly fictionalized autobiography, and they make me wonder about that niche genre of prose accounts written by poets.

Many artists work in multiple media, but not all are equally significant in all those media.  Noël Coward was a playwright who painted and wrote poems, good paintings and good poems, but we do not think of him as a poet and painter.  And yet, there are painters and composers whom we have come to recognize as significant artists in both disciplines (Isaac Rosenberg; Ivor Gurney).  Somerset Maugham was a novelist and playwright, Thomas Hardy a novelist and poet.  Some poets were also artists in prose.  Perhaps because the War claimed so many of them, the survivors stand out.

Recently, I finished Mark Thompson's "The White War," about the Italian front.  There is a chapter (“Starlight from Violence”) on Italian poetry from the Front, a brief comparison of Italian with British poetry and an appreciation of how some poets use emotion to make an ideological point whereas others use ideology to get to the emotion. It struck me that Giuseppe Ungaretti (perhaps to become the most well known of the Italian poets who fought) was more like an Edward Thomas than a Sassoon or an Owen, in that the War for Ungaretti was, according to Thompson, “largely a backdrop in a drama about identity and endurance” and his poems “not ‘war’ poems but a ‘soldier’s’ poems.  In the Italian context, poetic self-absorption need not be an escape from the reality of war.  In Ungaretti’s case, it opens a private vista onto a wider truth.  For identity was at the heart of Italy’s war.”

I wrote that Ungaretti ‘became’ the most well known Italian poet out of the Great War, because Gabrielle D’Annunzio was the most well known before and during it.  I had little idea of his influence, perhaps because I never particularly liked his poetry.  Now I know why.  “D’Annunzio was a spectacular case of arrested emotional development, arguably a natural fascist,” writes Thompson.  “The otherness of other people – a puzzle that haunts modern thought and art – could not fascinate him because other people existed as objects of appetite or will, research opportunities in a quest to investigate the effects of denying himself nothing.” After quoting from one of his speeches following the Italian parliament’s vote for war, a speech in which D’Annunzio glorifies the “blood spurting from the veins of Italy,” Thompson writes “(t)he author of these psychotic remarks was a national hero.  Has any artist played a more baleful part in decisions that led to violence and suffering on the largest scale?”  And yet, “there is a sense in which he truly was – as he claimed – a mouthpiece of the ‘national will.’”

It raises the question: how did poetry influence The War, the people who fought in the war, how does it influence the people who survived or came after?  Does the poetry offer insight into The War or into the person writing the poem?  And what is the source of the poem?  Is it the thoughts and feelings of the poet moved by the circumstances in which the poet finds himself or herself?  Or is the poem primarily motivated by a political awareness?  That, I think, is the difference between an Ungaretti and a D’Annunzio, a Vera Brittain and a Newbolt (at least the Newbolt at the start of The War).  The former was a poet who found herself sin a difficult place at a trying time and is relating what she saw and heard because she felt deeply; the latter was essentially giving poetic expression to the always awkward issue of nationalism.

A final thought.  Perhaps Ungaretti did for Italian poetry what Frost did for American and Edward Thomas for English: they all used a more conversational tone (so Wordsworthian) to say nothing except what had to be said.  (And it shows (though Thompson does not linger here) how for all his modernism and innovation, how rooted in antiquity Ungaretti may have been.  2000 years earlier, the Roman poet Horace wrote nil mortale loquar (say nothing not immortal).)

Stephen J. Cribari, February 2019

Alfred Noyes CBE (1880 – 1958) - British poet, short-story writer and playwright

Alfred Noyes was one of my favourite poets when I was a child.  Although I included him in my first list of 'forgotten' Poets of the First World War, it was not until Debbie Cameron posted about his second marriage on her Facebook Page that I remembered I had not yet researched Alfred, nor included  him in the revised list!

Alfred Noyes was born in Wolverhampton, UK on 16th September 1880. His parents were Alfred Noyes, a Master Grocer, and his wife Amelia Adams Noyes, nee Rawley. Alfred Jnr. had the following siblings: Henry, b.1883, Maud A. b.1885, and Walter B., b. 1889.  The family moved to Wales in 1884.   After studying at Exeter College, Oxford, Alfred began to have his poetry collections published. "The Highwayman", perhaps his most famous poem, was first published in the August 1906 issue of “Blackwood's Magazine".

Alfred married Garnett Daniels in 1907. She was the youngest daughter of  Byron G. Daniels, a Colonel in the United States Army and a Civil War veteran, who was for some years U.S. Consul in Hull. Alfred then had a successful six-week lecture tour of the United States of America. A second visit to America in October of that year lasted six months. During that trip, he visited the principal American universities, including Princeton, where the impression he made was so favourable that in February 1914 he was asked to join the staff as a visiting professor, lecturing on modern English literature from February to June. He accepted, and for nine years he and his wife divided their time between England and America. At Princeton, Alfred taught F. Scott Fitzgerald, Edmund Wilson and John Peale Bishop. He resigned his professorship in 1923, but continued to travel and lecture throughout the United States of America for the rest of his life.

During the First World War, Alfred was not able to serve in the armed forces due to defective eyesight.  From 1916, he did his military service on attachment to the Foreign Office, where he worked with other literary figures of the day with John Buchan for the British Propaganda Bureau. Alfred also did his patriotic duty writing morale-boosting short stories and poems. Perhaps his best-known anti-war poem was "The Victory Ball" (also known as "A Victory Dance"), which was first published in “The Saturday Evening Post” in 1920.

In 1924, Alfred wrote some poems for the Pageant of Empire at the British Empire Exhibition, which were set to music by Sir Edward Elgar and known as “Pageant of Empire”. Among these poems was one entitled “Shakespeare's Kingdom”. Garnett died in 1926 at Saint-Jean-de-Luz, France, where she and Alfred were staying with friends.

After the death of his first wife, Alfred married Mary Angela née Mayne (1889–1976). She was the widow of Lieutenant Richard Shireburn Weld-Blundell, who was killed in the First World War. The couple went to live on the Isle of Wight and had three children: Hugh (1929–2000), Veronica and Margaret. Their younger daughter married Michael Nolan (later Lord Nolan) in 1953.

Alfred also wrote patriotic poems during the Second World War.  He died on 25th June 1958.

Alfred had numerous WW1 poetry collections published:  “Rada: A Belgian Christmas Eve” (Methuen, London, 1915); “Songs of the Trawlers” (Shorter, London, 1916):  “Songs of Shadow-of-a-leaf, and Other Poems” (Blackwood, 1924) and his poems were included in 23 WW1 poetry anthologies.

Debbie Cameron's Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1468972083412699/?hc_ref=ARTxxZzZSdckVSEXbyVsAYHKqGjGAwkY9QIxzF3W3ndTlnLndU5iCapmt-DuOUfVmek

Portrait of Alfred Noyes in 1913 by British photographer Alexander Bassano (1829 - 1913).

“A Prayer In Time Of War” - Poem by Alfred Noyes

The war will change many things in art and life, and among them, it is to be hoped, many of our own ideas as to what is, and what is not, "intellectual."

Thou, whose deep ways are in the sea,
Whose footsteps are not known,
To-night a world that turned from Thee
Is waiting -- at Thy Throne.

The towering Babels that we raised
Where scoffing sophists brawl,
The little Antichrists we praised --
The night is on them all.

The fool hath said . . . The fool hath said . ..
And we, who deemed him wise,
We who believed that Thou wast dead,
How should we seek Thine eyes?

How should we seek to Thee for power
Who scorned Thee yesterday?
How should we kneel, in this dread hour?
Lord, teach us how to pray!

Grant us the single heart, once more,
That mocks no sacred thing,
The Sword of Truth our fathers wore
When Thou wast Lord and King.

Let darkness unto darkness tell
Our deep unspoken prayer,
For, while our souls in darkness dwell,
We know that Thou art there.

Alfred Noyes