Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Poems about Christmas 1915

As most of you will know, I began seriously to research the poets and poetry of the First World War in May 2012.  After a while, I became convinced that I was ‘receiving help’ because ideas, words, names and phrases come into my head from nowhere.   I often dream about the poets.  Two nights ago I awoke in the middle of the night with “Christmas 1915” going through my head.  The words remained in the cold light of day, so I began to look into poems written on or about Christmas 1915.   I am trying to find out more about the poets but if anyone can help please get in touch.

To set the scene, here is some film footage of Christmas scenes on the Western Front http://ww1lit.nsms.ox.ac.uk/ww1lit/db/object/ww1/5505

Poems found so far:

“Christmas: 1915” by Percy MacKaye (1875–1956) - an American dramatist and poet.

 Now is the midnight of the nations: dark
    Even as death, beside her blood-dark seas,
    Earth, like a mother in birth agonies,
Screams in her travail, and the planets hark
Her million-throated terror. Naked, stark,
    Her torso writhes enormous, and her knees
    Shudder against the shadowed Pleiades
Wrenching the night’s imponderable arc.

Christ! What shall be delivered to the morn
    Out of these pangs, if ever indeed another
    Morn shall succeed this night, or this vast mother
Survive to know the blood-spent offspring, torn
    From her racked flesh?— What splendour from the smother?
What new-wing’d world, or mangled god still-born?

“1915 on Christmas Day” by 'Celtic Thunder'

On the Western Front the guns all died away
And lying in the mud on bags of sand
We heard a German sing from no man's land
He had a tenor voice so pure and true
The words were strange, but every note we knew
Soaring o’er the living, dead and damned
The German sang of peace from no man's land

They left their trenches and we left ours
Beneath tin hats the smiles bloomed like wild flowers
With photos, cigarettes and pots of wine
We built a soldier's truce on the front line
Their singer was a lad of 21
We begged another song before the dawn
And sitting in the mud and blood and fear
He sang again the song all longed to hear

Silent night, no cannons’ roar
A king is born of peace for evermore
All's calm, all's bright
All brothers hand in hand
In 19 and 15 in no man's land

And in the morning all the guns boomed in the rain
And we killed them and they killed us again
At night they charged; we fought them hand to hand
And I killed the boy that sang in no man's land

Silent night, no cannons’ roar
A king is born of peace for evermore
All's calm, all's bright
All brothers hand in hand
And that young soldier sings
And the song of peace still rings
Though the captains and all the kings
Built no man's land
Sleep in heavenly peace

To Sew Or Not to Sew: A Poem - Christmas 1915 by EDWARD H. DOUGLAS

With eager heart and eager hand,
We stitched and stitched, with tightening thread,
Bags, to be later filled with sand,
To shield a gallant Tommy’s head.

Hark! from the trenches rings the cry –
“Oh! help us in our deadly strife;
Provide us bags, or else we die,
For, lack of these costs many a life.”

But now from War Officialdom
Issues the order – “Cease your task.”
It fell upon us like a bomb,
And what to do, we humbly ask?

For still there floats the same refrain,
We can but feel its plaintive touch,
“Send all you can,” and then again,
Send more: we cannot have too much.”

EDWARD H. DOUGLAS. From https://godolphinww1.com/2015/09/04/to-sew-or-not-to-sew-a-poem-christmas-1915/

"The Oxen"--A Poem for Christmas 1915 by Thomas Hardy

Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
     "Now hey are all on their knees,"
An elder said as we sat in a flock
     By the embers in hearthside ease.

We pictured the meek mild creatures where
     They dwelt in their strawy pen.
Nor did it occur to one of us there
     To doubt they were kneeling then.

So fair a fancy few believe           [Hynes gives "would weave." ]
     In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve
     "Come; see the oxen kneel

"In the lonely barton by yonder comb
      Our childhood used to know,"
I should go with him in the gloom,
     Hoping it might be so.

Transcribed directly from the London Times for 24 December 1915, page 7. Checked against The Complete Poetical Works of Thomas Hardy, ed. Samuel Hynes, (Oxford: Clarendon, 1984). II 206