Sunday, 19 July 2020

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

Frederic Herbert Trench was born in Avonmore, County Cork, Ireland, 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 in travelling, 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," 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 for a few years, 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 spent time travelling.

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 “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.


Warm vines bloom now along thy rampart steeps
Thy shelves of olives, undercliffs of azure,
And like a lizard of the red rock sleeps
The wrinkled Tuscan sea, panting for pleasure.
Nets, too, festooned about thine elfin port,
Telaro, in the Etrurian mountain’s side,
Heavings of golden luggers scarce distort
The image of thy belfry where they ride.
But thee, Telaro, on a night long gone
That grey and holy tower upon the mole
Suddenly summoned, while yet lightnings shone
And hard gale lingered, with a ceaseless toll
That choked, with its disastrous monotone,
All the narrow channels of the hamlet’s soul.

For what despair, fire, shipwreck, treachery?
Was it for threat that from the macchia sprang
For Genoa’s feud, the oppressor’s piracy,
Or the Falcon of Sarzana that it rang?
Was the boat-guild’s silver plundered? Blood should pay.
Hardwon the footing of the fishers’ clan
The sea-cloud-watchers.— Loud above the spray
The maddening iron cry, the appeal of man,
Washed through the torchless midnight on and on.
Are not enough the jeopardies of day?
Riot arose — fear’s Self began the fray:
But the tower proved empty. By the lightning’s ray
They found no human ringer in the room ....
The bell-rope quivered out in the sea-spume ....

A creature fierce, soft, witless of itself,
A morbid mouth, circled by writhing arms,
By its own grasp entangled on that shelf,
Had dragged the rope and spread the death-alarms;
Insensitive, light-forgotten, up from slime,
From shelter betwixt rocks, issuing for prey
Disguised, had used man’s language of dismay.
The spawn of perished times had late in time
Emerged, and griefs upon man’s grief imposed
But the fishers closed
The blind mouth, and cut off the suckers cold.
Two thousand fathoms the disturber rolled
From trough to trough into the gulf Tyrrhene;
And fear sank with it back into its night obscene.

Herbert Trench

From: “The Book of the Homeless - Le Livre des Sans-Foyer - a 1916 collection of essays, art, poetry, and musical scores”, edited by Edith Wharton and sold during the First World War for the benefit of the American Hostels for Refugees (with the Foyer Franco-Belge) and of the Children of Flanders Rescue Committee (New York, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1916)

The book is now available as a free download courtesy of Gutenberg:


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.