Sunday, 9 December 2018

Timothy Corsellis

                                                Timothy John Manley  Corsellis 
                                 ( 1921-1941)

                                  Timothy Corsellis in 1938, in the Public Domain via Wikipedia 
                          Was reminded of  the work of Timothy Corsellis after finding  two Youtube clips ( linked below) of the actor Timothy Bentinck reading two Corsellis poems ' Dawn after the Raid' and 'Engine Failure'.  Also learnt that Timothy - most known as  David Archer from BBC Radio 4's drama 'The Archers'- was named after Timothy Corsellis, and his father,Henry Bentinck  was friends with Corsellis.

Born on  21st January 1921, Corsellis' father was a barrister-Douglas Corsellis - who lost an arm fighting in the Gallipoli campaign, and died in a flying accident in 1930. Attending Walmer School in Kent, Timothy Corsellis  went on to study at Winchester College.

It is extremely difficult to offer much of an opinion concerning the work of someone who died at the age of twenty. All one can say is that his work that remains shows a great range of topics. The aforementioned  'Engine Failure' concerns RAF training, 'After the Raid'  tackles the impact of an air raid on London. And Tim Bentinck's delivery is superb.  'There Is A Meeting Place in Heaven' is Christian themed. Corsellis also wrote a poem titled 'Stephen Spender' some two weeks before he died, in which he offers his impression of meeting Spender, most probably at the offices of 'Horizon' magazine in 1941.

Unlike many of his contemporaries, Timothy Corsellis declined to go to university when leaving Winchester College in 1938. He started work at Wandsworth Town Hall , and registered as a Conscientious Objector in April 1939.  After the fall of Dunkirk, Corsellis asked to be removed from the list of Conscientious Objectors, and took up training with the RAF . However, Corsellis cited a conscientious objection to bombing civilian and felt unable to take up a post within Bomber Command. He received an honourable discharge from the RAF in early 1941 and worked was an Air Raid warden in London, seeing some of the most horrific sights of the Blitz.

In August 1941, Corellis joined the  as 2nd officer Air Transport Auxiliary, which effectively meant flying planes from factories to various RAF bases. On 10th October 1941 , flying from Luton to Carlisle, Coresllis plane accidentally crashed  near Dumfries, and he died instantly.

Have shamelessly drawn on an  article 'From Winchester to War: Timothy Corsellis ( 1921-1941) ,  which originally appeared on the War Poets Association website : Informed that this article was written by Helen Goethals. 
The Winchester College at War website has a different timeline- linked below. 
The Young Poets Network presents the Timothy Corsellis prize for poetry written  by those aged between 18-25 who are appraising World War 2 poets.  Of course any initiative to introduce World War 2 poetry is much welcomed,and the latest new (2018) can be found here

The poem 'What I Never Saw'  looks at the tedium of war in a most  anti-heroic fashion, showing has a large part of war can be 'waiting for something to happen'.

                       What I Never Saw (extract) 

                         What I never saw
                         Were the weary hours of waiting while the
                                                              sun rose and set,
                         The everlasting eye turned upwards to the sky,
                         Watching the weather which said,
                          Thou shalt not fly'.

                         We sat together as we sat at peace
                         Bound by no ideal of service
                         But by a common interest in pornography and
                                             a desire to outdrink one another

                            War was remote;
                          There was a little trouble in Abyssinia;
                          Some of us came from Kenya and said
                         'Why I was on the spot all the while
                          And the Italians sprayed the roadsides with
                                                                   mustard gas'

                           Theirs were the stories of war.

                           Then came the queuing, the recurrent line of
                                                                    pungent men
                           Dressed in dirt with mud eating their trouser legs,
                           The collar that is cleaner than the shirt
                           And the inevitable adjectives.

                           The papers ran out early today,
                           There was no butter for the bread at breakfast,
                           Nobody calls us at dawn
                            We never strain or sweat,
                           Nor do they notice when we come in late.

                            When I was civilian I hoped high,
                            Dreamt my future cartwheels in the sky'
                            Almost forgot to arm myself
                             Against the boredom and the inefficiency
                            The petty injustice and the everlasting grudges.
                             The sacrifice is greater than I expected

Of course there is the irony of the last line 'The sacrifice is greater than I expected' when considering Corsellis' death in a military accident.

                             "I" Always "I"

                            I passively acquiesce in the avalanche of death
                            Under my breath I lose the sincere feeling
                            That while hands are dealing in sin the soul is free.
                            No harm to me, justifying the material deed
                           With the new born seed of a higher emotion,
                           A sudden devotion to a greater thing than imperial expansion

                         "I" always "I" in this turmoil of souls;
                         God above holds millions of lives in his arms
                          Yet the word harm means only one thing to this mind
                         Help me to find an idea successive to soliptic I!
                         Let them all die; one day a bullet inscribed with
                         Shall find the same written upon my heart with shame.

                        Why in the middle of complete conflagration
                         Involving a nation, must the solipsist idea
                        Rise? To conquer fear ? To hide from a wrangling soul
                       The extinction of the whole? Give me part of God's
                       From the centre of unrest make me realise
                       That no man dies; not the souls that once spoke from
                             behind gristle eyes.
                      From 'More Poems From The Forces' edited by Kheidrych Rhys, 1941

Have added this poem simply because it's so curious. It as if Corsellis is writing a philosophy essay, trying to make sense of a being young and caught up in war. Trying to find some greater meaning wrestling with solipsism- 'the self is all that can be known to exist' and as Christian Corellis is trying to reconcile his faith with whilst caught up in a 'complete conflagration'.  I don't think that the poem has great literary merit- but as a section of war memoir it is fascinating.

Thank you to Patrick Villa of the War Poets Association for pointing out a couple of errors in the original post- hopefully now corrected. 


Winchester College Tribute                  

Timothy Bentinck  reads  Dawn After The Raid    on Youtube

Timothy Bentinck reads   Engine Failure              on Youtube

Timothy Corsellis Prize   page maintained by the National Poetry Society /Young Poets Network

Commonwealth Wargraves Commission  entry for Timothy Corsellis

War Poets Association  page on Timothy Corsellis

Further poems found by Corsellis  Interesting blog post about further poems and notebooks by Timothy Corsellis that were featured on BBC Antiques Roadshow in 2012.

A Burnt Ship blog    Companion blog to this one. Poetry & prose related to the Stuart era

World War Poetry website  Further writings by Michael Bully


A biography titled 'The Unassuming Sky, The Life and Poetry of Timothy Corsellis' by Helen Goethals was published in 2012.

Sunday, 11 November 2018

John Pudney 'For Johnny' and other 'Songs'

                       John Sleigh Pudney 1909- 1977


                    Bristol Beaufighter Mark IF of No. 252 Squadron RAF at Chivenor, Devon.
                              CH17305 , Imperial War Museum, photo taken by Mr. B J H Daventry

                                   John Pudney's poem 'For Johnny' was one of the most famous 'War in the Air' World War 2 poems. The writer was a former journalist,  who served as a squadron leader in RAF intelligence during the War. The poem was written in 1941 on the back of an envelope during an air raid alert in London, then later submitted to News Chronicle , who published the poem. 'For Johnny' also appeared in Pudney's collection of war poems titled 'Dispersal Point' ( from 1942, reprinted the same year, and again in 1943).

John Pudney had already published poetry as from 1933.  He also edited the collection 'Air Force Poetry' (1944) with Henry Treece and had seven poems included in the anthology 'More Poems From The Forces' edited by Keidrych Rhys , (1944).  He also wrote short stories about his life in the RAF under the names of PERSPEX

Famous for its simplicity, and its message that the best tribute to be paid to a deceased pilot is to take care of his children.  And for being read at the end of the film ' The Way to the Stars'   by Michael Redgrave .

                                        For Johnny

                                         Do not despair
                                         For Johnny-head-in-air,
                                         He sleeps as sound
                                         As Johnny under ground.

                                        Fetch out no shroud
                                        For Johnny-in-the-cloud,
                                        And keep your tears
                                        for him in after years.

                                        Better by far
                                        For Johnny-in-the cloud;
                                       To keep you head,
                                       And see his children fed.

In 1976, a collection of 23 World War 2 written by John Pudney was published , all taken from his 1957 'Collected Works', and not surprisingly, was titled 'For Johnny'. In the introduction, Pudney explained that there was no particular 'Johnny' in mind, which added to the poem's appeal as readers could pick an RAF casualty they knew,  and personalise the poem.

John Pudney's work has been included in subsequent anthologies such as 'The Terrible Rain'  and 'I Burn for England' . Not meeting with universal approval . Fellow poet Vernon Scannell  ( who served in the army during the War ) was quite catty about Pudney  "John Pudney's facile verses were popular during the war but their shallow sentimentality would be unlikely to find admirers now " ( 'Not Without Glory -poets of the second world war'-1976).

It is easy to  agree with Scannell if we are looking for literary merit.  Pudney's work is comforting in the way a well chosen  'with sympathy ' card can be. Or occasionally his poetry  veers to being too  clever such as  the line "Timelessly in time with time"- from the poem 'Air Gunner' below,  which could be a Yes song lyric from the early 1970's.  But John Pudney did make a significant contribution to World War 2 poetry, and deserves a mention, and can't just be dismissed in one line.

And there's a massive discussion to be had. World War 2 poetry can be appraised as literature, but also a source of writing that feeds a cultural need. 'For Johnny' might be sentimental but it has worked as war poetry if so many people can find it relevant to the whole trauma of  loss during war. I had also wondered if Vernon Scannell, who had traumatic experiences due to fighting in the North African and Normandy campaigns, and been jailed as a deserter, resented John Pudney possible lack of direct combat experience ? Scannell's 'Not Without Glory' does not draw on the writer's own war experience or his own poetry.

Two further poems from the collection  'For Johnny' . As far as I can tell they were both from around 1941 or 1942 .  'Missing' doesn't need much further comment, but draws on a similar theme to 'For Johnny' - the poem. 'Air Gunner' was more literary, about a youth finding his way into this role.


                                 Less said the better.
                                 The bill unpaid, the dead letter,
                                 No roses at the end,
                                 Of Smith my friend

                                  Last words don't matter
                                  And there are none to flatter
                                  Words will not fill the post
                                  Of  Smith, the ghost.

                                  For Smith, our brother,
                                  Only son of loving mother,
                                  The ocean lifted, stirred
                                  Leaving no word.

                                          Air Gunner

                                   The eye behind this gun made peace
                                   With a boy's eye with doubted, trembled.
                                   Guileless in the mocking light
                                   Of frontiers where death assembled.

                                   Peace was as single as the dawn,
                                   Flew straightly as the birds migrating,
                                   Timelessly in time with time,
                                   Purposeful, uncalculating

                                   So boyish doubt was put away:
                                   The man's eye and boy's were one.
                                   Mockery and death retreat
                                   Before the eye behind the gun.

In the publisher's blurb for 'Dispersal Point' third edition 1942, John Pudney was quoted as saying ;
"I hope these songs will be taken as a simple commentary on the Service and on war occasions generally. They are  only songs -not written in tranquillity, but in odd places and corners never far from the sound of aircraft. "
This is perhaps the final word to be said on his war poetry.


John Pudney entry from Science Fiction Encyclopedia

Don't forget the companion blog to this one A Burnt Ship   17th century related war poetry and prose.

Have just published an article on  RAF poet Thomas Rahilley Hodgson
on the World War Poetry website

Sunday, 9 September 2018

Anna Akhmatova's Poetry / Al Stewart track 'Roads To Moscow'

                  Anna Akhmatova ( Anna Akhmatova Gorenko)         
Update : I am preparing a longer piece about Anna Akhmatova with the kind assistance of Lucy London from the 'Female Poets of the First World  War  Blog' which will be featured on the website    Michael Bully, 22nd September 2018     

Further update said webarticle now ready to view at Anna Akmatova -joint piece with Lucy London                          

                        1922 portrait of Anna Akhmatova by Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin ( courtesy of Wikipedia) 

                                     "At the burial of an epoch
                                      no psalm is heard at the tomb
                                      soon nettles and thistles                                       
                                      will decorate the spot 
                                     The only busy hands are those 
                                      of the grave-diggers .Faster! Faster!
                                      and it's quiet, Lord, so quiet
                                      you can hear time passing."
                                      Anna Akhtmatova poem,  'In 1940' 
Many basic details of concerning the life of Anna Akhmatova are not agreed upon. Some sources state that Anna Akhmatova was born in St. Petersburg in 1888, others offer Boshoy Fontain, near Odessa, Ukraine in 1889.  Associated with  the Acemist poetry movement centred round St .Petersburg, Anna Akmatova married fellow poet Nikolay Gumilyov in 1910- though divorced in 1918. Their son, Lev Gumilyov was born in 1912, and collections of Anna's work appeared in 1912 and 1914.  

Though met with official disapproval during the Bolshevik regime, further collections of Anna Akhmatova's work appeared in 1917, and two in 1921. However, Nikolay Gumilyov was executed in 1921 for alleged taking part in an anti-Bolshevik conspiracy.  Anna Akhmatov found that her poetry was no longer permitted to be published, and she survived as a translator and literary critic ,becoming a specialist on the work of Pushkin. Lev Gumilyov served three sentences under Stalin's regime. Anna Akhmatov's close friend, the fellow poet Osip Mandelshtam, was hauled away by police in front of her , and imprisoned.  Two future husbands would also be jailed- in fact her third husband, the art historian Nikolai Punin died in a camp in 1934,

When World War 2 began, Russia had already  signed the Nazi-Soviet pact with Germany. Anna Akhmatov's poetry was allowed to be published again in 1940, but a full collection would not appear until 1961- one source I consulted, stated 1965. One of her 1940 poems - ' To The Londoners,' was a written dedication to those who were facing the London Blitz. 

Following the launching of Operation Barbarossa ,Stalin permitted Anna Akhmatov to broadcast live to the women of Leningrad as the blockade of the city began in September 1941, but she departed the city in the Spring of 1942 for Tashkent, Uzbekistan. One account has Anna flying out of the city , clutching the manuscript  for   Shostakovich's 7th Symphony - The Leningrad Symphony'. Whilst absent from Leningrad, Anna Akhmatov read poetry to the wounded troops. In June 1944 Anna Akhmatov returned to the city. During this time her poetry began to be published again, and in 1945 she performed her work to an audience of some 3,000 people at an event in Moscow, and received a standing ovation.  

However in 1946, the Soviet authorities clamped down on her work. An extensive collection of Anna Akhmatov's poetry being prepared for publication was banned. A high standing member of the Politburo, Anrei Zhadanov, notoriously denounced her work for being "utterly individualistic" and referred to Anna Akhmatov as " a nun and a whore, who combines harlotry with prayer."

Following her son Lev Gumilyov 's third arrest and imprisonment in 1949, Anna destroyed a substantial amount of her own work including a play that she had written during her stay at Tashent. 

However, following 'The Thaw' after Stalin's death, Anna Akhmatov was allowed to have her work published again with 22 of her poems appearing in an official anthology of Soviet poems in 1958.  In 1959 her membership to the Soviet Union of Writers was restored, and Anna was permitted to embark on a foreign travel . Following more of her work being published, Anna Akhmatova was permitted to travel abroad again in 1965.
On 5th March 1966 Anna Akhmatov died after a short illness. 

Anna Akhmatova seemed to have lost so many people close to her during the Revolution, the Purges, World War 2 that she reached a state evoked in her poem 'The Return' from 1944  

"The souls of my dears have all flown to the stars
Thank God there's no one left for me to lose"

A cycle of 16 short poems 'The Winds of War  appeared in 'Second World War Poems-chosen by Hugh Haughton ' ( Faber & Faber, 2004). Here is number three in the series.


And people's colourful daily round
Suddenly changed drastically
But this was not a city sound,
Not one heard in the villages.
It resembled a distant peal of thunder
As closely as one brother resembles another,
But in thunder there's the moisture,
Of cool cloud towers
And the yearning of the meadows-
For the news of joyous showers,
But this was like scorching heat, dry,
And we didn't want to believe
The rumour we heard-because of
How it grew and multiplied,
Because of how indifferently
It brought death to my child

September 1941

Yet there were notes of victory within the poetry cycle. 

 15 JANUARY  27, 1944

And on starless January night,
Amazed at its fantastic fate,
Returned from the bottomless depths of death,
Leningrad salutes itself


A clean wind rocks the firs'
Clean snow covers the ground.
No longer hearing the tread of the enemy,
It rests, my land 

February 1945 


10 Anna Akhmatova Poems to Read when Life, Love, and Politics Are Hard


The Muse of Keening  Short film about the life of work  including as interview with step-daughter.

Poem-'Requiem'       Anna Akhmatova's most famous poem read out with some minimal electronic backing. Superb.

Contemporary  St Petersburg website about Anna Akhmatova (English language)

 St. entry for Anna Akhmatova Museum

Recommended Books

'Anna Akhmatova Poems' Selected and Translated by Lyn Coffin -Introduction by Joseph Brodsky'
 published by 'Norton & Company' London/New York 1983

'Anna Akhmatova Selected Poems-Selected, Translated and Introduced by Stanley Kuntiz with Max Hayward'
published by Collins Harvill, London 1989

Al Stewart song 'Roads To Moscow'  

Folk rock singer-songwriter Al Stewart has excelled in writing countless songs with a historical theme.  My favourite is 'Road To Moscow'  from the 1973 album 'Past, Present and Future'. Unfortunately not in a position to  reproduce the lyrics so can only quote from them

'Roads to Moscow' tells the story of a Red Army soldier serving at the time of Operation Barbarossa. The first verses describe the Soviets retreating deep into Russia, then in turn drive the Germans back. The soldier begins to dream of his return home-but becomes a prisoner of war, but escapes after a day. He successfully  rejoins the Red Army. But only to be moved from the ranks and ordered to a  Soviet labour camp for allowing himself to be taken prisoner. The song ends with him gazing through the wire, realising that Winter was approaching.

"It's cold and damp in the transit camp
 The air is still and solemn
The pale sun of October whispers
The snow will soon be coming
And I wonder when I will be home again
And the morning answers never. "

The debate whether song lyrics about war can be counted as 'war poetry' seems hard to resolve. But if it is accepted that lyrics can be considered as war poetry, then 'Roads to Moscow' is a strong contender.


Al Stewart explanation  of 'Roads to Moscow'

'Roads to Moscow' (song)   from 'Youtube'

Finally Please remember that there is a companion blog to this one called A Burnt Ship  about Stuart era War Poetry and literature. Also features contemporary fiction about the 17th century . 

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Nelly Sachs ( 1891- 1970) 'Chorus of the Rescued '

Nelly Sachs   - 'The Worms of Fear  Still Feed Upon Us'

I wish to thank the 'Swedish History in English' Facebook group for their help with this feature

Nelly Sachs in 1966 at the time of being joint winner of the Nobel prize for Literature

                     German Jewish poet Nelly Sachs (1891- 1971) managed to escape from Berlin  to Sweden in 1940.  A fellow poet, Gudrun Harlan, managed to contact the Swedish novelist  Selma Lagerholf to assist : Nelly Sachs had been a long standing reader of Selam Lagherholf's work and they had corresponded for some years, and Nelly Sachs later maintained that her own love for Sweden developed from Selma Lagerholf's writing- particularly the novel 'Gosta Berling' (1891) .  Prince Eugene of Sweden also helped in acquiring the necessary documentation.

 Nelly Sachs  had already been interrogated a number of times by the Gestapo, and one source suggests that she had actually received notification to report for deportation. However on 16th May 1940, Nelly Sachs and her mother took one of the last flights from Germany  to Sweden, where they remained for the rest of their lives.

It was only after World War 2 that Nelly's poetry received international acclaim : She wrote a great deal about the Holocaust. Her most famous poems include Chimneys, Numbers. Some are just too stark and painful to read . They evoke the systematic brutality of the Holocaust as much it could be possible in the written word.

There is an element of trauma for having escaped, the 'guilt of the rescued' . Many of Nelly Sachs'  relatives did not survive the camp. A number of friends such as fellow poet  Getrud Kolmar were also murdered in the holocaust. Nelly befriended the Romanian poet Paul Celan, who survived a Nazi Labour camp, and later settled in Paris.

There is a brittle and fragile element to her poetry- 'the rescued' can not separate themselves from the horror of those who perished:

Chorus of the Rescued

We, the rescued,
From whose hollow bones death had began to whittle his flutes,
And on whose sinews he had already stroked his bow-
Our bodies continues to lament
With their mutilated music.
We, the rescued,
The worms of fear still feed on us.
Our constellation is buried in dust.
We, the rescued,
Beg you;
Show us your sun,but gradually.
Lead us from star to star, step by step.
Be gentle when you teach us to live again.
Lest the song of a bird,
Or a pail being filled at the well,
Let our badly sealed burst forth again
and carry us away-
We beg you;
Do not show us an angry dog, not yet-
It could be, it could be
That we will dissolve into dust-
Dissolve into dust, before your eyes ,
For what binds our fabric together?
We whose breath vacated us,
Whose soul fled to Him out of that midnight
Long before our bodies were rescued
Into the ark of the moment.
We, the rescued,
We, press your hand
We look into your eye-
But all that binds us together now is leave-taking,
the leave-taking in the dust
Binds together with you.

- Nelly Sachs, translated by Michael Hamburger 

Taken from the anthology 'Poetry of the Second World War- An International Anthology ' .edited by Desmond Graham 1995.

Several collections of her work were printed during Nelly Sachs' lifetime.  Her New York Times obituary suggested that her collection  ' Flight and Metamorphosis'  (1959) received particular acclaim.
A play 'Eli' from 1950- set in Nazi Occupied Poland- was read out on West German radio, and performed on stage in 1962. In 1965 Nelly Sachs won the Peace Prize of German Publishers ( Friedenspreis des Deutcshen Buchandels ) And  in 1966 she became the joint winner of the Nobel Prize of Literature along with Israeli writer Schmuel Yosef Agnon.

Paul Celan took his own life in 1970, three weeks before Nelly Sachs died in a Stockholm hospital on 12th May 1970. She was 78.

Links of interest 

Nelly Sachs'    Nobel Prize Speech 1966

New York Times obituary  to Nelly Sachs

Jewish Women's Archive   Article on Nelly Sachs

Nelly Sachs Collection on line

Home page has English language biography feature. The digitalised documents are largely in German and Swedish.

Monday, 28 May 2018

Sidney Keyes 'A Poet of Great Promise' part one

Sidney Keyes ( 27th May 1922- 29th April 1943)

This an extract from a longer piece being prepared on Sidney Keyes. Been offered further material from the South East History Board forum after declaring my interest in Keyes' work.  This piece is more focused on Sidney Keyes connection to War poetry. A follow up article will look at Keyes in relation to the 'New Apocalypse' and other poetry from the 1940's along with the longest of his war poems 'The Foreign Gate' 

                                        Image: British Army in Tunisia NA880 courtesy of IWM & Wiki Commons 

                Lieutenant Sidney Arthur Kilworth Keyes was killed in action near Sidi Abdulla,  Tunisia, on 29th April 1943. He was serving  with the 1st Battalion of the Queen's Own Royal West Kent Regiment and was a month away from his 21st birthday : Keyes had seen active service for two weeks. and was posthumously awarded the Hawthornden Prize in 1943 for his second collection of poetry, 'The Cruel Solstice' which is dedicated to fellow Oxford University poet John Heath Stubbs.  He was buried at Massicault Cemetery, Tunisia.

There is fair amount of biography on line , including a recent feature on the War Poets Association website about Sidney Keyes. He came from a middle class background, brought up largely by his grandfather. Educated at Tonbridge School then Queens College, Oxford.  I have listed further sources for anyone interested in researching Sidney Keyes' life below,

I have a second edition copy of 'The Cruel Solstice' from 1944. The huge range of poetic themes is impressive:  Titles such as 'William Yates in Limbo, 'St. John the Baptist', 'William Byrd', 'Don Juan', 'Orestes and the Furies', 'The Kestrels', abound- perhaps one in ten poems are related to the War.

Certainly the poet Vernon Scannell in his much neglected work on World War 2 poetry- 'Not Without Glory '  (1976) stressed that Keyes  largely seemed to be avoiding the idea of poetry being some sort of war reportage and was strangely detached from World events.  It is possible to go further, Keyes is almost retreating into his inner world of nature and mysticism . The two examples  copied below, 'War Poet' and 'Europe's Prisoners' show Keyes breaking out of his own landscape .

Keyes also wrote a poem titled 'Dunbar, 1650'  ( written June 1942) ....referring to Cromwell's victory against a Scottish army of double his size on 3rd September 1650.  And 'The Foreign Gate' , an epic poem that covers several printed pages, which also deals with warfare ( written February- March 1942).

Keyes most famous poem is 'War Poet' from March 1942. One that has been regularly added to World War 2 anthologies.

War Poet

" I am the man who looked for peace and found
My own eyes barbed,
I am the man who groped for words and found
An arrow in my hand.
I am the builder whose firm walls surround
A slipping land.
When I grow sick or mad
Mock me not nor chain me:
When I reach for the wind
Cast me not down:
Though my face is a burnt book
And a wasted town."

It seemed quite non-specific, but then was written months before Keyes saw military action.

One of my favourite war related poems from 'The Cruel Solstice'  is 'Europe's Prisoners' . Just sums up what was happening in 1930's/ 1940's Europe.

The last two lines seem to suggest that  Keyes hopes that those in prison will break out to seek a devastating retribution on the world that has caged them.

"Until at last the courage they have learned
Shall burst the walls and overturned the world"

 Keyes was writing in 1941, and would have no concept of how horrific the labour and concentration camp conditions would be.  The poem is an interesting snapshot of how a British poet imagines the plight of the huge numbers of people in captivity, and yearns for them to stage a romantic rebellion. 

Europe's Prisoners

" Never a day, never a day passes
But I remember then, their stoneblind faces
Beaten by arclights, their eyes turned inward
Seeking an answer and their passage homeward:

For being citizens of time, they never
Would learn the body's nationality.
Tortured for years now, they refuse to sever
Spirit from flesh or accept our callow century.

Not without hope, but lacking present solace,
The preacher know the feels of nails and grace,
The singer snores; the orator's facile hands
are fixed in a gesture no one understands.

Others escaped, yet paid for their betrayal;
Even the politicians with their stale
Visions and cheap flirtation with the past
Will not die any easier at the last.

The ones who took to garrets and consumption
In foreign cities, found a deep dungeon
Than any Dachau. Free but still confined.
The human lack of pity split their mind.

Whatever days, whatever season pass,
The prisoners must start in pain's white face;
Until at last the courage they have learned
Shall burst the walls and overturn the world."

21st May 1941 

A final word by Private James Lucas :

"During my Army Service I had a number of Platoon commanders. Keyes was the best of them. He was the quieter, determined, non-blustering type of leadership. His manners impeccable and he did not talk down to us, nor was he condescending to us- so many officers were. He was a gallant, Christian gentleman who sacrificed himself for the men under his command. "

Memoir included in Sidney Keyes 'Collected Poems' , Carcanet , 2002.

In fact  Sidney Keyes' work is best explored via  'Collected Poems' , Carcanet, 2002. Essentially the last update of the original  1944 collected works edited by Michael Meyer , an Oxford contemporary. Biographical material has been added including two accounts of soldiers who fought with Keyes.  web-article on Sidney Keyes ( longer version of this piece)

War Poets Association  page on Sidney Keyes

Tonbridge School  page on Sidney Keyes

Please check my other blog featuring Stuart era War & Literature  A Burnt Ship

Sunday, 29 April 2018

T R Hodgson

       Thomas Rahilley Hodgson 1915 -1941 'This Life This Death' 

          A longer version of this article has now appeared on the
          Michael Bully, 11th November 2018 

                                         'Blue Runway Study' by Alexander Johnson
                                         Used with kind permission of the artist.

Thomas   Rahilley   Hodgson,  Pilot Officer RAF Volunteer Reserve, was killed in action on 17th May 1941 aged 25. He was survived by his parents and his wife. Hodgson is  listed on the Runnymede memorial , which commemorate around 20,000 individuals who served with the RAF during World War 2 and had no known grave.

In 1943, a collection  of his poems titled ' This Life This Death' was published by Routledge, London. Hodgson had been writing poetry since 1932, and only seven out of the fifty-five poems could strictly be called 'war poems'.

It is not known how many of his poems were published in his life time but Hodgson's poetry has been included in two crucial World War 2 poetry anthologies,'The Terrible Rain ' and  'I Burn For England' .

Robert  Graves has been quoted as stating "No war poetry can be expected from the Royal Air Force"
( source Daniel Swift -'Bomber County') .

Certainly seems that World War 2 War in the Air poetry is even less known that its land and sea counterparts.  One exception is Timothy Corsellis  (1921- 1941 ), who served in the RAF for only a
matter of months in 1941, produced a couple of highly reclaimed poems such as 'Dawn After The Raid' and 'News Reel of Embarkation .' His work was anthologised in eleven anthologies of war poetry. In 2014 the 'Timothy Corsellis Prize' was established by the Poetry Society, in conjunction with the War Poets Association and the Imperial War Museum, to encourage young people aged 14- 25 to write poetry about World II.

Two poems worthy of note are 'Searchlights Over Berlin' , written before the Allies saturation bombing of Germany started. Hodgson indicated being part of the War effort couldn't be explained -"And he is rising mad who searches here for meaning."

Searchlights Over Berlin

"Their silver scalpels probe the wound of night
seeking out doom, a death
to death. And now
no highflung phrase, no braggart
gesture of the hand or jaw
can still the double fear. Who fly
ten thousand feet about in the shrill dark
are linked with those who cover
under earth to hear, vague as sea
upon an island wind. the murmur
which is, for some
eternity, for some
an ending,
And he is rising mad who searches here
for meaning."

Whilst 'It is Death Now We Look Upon " , commemorates a similar lack of meaning. Death is the ultimate negation of life, there is no value placed on dying whilst fighting in a war .

Both poems are bleak, and without a clever subtext, and not a single word is wasted. There's probably little to be gained in trying to analyse them. There is a strange sense of loss of self, when faced by the sheer enormity of the War.

It is Death Now We Look Upon. 

murmurous the river-
which is a memory -

it is death now we look upon.

hands have no meaning
eyes no longer speak
kisses call
sorrow like a dream
out of the dusk remembering

it is death now we look upon .

call home the old,
and let him lie
lapped in their shaken
yet unshaken,faith

call home tomorrow's quick
the beautiful, the glad,
the unrelenting
Call home the children
we have made
but shall we not know.

Cancel all tears,
and let all love
grow cold,
that pain we may ease,

it is death now we look upon."


More artwork from Alexander Johnson :  Alexander has been working on a World War 2 related art projects  and is also inspired by his father' s service as a pilot during the War.

A Burnt Ship   A blog about Stuart era poetry and prose related to warfare . Companion blog to this one.

Timothy Corsellis   Page maintained on the 'Discover War Poets' website.


Copies of 'This Life This Death' can still be found on Amazon UK but the book has been out of print for decades now.

'The Terrible Rain :   War Poets 1939- 1945 , an anthology selected and arranged by Brian Gardner'  , Magnum Books, 1977

'I Burn for England . An Anthology of the poetry of World War II Selected and Introduced by Charles Hamblett, Leslie Frewin, 1966

'Bomber County The Lost Airman of World War 2 ' , Daniel Swift, Hamish Hamilton , 2010.

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

More on Johannes Bobrowski -Gertrud Kolmar

     Johannes Bobrowski's tribute to Gertud Kolmar ( Gertrud Kathe Chodziesner )         

                                   Plaque dedicated to Gertud Kolmar, in Berlin, in 1993 courtesy Wikipedia

                            I have  previously posted about  Johannes Bobrowski  ( 1917- 1965) - and recently went back to 'Shadowlands', the 1966 translation of his work from German by Ruth and Mathew Meads, which was republished in 1984 .  After being accepted in his native DDR as a rehabilitated Soviet Prisoner of War  and a respected poet, Bobrowski was gradually getting noticed in the West from around 1960 onward. And the East German regime were prepared to grant him some  permission to travel.

'Shadowlands' included a poem titled 'Gerturd Kolmar'  :  Certainly strange to have Bobrowski, a former German soldier  writing a tribute to a Jewish woman poet who didn't survive the holocaust.  The poem was first published in a collected  titled 'Shadowland Rivers' from 1962, which also contains two poems  ' Else Lasker-Schuler ' ( 1869-1945) and 'To Nelly Sachs' (1891- 1970) , who were both German women of Jewish descent.

 An ode Bobrowski wrote about Thomas Chatterton ( 1752- 1770), the forerunner of the English  Romantic poets, is a surprising choice .Though Bobrowski shared a huge reverence for Nature with the Romantics, his poetry was largely quite clipped and sparse in its use of words, perhaps having more in common with early 20th century Imagism.

 'Gerturd Kolmar'

Beech, bloody in leaf,
in smoking depth bitter
the shadows, the door above
of shouting magpies.

There a girl walked,
a girl with smooth hair,
the plain under her lids
glanced up, her step
was lost in the marches.

But the dark time
is not dead, my speech
wanders and is
rusty with blood.

Were I to remember you;
I stepped in front of the beech,
I have commanded the magpie:
Be silent, they come, who were
here-if I remembered:
We shall not die, we shall
be girded about with towers."

Johannes Bobrowski ( from 'Shadowlands)

      Gertrud Kathe Chodziesner/Gertrud Kolmar   ( 10th December 1894- deported March 1943) 

                      Gertrud Kolmar's legacy of 450 poems, two short stories, and three plays. Personal papers and other works were destroyed at the time of her arrest.  Her literary career had a promising start with her first collection published in 1917, and was frequent published throughout the 1920's, and a second collection appeared in 1934. But a third volume of poetry was suppressed by the Nazi regime in 1938, and in 1941 Gertud Kolmar became a forced labourer in the armaments industry. On 27th February 1943, Gertud was arrested by the SS and deported to Auschwitz on 2nd March 1943, her exact date of death is not known.  Interest has steadily grown in her work.

I am not sure of the date that 'The Female Poet' was written. I think that appeared from 1936 -1938 .
The incredible sense of being helpless against the course of history -'My heart beats like a frightened little bird's' and ' whispering to the wind' /'This shall not be' is so brilliantly . Or perhaps the poet is simply referring to being overwhelmed by a love affair. And the closing line " You hear me speak/But do you hear me feel ? " is spoken thinly to a party that is just not interested.

The Female Poet (  'Die Dichterin ' )

You hold me now completely in your hands.

My heart beats like a frightened little bird's
Against your palm. Take heed! You do not think
A person lives within the page you thumb.
To you this book is paper, cloth, and ink,

Some binding thread and glue, and thus is dumb,
And cannot touch you (though the gaze be great
That seeks you from the printed marks inside),
And is an object with an object's fate.

And yet it has been veiled like a bride,
Adorned with gems, made ready to be loved,
Who asks you bashfully to change your mind,
To wake yourself, and feel, and to be moved.

But still she trembles, whispering to the wind:
"This shall not be." And smiles as if she knew.
Yet she must hope. A woman always tries,
Her very life is but a single "You . . ."

With her black flowers and her painted eyes,
With silver chains and silks of spangled blue.
She knew more beauty when a child and free,
But now forgets the better words she knew.

A man is so much cleverer than we,
Conversing with himself of truth and lie,
Of death and spring and iron-work and time.
But I say "you" and always "you and I."

This book is but a girl's dress in rhyme,
Which can be rich and red, or poor and pale,
Which may be wrinkled, but with gentle hands,
And only may be torn by loving nails.

So then, to tell my story, here I stand.
The dress's tint, though bleached in bitter lye,
Has not all washed away. It still is real.
I call then with a thin, ethereal cry.

You hear me speak. But do you hear me feel?

-Gertrud Kolmar  ( translated by Translated by Henry A Smith )

Taken from the All Poetry entry for Gertrud Kolmar

Most Indebted to the Jewish Women's Archive   feature on Gertrud Kolmar .

And also to Lucy London 's feature on Gertrud Kolmar Female Poets of the First World War blog

Finally, must just mention the Stuart era companion blog to this one A burnt ship

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

1940 -Poetry of the Darkest Hour

                                            Poetry from the Darkest Hour 


Picture of '1940' carved into the walls of the pillbox  courtesy of 'Wikipedia' 

                       Apologies for the lack of new posts, but pleased to see that people are still visiting this blog. A lot of spare time has been spent on my latest  blog aBurntShip featuring 17th century related war poetry and prose. I started a blog concerning my views on the 1685 Monmouth Rebellion-which is yet unpublished.  On my way back to World War 2 poetry.

With the rise of the movie 'Darkest Hour' -thought that it was time to select some poetry relating to that crucial phase of the War.

              One of my favourite pieces of poetry  about this year is the opening part of  Bertolt Brecht 's '1940' .

   "Spring is coming.The gentle winds
   Are freeing the cliffs of their winter ice.
   Trembling, the peoples of the north await
   The battle fleets of the house-painter.

 Out of the libraries
 Emerge the butchers.
 Pressing their children closer
 Mothers stand and humbly search
 The skies for the inventions of learned men.

 The designers sit
 Hunched in the drawing offices:
 One wrong figure, and the enemy's cities
 Will remain Undestroyed.  "

-Bertolt Brecht

                                               Brecht was living in exile from Germany since 1933. After several years in Denmark, Brecht moved to Sweden in April 1939, but moved to Finland in May 1940.  I rate these three verses highly; opening with the idea that  the start of Spring, rather than being a cause for celebration, heralds the beginning of the fighting season.  In fact knowledge itself is used against rather than for ,the interests of humanity. Butchers go to libraries, learned men are devising new inventions of war, designers are planning to destroy enemy cities.

British poetry  from 1940 

I have selected three poems, all written by women, not for any deliberate reason. I don't think that any of them are of astonishing literary importance. But they convey an eerie fatalism, not necessarily of a defeatist nature, more of a sense of living in a country which has lost control of its destiny. Also reminds one that the events of 1940 were shared by those out of uniform as well as those who were serving.

                                                      Headland 1940 

"The Atlantic clangs, a hammer against the headland.
Lungs of my generation wait for the stroke,
The wave's long tension tattering into smoke
Breathe turmoil, with this headland that is England

Surf in the cove has woven a scantier garland,
Scalding the ribs of a trawler mined in May.
Roll on my soul: reveal the spindrift boy.
The men like matchwood, broken against the foreland."

-Lilian Bowes-Lyon

   ( from  'Lilian Bowes Lyon Collected Poems, Introduced by C.Day Lewis' , Jonathan Cape, 1948)

Lilian Bower-Lyon sees 'England' not as Shakespeare's 'sceptered isle'  but as a headland being pounded by the Atlantic.  There is an almost Byron type view of Nature being indifferent to man, The sea wears down the wreck of a mined fishing boat, the men 'broken like matchwood....' There is something a little obtuse about the 'spindrift boy'....'spindrift' being the spray of the waves blown by wind. Perhaps a play on the words 'boy and 'buoy' .

Spring 1940 

"Last spring carried love's garlands -this season's wreath;
broken branches of blossom to decorate death,
cloaking new graves, hardly-though unsought for,
stainless and free as the causes they fought for.
Yes, beggoten of sunlight and suckled by rain,
flowers declare that as surely shall peace follow pain."

Prudence Macdonald

( Published in 'Chaos of the Night -Women's Poetry and Verse of the Second World War' selected by Catherine Reilly, Virago ,1984)

Whilst Prudence Madonald contrasts Spring of 1939 with that of 1940- where flowers were once associated with romance, are now used for wreaths and to 'decorate graves'. There is quite a bitter-sweet feeling about Spring time and war. But am drawn to the poem's simplicity, and the tiny note of optimism ' as surely shall peace follow pain'.

                           (extract) Newgale Sands 1940 

"But in June
When the honey honeysuckle is thickest on the
The wind blows off the sea
And no one comes,
In any year
No season has begun then.
Only this year we know it will never begin,
None will come but those
Like us, to say goodbye, sisters to brothers,
Lovers to lovers.

This quiet deserted year
We saw Newgale sands as men
Shipwrecked see the waiting island,
Two miles of bay still wet
At midday from the morning tide
Under the thick English summer sky
Which only lets the warmth through not the sun;
There was a noon tide bearing on the land
The unremitting roar
Of endless breakers racing
With furious hair after the fretted surf
Scattered like whitened bones on the flat sand......"

-Joan Barton

(Published in 'Shadows of War- British Women's Poetry of the Second World War, edited and introduced by Anne Powell, Sutton Publishing, 1999).

 Joan Barton evokes the deserted holiday resort of Newgale Sands. also looking at the notion of the Sea being hostile , or at the very best, indifferent to the affairs of men. Interesting that there is no sense of the sea being a defence against invasion .....but the poet is describing a West facing port. If this was a South coast port, the beach would be cluttered with defences and travel restriction imposed.  'The unremitting roar/ Of endless breakers'  reads like a strange allusion to the waves of bombers who are to come.  The image of the 'fretted surf/Scattered like whitened bones ' haunting.

Notes on the Poets.

Bertolt Brecht

I can't find a full  online version of the poem '1940' . I have used 'Poetry of the Second World War-An International Anthology' edited by Desmond Graham, 'Chatto & Windus', 1995.
Verse VI of 1940    is much quoted generally, but a bit too clever for my liking.

Lilian Bowes-Lyon   (1895- 1949)

Cousin to Elizabeth the late Queen Mother. served as a VAD nurse in World War 1. Had some five collections of poetry published along with a 'Collected Works' in 1948.   Worked with the people of Stepney during World War 2.

Excellent article The Queen Mother's Rebel Cousin by East End historian Roger Mills

Prudence Macdonald 

Little information found - a collection of her work 'No Wasted Hour & Other Poems' was published in 1945.

Joan Barton  ( 1908- 1986)

Involved with the Women's Land Army during World War 2,  Set up a bookshop in 1947 in Marlborough,  and continued to write poetry  , sometimes read her work on radio. Seems to have had several collections of poetry published, most notably 'A House under Old Sarum- New and Selected Poems',  Harry Chambers/Peterloo Poets, 1981.