The Sunday Section: Remembrance Sunday - War Poems

In honour of the fallen soldiers commemorated on Remembrance Sunday…

(Leamington Spa)

(Leamington Spa)

Commissioned into the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve soon after his 27th birthday, Rupert Brooke sailed with the British Mediterranean Expeditionary Force in February 1915 to Gallipoli. En route, he developed sepsis from an infected mosquito bite and died on 23rd April 1915.

Rupert Brooke (taken by Sherrill Schell)

Rupert Brooke (taken by Sherrill Schell)

The Soldier

If I should die, think only this of me:

            That there’s some corner of a foreign field

That is forever England. There shall be

            In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;

A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,

            Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,

A body of England’s, breathing English air,

            Washed by the rivers, blest by the suns of home.


And think, this heart, all evil shed away,

            A pulse in the eternal mind, no less

                        Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;

Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;

            As laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,

                        In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.


Robert Laurence Binyon was too old to enlist; he was 45 when war was declared. His famous war poem, ‘For The Fallen’, was published in The Times in September 1914, barely 2 months after the start of the war. He volunteered at a British hospital for French soldiers, and later, in the summer of 1916, helped care for soldiers injured at Verdun.

Robert Binyon

Robert Binyon

For the Fallen

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,

England mourns for her dead across the sea.

Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,

Fallen in the cause of the free.


Solemn the drums thrill: Death august and royal

Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres.

There is music in the midst of desolation

And a glory that shines upon our tears.


They went with songs to the battle, they were young,

Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.

They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,

They fell with their faces to the foe.


They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning

We will remember them.


They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;

They sit no more at familiar tables of home;

They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;

They sleep beyond England’s foam.


But where our desires are and our hopes profound,

Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,

To the innermost heart of their own land they are known

As the stars are known to the Night;


As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,

Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain,

As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,

To the end, to the end, they remain.

Poetry and Art (7)

I’ll finish this section of 'Tuesday's Tales' with 2 poems by American poets – Walt Whitman and Helen Jackson, both of whom lived through the American Civil War.  I don’t know a great deal about them, and barely know any of their poems.

Walt Whitman was born in 1819, and lived to the grand old age of 73.  This poem is his tribute to Abraham Lincoln, whom he greatly admired, as a man and as a president.  The ‘captain’ in the poem is Lincoln; the ‘fearful trip’ is the Civil War; the ship is the United States; and the prize, the preservation of the union.

‘O Captain!  My Captain!’

O Captain! My Captain! our fearful trip is done,

The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,

The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,

While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;

But O heart! heart! heart!

       O the bleeding drops of red,

                   Where on the deck my Captain lies,

                               Fallen cold and dead.

O Captain! My Captain! rise up and hear the bells:

Rise up – for you the flag is flung – for you the bugle trills,

For you the bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths – for you the shores a-crowding,

For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning:

            Here Captain! dear father!

                        The arm beneath your head!

                                    It is some dream that on the deck.

                                                You’ve fallen cold and dead.

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still,

My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will,

The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done,

From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won:

            Exult O shores, and ring O bells!

                        But I with mournful tread,

                                    Walk the deck my Captain lies,

                                                Fallen cold and dead.

Helen Jackson was born in 1830 … there’s something about this poem that I instantly liked the first time I read it.  It was read at her simple funeral in 1885 … This may sound morbid, but I’ve already decided I would like this to be read at mine. 

‘Last Words’

Dear hearts, whose love has been so sweet to know,

That I am looking backward as I go,

Am lingering while I haste, and in this rain

Of tears of joy am mingling tears of pain;

Do not adorn with costly shrub, or tree,

Or flower, the little grave which shelters me.

Let the wild wind-sown seeds grow up unharmed,

And back and forth all summer, unalarmed,

Let all the tiny, busy creatures creep;

Let the sweet grass its last year’s tangles keep;

And when, remembering me, you come some day

And stand there, speak no praise, but only say,

‘How she loved us! ‘T was that which made her dear!’

Those are the words that I shall joy to hear.

A few more layouts …

The poem, ‘Hero to Leander’ by Tennyson, is in the card.

Art - 'Britomart and Amoret' ~ Mary Raphael

Double page spread for ‘Song of Four Fairies’ by John Keats.  The poem is behind the four cards of art by Alfons Mucha, depicting Poetry, Dance, Music and Painting.

‘The Accolade’, one of my favourite paintings by Edmund Blair Leighton, and because I mentioned before that it usually brings to mind Guinevere and Lancelot, I included text from Malory’s ‘Le Morte D’Arthur’. 

What I find appealing about this painting, the queen’s femininity shines through despite the fact she’s holding a sword, and performing a task that’s normally associated with men, even though it wasn’t unheard of for queens to bestow knighthood.  The sword appears light and graceful, as if mirroring its handler; the detail on her gown, from the embroidery to the way it folds and drapes – if I look at it for long enough, I feel it might be possible to reach in and actually touch it … I would love a gown like that; in fact I would quite happily dress in that fashion everyday … though with more practical sleeves ;)

I decided to see if I could dig up some information on Mr Blair Leighton’s inspiration, and found this from an early 1900s’ article …

Having decided on his arrangement, Mr Blair Leighton’s next care is to choose some incident or theme which will demonstrate it.  Often this is obtained by reading, and it has long been his habit to keep a notebook in which he enters ideas and incidents which come to him from reading or observation as lending themselves to pictorial treatment.  Thus his well-known picture, ‘The Accolade’, derived its inspiration from a French work on chivalry, which mentioned that even ladies occasionally conferred the order of knighthood on worthy men.

So, not inspired by Arthurian legend then …

This is the inside back cover; I love this material, reminiscent of a starry night.

Art - 'Night and Her Train of Stars' ~ Edward R. Hughes

Poetry and Art (6)

‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’ by John Keats

I didn’t read any Keats till I was well into my 20s; he wasn’t a poet who featured in my schooling years.  Shame, really, as I do like his poetry.  I rediscovered Keats when I watched the film, 'Bright Star', a couple of years ago, which has since become one of my favourite films.

John Keats was born in Moorgate, London, on 31st October 1795.  It was only in the last six years of his tragically short life, from 1814, did he write poetry seriously; he only published in the last four years.  Tuberculosis was the spectre that haunted him through his life – his mother died of it when he was 14; and then it claimed his brother, Tom.  Keats nursed Tom through his illness until his death in 1818.  By that time, Keats himself was already showing signs of the disease.

1818 was also the year he met and fell in love with Fanny Brawne; the following year, he began work on ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’, and completed it the same year.  It is possible, if one so desires, to read Keats’ love for Fanny, and the knowledge of his impending death into the situation of the doomed knight of the poem … In one of his letters to Fanny, Keats wrote, “I have two luxuries to brood over in my walks … your loveliness, and the hour of my death.”  His letters and poems reveal that even as he experienced the pleasures of love, there was also pain, which he resented, most especially the loss of freedom that comes with falling in love.

In 1820, as Keats condition worsened, he was advised by doctors to move to warmer climes, and he left for Italy, with the probable realisation that he would never see Fanny again.  After he left, he could not bring himself to read her letters or write to her, though he did write to her mother.  He died in Rome on 23rd February 1821, aged 25.  It took a month for the news of his death to reach London.  When she was told, Fanny remained in mourning for six years, eventually marrying 12 years after Keats’ death.

O What can ail thee, knight-at-arms,

          Alone and palely loitering?

The sedge has wither’d from the lake,

          And no birds sing.

O What can ail thee, knight-at-arms,

          So haggard and so woe-begone?

The squirrel’s granary is full,

          And the harvest’s done.

I see a lily on thy brow

          With anguish moist and fever dew.

And on thy cheeks a fading rose

          Fast withereth too.

I met a lady in the meads,

          Full beautiful – a faery’s child,

Her hair was long, her foot was light,

           And her eyes were wild.

I made a garland for her head,

           And bracelets too, and fragrant zone;

She look’d at me as she did love,

          And made sweet moan.

I set her on my pacing steed,

          And nothing else saw all day long,

For sidelong would she bend, and sing

          A faery’s song.

She found me roots of relish sweet,

          And honey wild, and manna dew,

And sure in language strange she said –

          “I love thee true.”

She took me to her elfin grot,

          And there she wept, and sigh’d full sore,

And there I shut her wild wild eyes

          With kisses four.

And there she lulled me asleep,

          And there I dream’d – Ah! Woe betide

The latest dream I ever dream’d

          On the cold hill’s side.

I saw pale kings and princes too,

          Pale warriors, death-pale were they all;

They cried – “La Belle Dame sans Merci

          Hath thee in thrall!”

I saw their starved lips in the gloam,

          With horrid warning gaped wide,

And I awoke and found me here,

          On the cold hill’s side.

And this is why I sojourn here,

          Alone and palely loitering,

Though the sedge is wither’d from the lake,

          And no birds sing.                 

Art - 'La Belle Dame Sans Merci' ~ Sir Frank Dicksee, the original in Bristol Art Gallery and Museum

Poetry and Art (5)

‘The Lady of Shalott’

Tennyson wrote two versions of this poem, the original in 1833, which had 20 stanzas, and the revised version in 1842 with 19.  Based on the Arthurian legend, ‘Elaine of Astolat’, this has always been one of my favourites, and I love the artwork that it inspired.

In the poem, the Lady suffers from a curse, but she does not know, neither are we told, the details.  All that is known is, she must continuously weave images on her loom, and must not look directly out at the world.  The only way she knows what is happening outside is by looking into a mirror, which reflects the road and the people, including those of Camelot, travelling back and forth.  Tennyson makes it clear how watching reflections is a poor substitute indeed for looking at events directly; in the 6th stanza, he describes the images in the mirror as ‘ 'shadows of the world’.


On either side the river lie

Long fields of barley and of rye,

That clothe the wold and meet the sky;

And thro’ the field the road runs by

To many-tower’d Camelot;

And up and down the people go,

Gazing where the lilies blow

Round an island there below,

The island of Shalott.

Willows whiten, aspens quiver,

Little breezes dusk and shiver

Thro’ the wave that runs for ever

By the island in the river

Flowing down to Camelot.

Four grey walls, and four grey towers,

Overlook a space of flowers,

And the silent isle imbowers

The Lady of Shalott.

By the margin, willow-veil’d

Slide the heavy barges trail’d

By slow horses; and unhail’d

The shallop flitteth silken-sail’d

Skimming down to Camelot:

But who hath seen her wave her hand?

Or at the casement seen her stand?

Or is she known in all the land,

The Lady of Shalott?

Only reapers, reaping early

In among the bearded barley,

Hear a song that echoes cheerly

From the river winding clearly,

Down to tower’d Camelot:

And by the moon the reaper weary,

Piling sheaves in uplands airy,

Listening, whispers “‘Tis the fairy

Lady of Shalott”.


There she weaves by night and day

A magic web with colours gay.

She has heard a whisper say,

A curse is on her if she stay

To look down to Camelot.

She knows not what the curse may be,

And so she weaveth steadily,

And little other care hath she,

The Lady of Shalott.

And moving thro’ a mirror clear

That hangs before her all the year,

Shadows of the world appear.

There she sees the highway near

Winding down to Camelot:

There the river eddy whirls,

And there the surly village-churls,

And the red cloaks of market girls,

Pass onward from Shalott.

Sometimes a troop of damsels glad,

An abbot on an ambling pad,

Sometimes a curly shepherd-lad,

Or long-hair’d page in crimson clad,

Goes by to tower’d Camelot;

And sometimes thro’ the mirror blue

The knights come riding two and two:

She hath no loyal knight and true,

The Lady of Shalott.

But in her web she still delights

To weave the mirror’s magic sights,

For often thro’ the silent nights

A funeral, with plumes and lights,

And music, went to Camelot:

Or when the moon was overhead,

Came two young lovers lately wed:

“I am half-sick of shadows,” said

The Lady of Shalott.


A bow-shot from her bower-eaves,

He rode between the barley sheaves,

The sun came dazzling thro’ the leaves,

And flamed upon the brazen greaves

Of bold Sir Lancelot.

A redcross knight for ever kneel’d

To a lady in his shield,

That sparkled on the yellow field,

Beside remote Shalott.

The gemmy bridle glitter’d free,

Like to some branch of stars we see

Hung in the golden Galaxy.

The bridle bells rang merrily

As he rode down to Camelot:

And from his blazon’d baldric slung

A mighty silver bugle hung,

And as he rode his armour rung,

Beside remote Shalott.

All in the blue unclouded weather

Thick-jewell’d shone the saddle-leather,

The helmet and the helmet-feather

Burn’d like one burning flame together,

As he rode down to Camelot.

As often thro’ the purple night,

Below the starry clusters bright,

Some bearded meteor, trailing light,

Moves over still Shalott.

His broad clear brow in sunlight glow’d;

On burnish’d hooves his war-horse trode;

From underneath his helmet flow’d

His coal-black curls as on he rode,

As he rode down to Camelot.

From the bank and from the river

He flashed into the crystal mirror,

“Tirra lirra,” by the river

Sang Sir Lancelot.

She left the web, she left the loom;

She made three paces thro’ the room,

She saw the water-lily bloom,

She saw the helmet and the plume,

She look’d down to Camelot.

Out flew the web and floated wide;

The mirror crack’d from side to side;

“The curse is come upon me,” cried

The Lady of Shalott.


In the stormy east-wind straining,

The pale yellow woods were waning,

The broad stream in his banks complaining,

Heavily the low sky raining

Over tower’d Camelot;

Down she came and found a boat

Beneath a willow left afloat,

And round about the prow she wrote

The Lady of Shalott.

And down the river’s dim expanse –

Like some bold seer in a trance,

Seeing all his own mischance –

With a glassy countenance

Did she look to Camelot.

And at the closing of the day

She loosed the chain, and down she lay;

The broad stream bore her far away,

The Lady of Shalott.

Lying, robed in snowy white

That loosely flew to left and right –

The leaves upon her falling light –

Thro’ the noises of the night

She floated down to Camelot;

And as the boat-head wound along

The willowy hills and fields among,

They heard her singing her last song,

The Lady of Shalott.

Heard a carol, mournful, holy,

Chanted loudly, chanted lowly,

Till her blood was frozen slowly,

And her eyes were darken’d wholly,

Turn’d to tower’d Camelot;

For ere she reach’d upon the tide

The first house by the water-side,

Singing in her song she died,

The Lady of Shalott.

Under tower and balcony,

By garden-wall and gallery,

A gleaming shape she floated by,

Dead-pale between the houses high,

Silent into Camelot.

Out upon the wharfs they came,

Knight and burgher, lord and dame,

And round the prow they read her name,

The Lady of Shalott.

Who is this? and what is here?

And in the lighted palace near

Died the sound of royal cheer;

And they cross’d themselves for fear,

All the knights at Camelot:

But Lancelot mused a little space;

He said, “She has a lovely face;

God in his mercy lend her grace,

The Lady of Shalott”.

Art - 'The Lady of Shalott' ~ William Holman Hunt, at the moment the web flew and 'floated wide; The mirror crack'd from side to side ...'

Art - 'The Lady of Shalott' ~ John William Waterhouse