Friday 24 April 2015

Gallipoli Centenary, and Sea Poetry from the Coastline

                                            25th April 2015

                                         Imperial War Museum Q61110                                      

The main Great War at Sea Poetry Project website now features a  Gallipoli Webpage

Decided to post two poems here which are about amphibious landing, from two poets who fought at Gallipoli.

               John Still ( 1880- 1941) served at Gallipoli with the 6th East Yorks (Pioneers) . He was captured at Suvla Bay on 9th August 1915,  and was a prisoner of war until 1st November 1918. He wrote poems and hid them in a hollow walking stick. On his release they were published as 'Poems in Captivity' (1919). An account of his time in a Turkish prison was published in 1920 as 'A Prisoner In Turkey'. 
( Biographical information taken from David Childs & Vivien Whelpton 'British & Irish Poets of the Gallipoli Campaign, 1915, Heirs Of Achilles, Cecil Woolf Press, 2011).
 John Still's work  ranged from long Romantic epic poems, some quite tender pieces about realising that his baby daughter-born in his absence- had reached her first birthday, about having one's own birthday and Christmas in prison. 
John Still's poem describes landing at Suvla Bay (extract).  



A BELL rang in the engine-room, 
And with the ceasing of the sound 
Small noises sprang to life all round. 
Across the water, in the gloom, 
We saw the coast like a long low mound. 

The water babbled along the hull, 
The scent of thyme was in the air, 
Borne from the shore just over there, 
And in that momentary lull 
To me the world seemed very fair. 

The sweetly-scented starlit hills 
Breathed of bees and summer flowers 
Dreaming through the midnight hours, 
While fate's slow-grinding mills 
Rolled their resistless powers. 

Suddenly shots rang out, and flashes 
Shattered the dark with stabbing stings, 
And bullets borne on whistling wings 
Rang on the hull, or made small splashes 
Like living, eager, evil things................

John Still's work can be read on line

Poems in Captivity

A Prisoner in Turkey

                   Geoffrey Dearmer (1893- 1996), one of the last Gallipoli veterans, dying at the age of 103. Born three days after Wilfred Owen, Dearmer's work fell from popular taste despite successful anthologies i-'Poems' (1918)  and 'A Day's Delight' (1923). Virginia Woolf favourably reviewed Dearmer's 'Poems' alongside Siegfried Sassoon's 'Counter Attack' in the Times Literary Supplement of 11th July 1918. Both men had brothers who died in the Gallipoli campaign; Dearmer's brother Christopher, lieutenant in the Royal Naval Air Service, died of wounds on 6th October 1915.

After a seventy year hiatus a further anthology 'A Pilgrim's Song' was published in 1993.  In between times, Dearmer had written prose, worked in the theatre, then for the BBC presenting children's programmes.

A recent 'Daily Telegraph' article states that Dearmer was an officer serving with the 2/2nd battalion  London Regiment (Royal Fusiliers) and arriving at Gallipoli on 13th October 1915. He was later to serve on the Western Front, leaving the army in 1920.

Both poems record the impressions of landing on a foreign coastline. The sea is not portrayed as some chaotic element that one finds in romantic poetry, but rather as 'babbling' or 'slowly waking'. Still arrives by sea into the middle of the August Days, the last real chance that the Allies had of a Gallipoli breakthrough. By the time Dreamer reached Gallipoli, the campaign was waning.

From ‘W’ Beach

The Isle of Imbros, set in turquoise blue,
Lies to the westward; on the eastern side
The purple hills of Asia fade from view,
And rolling battleships at anchor ride.

White flocks of cloud float by, the sunset glows,
And dipping gulls fleck a slow-waking sea,
Where dim steel-shadowed forms with foaming bows
Wind up in the Narrows towards Gallipoli.

No colour breaks this tongue of barren land
Save where a group of huddled tents gleams white;
Before me ugly shapes like spectres stand,
And wooden crosses cleave the waning light.

Now the sky gardeners speed the hurrying day
And sow the plains of night with silver grain;
So shall this transient havoc fade away
And the proud cape be beautiful again.

Laden with figs and olives, or a freight
Of purple grapes, tanned singing men shall row,
Chanting wild songs of how Eternal Fate
Withstood that fierce invasion long ago.

 Taken from All Poetry website 

Wednesday 15 April 2015

Sea Garden

'Sea Garden'  HD ( Hilda Doolittle-1886-1961)

At times wonder if devotees of War Poetry over-estimate its literary importance. Recently found an anthology titled 'Vintage Verse-An Anthology of Poetry in English' edited by Clifford Bax from 1944. The range of poetry included starts with work from 1290 leading through the centuries to T.S.Elliott.

The only  poet who served during the Great War that is included herein was Rupert Brooke, with one poem 'The Hill' ( written in 1910). The only poem which has any reference to the Great War is Thomas Hardy's 'In Time of the Breaking Of Nations' from 1915.

On a similar note, delighted to find that HD ( Hilda Dolittle) anthology 'Sea Garden' from 1916, now available to read on line. Also interested to note the lack of interest in war as the subject of  poetry contained therein. HD was American  who had lived in Britain since 1911. Her husband, fellow Imagist poet Richard Aldington volunteered for military service in June 1916 ; he had little choice, the Military Service Act of 1916 had been extended to permit the conscription of married men on 25th May 1916.  HD then became assistant editor of 'The Egoist' magazine in absence of her husband. Richard Aldington was a notable 'war poet' and author of the novel 'Death of a Hero'  (1929).

Richard Aldington biographer Vivien Whelpton kindly advises:

"But there is a long poem which is specifically about the war – ‘The Tribute’, which appeared in The Egoist in 1916 and a private publication in 1917, but was not ‘properly’ published until 1924 in the collection entitled Heliodora.  The ‘tribute’ is to Aldington and all those who are fighting. (‘O youth the cities have sent/To strike at each other’s strength,/It is you who have kept her [Beauty] alight.’"

 'Sea Garden' was published in September 1916 . Now available here.
Project Gutenberg- Sea Garden

The anthology seemed to have incorporated poetry that HD had written over three years. 'The Wind Sleepers'  is one of the most impressive contributions-copied below.. True to the Imagist style of refusing to use any word that does not contribute to the presentation of the work, it is stark to the point of bleakness. There is a sense  helplessness; perhaps connected to the Great War, also the turbulence of the writer's own inner life.

The Wind Sleepers





Continuing the theme of whether Great War sea poetry which seems removed from the sense of conflict. There is also D H Lawrence's 'The Mystic Blue' from 1916. To D H Lawrence the sea contained the mystery of death. Perhaps a cryptic reference to the new weapons such as mines and U boats but overall this poem doesn't immediately connect to the poetry that is most associated to 1916.

The Mystic Blue clr gif
Out of the darkness, fretted sometimes in its sleeping,
Jets of sparks in fountains of blue come leaping
To sight, revealing a secret, numberless secrets keeping.

Sometimes the darkness trapped within a wheel
Runs into speed like a dream, the blue of the steel
Showing the rocking darkness now a-reel.

And out of the invisible, streams of bright blue drops
Rain from the showery heavens, and bright blue crops
Surge from the under-dark to their ladder-tops.

And all the manifold blue and joyous eyes,
The rainbow arching over in the skies,
New sparks of wonder opening in surprise.

All these pure things come foam and spray of the sea
Of Darkness abundant, which shaken mysteriously,
Breaks into dazzle of living, as dolphins that leap from the sea
Of midnight shake it to fire, so the secret of death we see.


Vivien Whelpton's website Vivien Whelpton

Hilda Doolittle websites      Hilda Doolittle