Women and War

Here is an interesting book of war poems. It is full of poems by women.

Attitudes to women were changed for ever during the First World War.
Before then, women were expected to find a domestic role; they played a secondary role in society, and their feelings and opinions were not considered particularly useful or relevant.
It is not that women did not write, and paint, and invent, and think; they had no access to the larger world, and it appeared that men were the only ones who composed and created.
In the preface to the book we read:
"We know of the male agony of the trenches from the poetry of soldiers like Sassoon and Owen.
We know little in poetry of what that agony and its millions of deaths meant to the millions of English women who had to endure them - to learn to survive survival.
This anthology fills a poignant gap.
Just as the soldier poets with their personal experience of the fighting came to speak for a "lost generation,"so, much more modestly yet still truly, these women poets speak for the women whose own lives were blighted by that miserable loss."

I have chosen three poems from the book, written from three different viewpoints.
They touch me by their honesty and open my eyes to the sufferings of those who could only stand, and hope, and wait.....

Jessie Pope
[A 'Nut' was a fashionable young man, maybe a university scholar, so this was written by a member of a well-off middle-class family]
When Gilbert's birthday came LAST spring,
Oh! how our brains we racked
To try and find a single thing
Our languid dear one lacked;
For, since he nestled at his ease
Upon the lap of Plenty,
Stock birthday presents failed to please
The Nut of two and twenty.
And so we bought, to please his taste -
Refined and dilettante -
Some ormolu, grotesquely chased;


A little bronze Bacchante;


A flagon of the Stuarts' reign,


A 'Corot' to content him.

Well, now his birthday's come again,
And THIS is what we sent him:
Some candles and a bar of soap,

Cakes, peppermints and matches;


A pot of jam, some thread (like rope)

For stitching khaki patches.
These gifts, our soldier writes to say,
Have brought him untold riches
To celebrate his natal day
In hard-won Flanders' ditches.

Now two poems by Margaret Postgate Cole; 
both of them considering the loss of soldiers who were only boys....


When men are old, and their friends die,
They are not so sad,
Because their love is running slow,
And cannot spring from the wound with so sharp a pain;
And they are happy with many memories,
And only a little while to be alone.

But we are young, and our friends are dead
Suddenly, and our quick love is torn in two;
So our memories are only hopes that came to nothing.
We are left alone like old men; we should be dead -
But there are years and years in which we shall still be young.

We came upon him sitting in the sun,
Blinded by war, and left.
And past the fence
There came young soldiers from the Hand and Flower,
Asking advice of his experience.

And he said this, and that, and told them tales,
And all the nightmares of each empty head
Blew into air; then, hearing us beside,
"Poor chaps, how'd they know what it's like?" he said.
And we stood there, and watched him as he sat,
Turning his sockets where they went away,
Until it came to one of us to ask
"And you're - how old?"
" Nineteen, the third of May."

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