Monday, 11 November 2013

The Tears of War

Since they have Died
Since they have died to give us gentleness,
And hearts kind with contentment and quiet mirth,
Let us who live also give happiness
And love, that's born of pity, to the earth.
For, I have thought, some day they may lie sleeping
Forgetting all the weariness and pain,
And smile to think their world is in our keeping,
And laughter comes back to the earth again.
It all began (for me) with a Radio Play, "The Tears of War", the dramatization of a story told in a book of the same name by Charlotte Fyfe. In 2002, Charlotte Fyfe used the letters and poems to write the radio drama; the BBC website notes: "Utilising the First World War I writings of young poet May Cannan, this is the true story of her love affair with war hero Bevil Quiller-Couch"
It was a haunting story, which can be read on yesterday's blog
and, being the butterfly researcher that I am, I decided to find out more about May Cannan and came across the book in which the play was based.
And I final found a second hand copy of May's posthumous memoir, "Grey Ghosts and Voices", and extract (of the end of the Great War in Paris) can be read here:
It's a story which has haunted me ever since, and it introduced me to a voice that is so little heard in the Great War, and the poets of that time, a woman's voice. War is in general such an impersonal thing, that we need to find a way to connect, to reach out and hear the voices of real people, and listen to what they have to say.
Women in war are so often marginalised, especially as for many early conflicts such as the two World Wars, they were kept away from the battle-field, away from the front-line. It is time, I think, to reclaim that voice, and hear their experiences as well. For me, I found this by delving into the history and the memoir and poems by May Cannan, and hearing her voice, her feelings, and her sorrows.
Here's another of her poems, and the setting, as placed by the Oxford Dictionary of Biography:
"In August 1918 Cannan went to work for the bureau of central intelligence, a branch of MI5 in Paris, and she was there when the armistice was declared in November. Her poem 'The Armistice: in an Office in Paris', which ends with the assertion 'peace could not give back her Dead', is a moving encapsulation of the conflicting emotions of women for whom the celebrations had come too late."
The Armistice
In an Office, in Paris
The news came through over the telephone :
All the terms had been signed : the War was won :
And all the fighting and the agony,
And all the labour of the years were done.
One girl clicked sudden at her typewriter
And whispered, 'Jerry's safe', and sat and stared:
One said, ' It 's over, over, it 's the end :
The War is over : ended ' : and a third,
' I can't remember life without the war '.
And one came in and said, ' Look here, they say
We can all go at five to celebrate,
As long as two stay on, just for to-day '.
It was quite quiet in the big empty room
Among the typewriters and little piles
Of index cards : one said, ' We'd better just
Finish the day's reports and do the files '.
And said,  It 's awf 'lly like Recessional,
Now when the tumult has all died away '.
The other said, ' Thank God we saw it through ;
I wonder what they'll do at home to-day '.
And said, ' You know it will be quiet to-night
Up at the Front : first time in all these years,
And no one will be killed there any more ',
And stopped, to hide her tears.
She said,  I've told you ; he was killed in June \
The other said, ' My dear, I know ; I know . . .
It 's over for me too . . . My Man was killed,
Wounded . . . and died ... at Ypres . . . three years ago . . .
And he 's my Man, and I want him,' she said,
And knew that peace could not give back her dead.

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