Sunday, 11 November 2018

‘Paris, November 11th, 1918’ by May Wedderburn Cannan

Armistice, a day of rejoicing at the end of the war. But not for all.

May Cannan, in Paris, describes it here:

“The Pension produced some champagne at dinner and we drank the loyal toast. And then across the table G. lifted her glass to me and said “Absent.” I did not know her story nor she mine, but I drank to my friends who were dead and to my friends who, wounded, imprisoned, battered, shaken, exhausted, were alive in a new, and a terrible world.”

As Grace Freeman notes

"Born in 1893, May Wedderburn Cannan was the daughter of Charles Cannan, Dean of Trinity College, and the head of the Oxford University Press (OUP) until his death after the end of the war. Raised in and surrounded by a world of literary influence, May had her first poem printed in The Scotsman at the age of 15. By the time of the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, she had two published anthologies: In War Time (1917) and The Splendid Days (1919); these would be followed by a third, The House of Hope, in 1923."

"Like so many other female poets who were writing at the time, May’s voice is, wrongfully, not as strongly heard as the bellows of soldier-poets. She writes with a quiet, lyrical confidence, offering a moving and authentic insight into her own personal wartime experiences, away from the heart of the combat. In the spring of 1915, May was posted to Rouen, which sits on the banks of the Seine. "

"In 1918, she returned to France to work in the Espionage Department of the War Office in Paris. In ‘Paris, November 11, 1918’, a poem which is dedicated to an unknown ‘G.A.H.’, she diarises her recollection of that day, remembering the exhausting and unsatisfying arrival of the Armistice, drawing us close into the immediate aftermath of a new and broken world, and sharing the confusion and the heartbreak of the home front."

Paris, November 11th, 1918

Down on the boulevards the crowds went by,
The shouting and the singing died away,
And in the quiet we rose to drink the toasts,
Our hearts uplifted to the hour, the Day:
The King – the Army – Navy – the Allies –
England – and Victory.
And then you turned to me and with low voice
(The tables were abuzz with revelry),
‘I have a toast for you and me,’ you said,
And whispered ‘Absent,’ and we drank
Our unforgotten Dead.
But I saw Love go lonely down the years
And when I drank, the wine was salt with tears.


No comments: