Sunday, April 6, 2014

Sunday Poetry - Olivia FitzRoy

When I came across this poem, I thought the author's name was familiar.  Olivia FitzRoy was an author of children's books (among many other titles) & some of her books have been reprinted by Fidra. She enlisted in the WRNS during WWII & her pilot boyfriend was killed in Singapore in 1945. After the war, she spent time travelling with a circus, collecting material for a book & rented a croft in Scotland for a few years. She married & had two daughters but died, aged only 48, in 1969.

This poem, When He Is Flying, must reflect not only FitzRoy's own experience but the experiences of so many people waiting for news of a loved one. She must have only been in her early 20s when she wrote this poem but the refrain "when I was young" & the weary tone of the speaker expresses the constant fear & dread that Death was just waiting for His moment & His coming was inevitable - if not for you & yours, then for someone else.

When I was young I thought that if Death came
He would come suddenly, and with a swift hand kill,
Taking all feeling;
Want, laughter and fear;
leaving a cold and soulless shell on earth
While the small winged soul
Flew on
At peace.
I used to think those things when I was young,
But now I know.
I know
Death stands beside me, never very far,
An unseen shadow, just beyond my view
And if I hear an engine throb and fade
Or see a neat formation pass
Or a lone fighter soar, hover and dart,
He takes another step more near
And lays his cold unhurried hand upon my heart.


  1. That is so sad. And what a shame she died at such a young age. It would have been a devastating time to have lived through.

    1. I think the uncertainty about the future would have been the hardest thing to bear.

  2. There is a merciless cruelty in all Wars that it sometimes takes real poetry to express.

    1. Yes, I think you're right. Sometimes poetry is more immediate & really expresses the emotions of the moment in a way that exposes the truth.

  3. Thank you for posting this. I've read some of FitzRoy's children's books but didn't know about the flying boyfriend, or that she died so young. How sad.

    1. It is a sad story, like so many of that time.

  4. How nice to see this post. Olivia was my great aunt. There's a picture of her holding the leading rein of a pony on my (very neglected!) blog. She wrote some lovely poems - many about the war, her time in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and Scotland - but not all were published (although we collated them for the family). I'm so glad people are still reading her - she was an amazing person and much of her poetry is very moving. Thank you!

    1. What a lovely photo of Olivia & her sisters. The anthology that this poem is in is full of the most wonderful poetry by women writers, usually unknown. Thank you for commenting. I hope you restart your blog sometime. Family stories are worth preserving.