Sunday, May 10, 2015

Sunday Poetry - Rupert Brooke & Vera Brittain

I finished rereading Testament of Youth last week so two more poems, both quoted in the book, before I move on to something else.

Vera quotes this sonnet by Rupert Brooke, Suggested by some of the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, in the aftermath of Victor's death. He was blinded at Arras & Vera returned home from nursing in Malta with the idea of marrying Victor & looking after him. However, Victor died soon after she returned &, as she admits, such a marriage would have been a disaster for both of them.

Not with vain tears, when we're beyond the sun,
We'll beat on the substantial doors, nor tread
Those dusty high-roads of the aimless dead
Plaintive for Earth; but rather turn and run
Down some close-covered by-way of the air,
Some low sweet alley between wind and wind,
Stoop under faint gleams, thread the shadows, find
Some whispering ghost-forgotten nook, and there

Spend in pure converse our eternal day;
Think each in each, immediately wise;
Learn all we lacked before; hear, know, and say
What this tumultuous body now denies;
And feel, who have laid our groping hands away;
And see, no longer blinded by our eyes.

In 1919 Vera returned to Oxford to take up her studies. After four years away, she felt lonely & depressed. She was also suffering from what would today be called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. She had dreams of Edward & Roland returning or that they were still alive but so badly wounded that they didn't want to be seen. She also had hallucinations, imagining that her face was changing & that she was growing a beard, like a witch. This almost unbearably sad poem, Boar's Hill, October 1919, was written at this time & later published in the 1920 edition of Oxford Poetry.

Tall slender beech-trees, whispering, touched with fire.
Swaying at even beneath a desolate sky;
Smouldering embers aflame where the clouds hurry by
To the wind's desire.

Dark sombre woodlands, rain-drenched by the scattering shower,
Spindle that quivers and drops its dim berries to earth —
Mourning, perhaps, as I mourn here alone for the dearth
Of a happier hour.

Can you still see them, who always delighted to roam
Over the Hill where so often together we trod
When winds of wild autumn strewed summer's dead leaves on the sod,
Ere your steps turned home?

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