Sunday, May 3, 2015

Sunday Poetry - Vera Brittain

I'm rereading Testament of Youth again after seeing the new movie version last weekend. I enjoyed the movie, Alicia Vikander was wonderful, & the changes to the story didn't irritate me as much as I thought they might. But, it didn't affect me emotionally as reading the book always does. It's been a few years since I last read it & I find something different in every reading. This time, I'm noticing how much foreshadowing Vera does in her telling of her story. The shadow of Roland & Edward's deaths are there from the very beginning & I wondered how much the first readers knew of her story before they read the book. She certainly doesn't lead up to the tragedy gently by painting a picture of pre-war paradise. Maybe that's what makes reading Testament of Youth such a personal experience.

I'm up to December 1915. Vera is nursing in London & about to go on leave to meet Roland in Brighton but she won't be meeting him because he dies of wounds just before he was due to go on leave. I don't know when Vera wrote this poem, but I think it would have been very soon after Roland's death, the feelings are so raw.

Perhaps -
(To R.A.L. died of wounds in France,
December 23rd, 1915)

Perhaps some day the sun will shine again,
And I shall see that still the skies are blue,
And feel once more I do not live in vain,
Although bereft of You.

Perhaps the golden meadows at my feet
Will make the sunny hours of spring seem gay,
And I shall find the white May-blossoms sweet,
Though You have passed away.

Perhaps the summer woods will shimmer bright,
And crimson roses once again be fair,
And autumn harvest fields a rich delight,
Although You are not there.

Perhaps some day I shall not shrink in pain
To see the passing of the dying year,
And listen to Christmas songs again,
Although You cannot hear.

But though kind Time may many joys renew,
There is one greatest joy I shall not know
Again, because my heart for loss of You
Was broken, long ago


  1. This heartbreaking poem made me cry, Lyn. I know about Vera Brittain from having seen TESTAMENT OF YOUTH many years ago on PBS with Cheryl Campbell so brilliant in the part. But I cannot bring myself to read the book. Just cannot. How this woman continued to live and work in spite of the losses she suffered is almost beyond my understanding.

    1. It is heartbreaking & the book is heartbreaking but I'm reading it again anyway! Have you seen the new movie? It's not as good as the TV series but it was alright.

  2. I read the Testatment of Youth many years ago and still cannot read this poen without tears! I also like the one Roland wrote about the clematis.

    1. The poignancy of the poetry written by young men who didn't survive is very emotional. The women like Vera who were so changed by the war really influenced the next generation, especially with books like TOY.

  3. I enjoyed the film more than I expected; I went with two friends who are not great readers and hadn't seen the TV series. They were very impressed with TOY and I thought how wonderful it was that this powerful story is being introduced to some 21st century readers for the first time.

    Like you I have started re reading my old copy of TOY because it was a long time since I last read it. I was interested in your comment about the foreshadowing ( I agree). I now get a bit impatient with VB, sad to say, but that in no way diminishes the huge admiration and respect I have for her remarkable achievement in documenting the loss of a generation and the horror of war.

    1. It's interesting. The more I read about Vera, the more I see the qualities that exasperated other people - her humourlessness, her selfishness, refusing to see how ill Winifred was at the end of her life, her relentlessness in pursuing people who could tell her more about Roland & Edward's deaths. But then, every time I read TOY, I admire her all over again. She doesn't paint an entirely rosy picture of herself. She describes her ungraciousness over things like Winifred's first novel being accepted before her's, & her moodiness with her parents when she's called back home in 1918. I think the success of TOY changed her & must have made her marriage very difficult. George hadn't even wanted to be in the book & imagine how hard it must have been for him to always be second best to a ghost. So, although my feelings about TOY & VB are more mixed than the first time i read it when I was 18, I still love it & find it very moving.

  4. Vera Brittain is one of my favorite writers, and I would love to read the Testament books again. Am so disappointed that this movie hasn't opened here. I suppose it will eventually. I did love the PBS version: that's how I discovered her work. One of the best WWI books ever!

    1. The movie will send you back to the book so I hope you do get to see it. Having read TOY again, I now want to go on to Testament of Friendship. I remember Testament of Experience being quite hard going, full of politics, but it's been 30+ years since I read it.