22 September 2017

'Autumn, 1917' and 'Autumn, 1917'

For this first day of the season, two century-old poems of the Great War, both titled "Autumn, 1917," both written by women on the homefront. The first, by Helena Coleman, the pride of Newcastle, Ontario, is found in her chapbook Marching Men (Toronto: Dent, 1917):

AUTUMN, 1917
               We know by many a tender token
                    When Indian-summer days have come,
               By rustling leaves in branches oaken
                    And by the cricket's sleepy hum. 
               By aspen leaves no longer shaken,
                    And by the river's silvered thread,
               The oriole's swinging cup forsaken,
                    Emptied of music overhead. 
               By long slant lines on field and fallow.
                    By mellowing portals of the wood,
               By silences that seem to hallow
                    Inviting us to solitude.... 
               Are there young hearts in France recalling
                    These dream-filled, blue Canadian days,
               When gold and scarlet flames are falling
                    From beech and maple set ablaze? 
              Pluck they again the pale, wild aster,
                   The bending plume of golden-rod?
              And do their exiled hearts beat faster
                   Roaming in thought their native sod? 
              Dream they of Canada crowned and golden,
                  Flushed with her Autumn diadem?
              In years to come when time is olden,
                  Canada's dream shall be of them — 
              Shall be of them who gave for others
                   The ardour of their radiant years; —
              Your name in Canada's heart, my brothers,
                   Shall be remembered long with tears! 
              We give you vision back for vision,
                  Forgetting not the price you paid,
              O bearers of the world's decision,
                  On whom the nations' debt was laid! 
              No heart can view these highways glowing
                  With gold transmuted from the clod,
              But crowns your glorious manhood, knowing
                  You gave us back our faith in God.
Miss Coleman's poem also features in John W. Garvin's Canadian Poems of the Great War (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1917), in which we find another "Autumn, 1917." This one comes from the pen of Elizabeth Roberts MacDonald, sister to fellow poets Sir Charles God Damn, Theodore Goodrich, and William Carman Roberts.

AUTUMN, 1917 
                       The rain and the leaves together
                            Go drifting over the world;
                       Autumn has slipped his tether
                            And his flag of death unfurled. 
                       'Tomorrow — tomorrow — tomorrow — '
                            Hear how the grey wind cries!
                       Tomorrow the stark bare branches,
                            Tomorrow the steel-cold skies. 
                       The garnet leaves and the golden
                            Are tossed and trampled and thrown
                       As the hopes of man when the trumpets
                            Of crimson war are blown. 
                       Unleashed are the hounds of anguish
                            That hunt the heart of man
                       To tear its dream-bright garments,
                            To rend its valiant plan; 
                       Honour and valour, the priceless
                            Blood of our heroes slain, —
                       Shall their offering all be wasted,
                            Their sacrifice be vain? 
                       No; for the great ideal
                            For which our hearts have bled
                       Lives — by each field of honour,
                            Lives — by our countless dead; 
                       And a wind of Life is blowing,
                            A golden trumpet calls:—
                       'Rally — rally — rally, — 
                            Till the dark fortress falls!'

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