On August 4th, 1914 England declared war on Germany. We all know some famous poems about the war – most notable Wilfred Owen’s – but below are two of my favorite poems by women – Mary Postgate Cole and Helen Hamilton. They may not be the best poems, but I like ‘em.
We came upon him sitting in the sun,
Blinded by war, and left. And past the fence
There came young soldiers from the Hand and Flower,
Asking advice of his experience.
And he said this, and that, and told them tales,
And all the nightmares of each empty head
Blew into air; then, hearing us beside,
’Poor chaps, how’d they know what it’s like?’ he said.
And we stood there, and watched him as he sat,
Turning his sockets where they went away,
Until it came to one of us to ask
’And you’re – how old?’
’Nineteen, the third of May.’
—- Margaret Postgate Cole
(How I dislike you!)
Dealer in white feathers,
Of all the men you meet,
Not dressed in uniform,
When to your mind,
(A sorry mind),
They should be,
The judgment of your eye,
That wild, infuriate eye,
Whose glance, so you declare,
Who’s good for military service,
Oh! Exasperating woman,
I’d like to wring your neck,
I really would!
You make all women seem such duffers!
Enforces and held reluctantly,
– Not that you’ll believe it –
You must know surely
Men there are and young men too,
Physically not fit to serve,
Who look in the civilian garb
Quite stout and hearty.
And most of whom, I’ll wager,
Have been rejected several times.
How keen, though, your delight,
Keen and malignant,
Should one offer you his seat,
In crowded bus or train,
Thus giving you the chance to say,
In cold, incisive tones of scorn:
“No, I much prefer to stand
as you, young man, are not in khaki”!
Heavens! I wonder you’re alive!
Oh, these men,
These twice-insulted men,
What iron self-control they show.
What wonderful forbearance!
But still the day may come
For you to prove yourself
As sacrificial as upbraiding.
So far they are not taking us
But if the war goes on much longer
When the last man has gone.
And if and when that dark day dawns,
You’ll join up first, of course,
Without waiting to be fetched.
But in the meantime,
Do hold your tongue!
You shame us women.
Can’t you see it isn’t decent,
To flout and goad men into doing,
What is not asked of you?
—- Helen Hamilton