Poems by Lilian Le Mesurier (1935)

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Presented here are some poems from A Book of Verse by Lilian Le Mesurier, published in 1935. Le Mesurier was a writer and activist who researched and campaigned for prison reform. Amongst other works, she wrote Boys in Trouble: A Study of Adolescent Crime and its Treatment (1939) and  A Socialist Woman’s Guide to Intelligence: A Reply to Mr Shaw (1929).

The poems express feelings on social progress, activism, motherhood, hope and despair.


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The Journey

It’s a wild night for a soul to go,
Stars shine, but winds blow,
And the flood tides flow.

It’s a long road to the nearest star,
Where the band of well-beloved are,
But I shall reach it near or far.

A wild night for a naked soul
To cast aside the broken bowl
And start for the distant goal.

A wild night and a lonely way,
And Death is terrible they say
Yet methinks I like his looks to-day!

And glad I’ll lay my garment by
And fling me forth to the windy sky
When Death rides by.

A long road to the nearest star,
Where the band of well-beloved are.
But I shall reach it, near or far.


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Hands of a Boy

Oh! sunburnt hands of a boy that hold my heart,
Play your part!

I wish you humble and eager, quick to learn
And slow to spurn.

I wish you wisdom and strength and long to live,
That you may have more to give.

Give largesse to the world of all you find,
Give your heart and your toil and your mind.

You will build perhaps a City of Beautiful Joy,
Oh! hands beloved, oh! clean-cut hands of a boy!

A shrine, or a shop, or a home, as you may choose,
But something for men to use.

And whether you build in lives or stone or song,
Build strong!

If the work that you planned in hope is not built true,
Scrap it and build anew.

Oh! hands of a boy, brown hands that hold my heart,
Worthily play your part!


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Midsummer Night in London

London, London, blazing bright,
Streams of traffic and streams of light
And all the beating pulse of the summer in your garish night.

And, just one step away, the silent square,
The blackness of the trees against the fair
Far sky, and little winds that blow in my uncovered hair.

Both part of London’s heart, and she holds ours.
Sordid and sacred, mistress and mother both,
Her children and her lovers, nothing loath,
Come when she beckons. All her throbbing hours
Are wrapped to-night in June, as in a cloak
Of beauty. Do they see, these hurrying folk,
Who seem so sunk in self or sin or care?

At least they feel the beauty unaware.


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The Thinker

(To Graham Wallas)

As one who waits, his finger on his lips,
Rapt, and expectant of the coming God,
So the tense Soul

Waits for his thought, until the Spirit stirs
Within him, like a babe at quickening time,
And he perceives the goal.

He knows it shall be, but not when or how
Or with what labour and anguish. So he waits
Patient within the gates.

Brooding he sits. His vast enveloping gaze
Now inward turned, now flashing near and far
To every world and star.

Through the long years behind him and ahead
He sends his travelling thought, his straining mind,
To probe, and search, and find.

Then the quick leap of the inventive brain,
And the new thought to ease an ancient past
Comes to the birth at last.

All birth is hope. A child, or else a thought,
Or maybe both in one. Who counts the cost
When such a hope is bought?

Such a fierce wonder of joy! Who measures pain?
Or the long waiting in the wilderness
When life is born again.

Now thoughts for an old world, to help and heal.
Not dreams for fairy islands far away,
But here and for to-day.

His ripe fruit given, then he passes on
Again to brooding patience and slow toil;
For so more fruit is won.

As one who waits expectant of the God,
And passionately eager for the goal,
So the tense Thinker’s Soul.

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Glacier Water

Grey glacier water
under my window,
through the Alpine village
turbulent, tossing.
Day-time and dark-time
patient, persistent,
never never ceasing.
From days primordial
shaping the mountains.

Thoughts men are thinking,
passionate, relentless,
born of emotion
dumb and disturbing.
Nurturing in silence
struggling for utterance,
pressing for action,
clamouring for beauty,
Shaping the future.

Force of the water,
force of men’s thinking,
nothing can stop them.

Life-givers, death-dealers,
as we may use them.
Dam them and hinder,
stop up their channels,
they will break prison
spreading destruction.
Make them a fair-way
give them free passage,
they will bring plenty,
they will make beauty.


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Suggested by Epstein’s “Genesis”

Life, straining, struggling to be born!
Man’s life.
From the womb of the beast pressing outwards,
From the loins of the East surging upwards.
Pushing onwards through travail
To fill the worlds and replenish the earth.

No easy spawning!
The patient mother is heavy and gross
In the moment of torpor before the birth-pangs tear her.
She is ugly, bestial, horrible,
Moving to terror and pity,
But she is great with the promise of power.

The tenderness of maternity is nascent in her tragic eyes,
Lust is forgotten in fecundity.
In the gesture of her ape-like hands that pray for privacy
and demand reverance,
She celebrates the sacredness of birth,
Bears witness to the miracle of life made new.

She is inviolable.

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The One Taken to the Other Left

When we can talk no longer,
Let not your heart be wrung,
With grief for words we did not say
And songs we might have sung.
Think only, words were needless,
For all we left unsaid
Was clear to us as daylight
Let love be comforted!

And when all beauty hurts you,
Life’s lovely days and nights
That once we shared and made our own,
Earth’s poignant fresh delights!
Still let the years bring comfort,
The helpful healing years.
They helped and healed me living,
And, dead, I need no tears.

I think your laugh would teach me
Wherever I might be.
So glad a sound God could not spare
From cosmic harmony!

Yet if I sleep unhearing,
All’s well, nor needs lament,
For waking I’ll wake gladly,
Or sleeping, lie content.

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Written in Dejection

Life, you have broken my heart,
Death, will you mend it?
Sooth I am fain to depart
Mend it or end it.

I am too old for more coping
With getting and giving.
I am too sad for more hoping,
Too tired for more living.

Grief that consumes every part,
Who should endure it?
Life, you have broken my heart!
Death, can you cure it?

Poems by Francis Ledwidge – World War I

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TO MY BEST FRIEND

I love the wet-lipped wind that stirs the hedge
And kisses the bent flowers that drooped for rain,
That stirs the poppy on the sun-burned ledge
And like a swan dies singing, without pain.
The golden bees go buzzing down to stain
The lilies’ frills, and the blue harebell rings,
And the sweet blackbird in the rainbow sings.

Deep in the meadows I would sing a song,
The shallow brook my tuning-fork, the birds
My masters; and the boughs they hop along
Shall mark my time: but there shall be no words
For lurking Echo’s mock; an angel herds
Words that I may not know, within, for you,
Words for the faithful meet, the good and true.

From Songs of the Fields

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JUNE

Broom out the floor now, lay the fender by,
And plant this bee-sucked bough of woodbine there,
And let the window down. The butterfly
Floats in upon the sunbeam, and the fair
Tanned face of June, the nomad gipsy, laughs
Above her widespread wares, the while she tells
The farmers’ fortunes in the fields, and quaffs
The water from the spider-peopled wells.

The hedges are all drowned in green grass seas,
And bobbing poppies flare like Elmor’s light,
While siren-like the pollen-stainéd bees
Drone in the clover depths. And up the height
The cuckoo’s voice is hoarse and broke with joy.
And on the lowland crops the crows make raid,
Nor fear the clappers of the farmer’s boy,
Who sleeps, like drunken Noah, in the shade.

And loop this red rose in that hazel ring
That snares your little ear, for June is short
And we must joy in it and dance and sing,
And from her bounty draw her rosy worth.
Ay! soon the swallows will be flying south,
The wind wheel north to gather in the snow,
Even the roses spilt on youth’s red mouth
Will soon blow down the road all roses go.
From Songs of the Fields

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TO LORD DUNSANY

(ON HIS RETURN FROM EAST AFRICA)

For you I knit these lines, and on their ends
Hang little tossing bells to ring you home.
The music is all cracked, and Poesy tends
To richer blooms than mine; but you who roam
Thro’ coloured gardens of the highest muse,
And leave the door ajar sometimes that we
May steal small breathing things of reds and blues
And things of white sucked empty by the bee,
Will listen to this bunch of bells from me.
My cowslips ring you welcome to the land
Your muse brings honour to in many a tongue,
Not only that I long to clasp your hand,
But that you’re missed by poets who have sung
And viewed with doubt the music of their verse
All the long winter, for you love to bring
The true note in and say the wise thing terse,
And show what birds go lame upon a wing,
And where the weeds among the flowers do spring.

From Songs of Fields

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BY FAUGHAN

For hills and woods and streams unsung
I pipe above a rippled cove.
And here the weaver autumn hung
Between the hills a wind she wove
From sounds the hills remember yet
Of purple days and violet.
The hills stand up to trip the sky,
Sea-misted, and along the tops
Wing after wing goes summer by,
And many a little roadway stops
And starts, and struggles to the sea,
Cutting them up in filigree.

Twixt wind and silence Faughan flows,
In music broken over rocks,
Like mingled bells the poet knows
Ring in the fields of Eastern flocks.
And here this song for you I find
Between the silence and the wind.

From Songs of Peace

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AFTER COURT MARTIAL

My mind is not my mind, therefore
I take no heed of what men say,
I lived ten thousand years before
God cursed the town of Nineveh.

The Present is a dream I see
Of horror and loud sufferings,
At dawn a bird will waken me
Unto my place among the kings.

And though men called me a vile name,
And all my dream companions gone,
‘Tis I the soldier bears the shame,
Not I the king of Babylon.

From Last Songs

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O’CONNELL STREET

A Noble failure is not vain
But hath a victory of its own
A bright delectance from the slain
Is down the generations thrown.
And, more than Beauty understands
Has made her lovelier here, it seems;
I see white ships that crowd her strands,
For mine are all the dead men’s dreams.

Unpublished

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Francis Ledwidge was depicted as a “peasant poet” by his patron, Lord Dunsany, for his humble background in County Meath, Ireland, and his celebration of the countryside in his poetry.

In his introduction to the Complete Poems, Lord Dunsany wrote:  “I have looked for a poet amongst the Irish peasants because it seemed to me that almost only amongst them there was in daily use a diction worthy of poetry, as well an imagination capable of dealing with the great and simple things that are a poet’s wares. Their thoughts are in the spring-time, and all their metaphors fresh: in London no one makes metaphors any more, but daily speech is strewn thickly with dead ones that their users should write upon paper and give to their gardeners to burn.”

By the time this collection was published, in 1919, Ledwidge was deceased. He had enlisted in Lord Dunsany’s regiment, the 5th Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, in October 1914 and, promoted to lance corporal, was deployed to the Dardanelles, Gallipoli, Serbia and France.

On July 31st 1917, he was amongst a group working on communication roads in preparation for the Third Battle of Ypres. It is said that as they sat drinking tea, a German artillery shell struck and killed all six men. Chaplain, Father Devas, recorded: “Ledwidge killed, blown to bits.”

Ledwidge was amongst hundreds of thousands of Irishmen who joined the British Army during World War 1. Prior to the outbreak, he had worked as a shop assistant, copper miner and road worker. He had organised for worker rights and become involved in trade union activism, including serving as the secretary of the Slane branch of the Meath Labour Union. In 1914, alongside his brother, Joseph, he set up a local branch of the Irish Volunteers, in response to the formation of the Ulster Volunteers.

After initially opposing the stance of John Redmond and the Irish Party who are argued that Home Rule for Ireland was best achieved by fighting for Britain, Ledwidge enlisted with the British Army in October 1914, joining the regiment of his literary patron, Lord Dunsany.

There is some speculation that Ledwidge’s decision was influenced by rejection in love but what is on record are his own words: “I joined the British Army because she (Britain) stood between Ireland and an enemy common to our civilisation and I could not have her say that she defended us while we did nothing at home but pass resolutions.”

His views were to become more conflicted after the Easter Rising, in 1916, and the execution of its leaders by the British. One of Ledwidge’s most famed poems is “Thomas McDonagh” in memory of a fellow poet and one of the executed. Around this time, back in Ireland, he was court-martialled and demoted for overstaying home leave and for being drunk in uniform.

Subsequently, Ledwidge’s lance corporal stripes were restored and he joined the 1st Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, 29th Division. He survived the Battle of Arras but, in July 1917, near the village of Boezinge, north-west of Ypres, he was struck by a shell and killed.