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.
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.
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,
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!
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.
(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.
Grey glacier water
under my window,
through the Alpine village
Day-time and dark-time
never never ceasing.
From days primordial
shaping the mountains.
Thoughts men are thinking,
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.
as we may use them.
Dam them and hinder,
stop up their channels,
they will break prison
Make them a fair-way
give them free passage,
they will bring plenty,
they will make beauty.
Suggested by Epstein’s “Genesis”
Life, straining, struggling to be born!
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.
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.
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?