William Ernest Henley: Invictus

Barely remembered now as an influential literary critic of the late Victorian era William Ernest Henley nonetheless produced a poem oft-quoted by Presidents and Kings that has endured far beyond the fleeting career of its author.

His Invictus, written in 1875 as he lay bed-ridden, suffering from tuberculosis, and awaiting the amputation of his leg is a tale of the unconquerable human spirit that shines a light where darkness prevails and triumphs over adversity regardless of the odds.

It was originally untitled (Invictus was provided later by his publisher) and was just one of a series of poems written whilst he was in hospital but it, more than any other, captured the Victorian zeitgeist.

It is most famous now as the poem that Nelson Mandela learned by heart and would recite to his fellow prisoners on Robben Island to raise their spirits.

Henley, who knew all about adversity having endured a childhood of poverty, constant ill-health and personal tragedy died in 1903, aged just 53, from the disease that had tormented him for much of his life but he left a legacy that continues to inspire to this day and maintains a status far beyond the relative obscurity of its author.

Invictus

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeoning of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Edgar Allan Poe: Annabel Lee

A discourse on lost love – not that of dissipated affection or platonic musings but death – was a much cherished theme of Edgar Allan Poe’s work and such a feature of his life that its dark apparition if not exactly welcome did at least cast the shadow of warm reassurance in its inevitability – the death of a beautiful woman had no parallel in the majesty of her passing.

Written in May 1849, just months before his own death it remains uncertain to whom exactly Annabel Lee refers, perhaps his wife Virginia Clemm who had died young of tuberculosis but there had been many women in Poe’s life whose passing had been deeply mourned.

Regardless, he was determined it should be published and perhaps anticipating his own demise was willing to pay to ensure it was, though it did not transpire necessary to do so.

e a poe annabel lee journal x

But he would never see it in print for it did not appear in Sartain’s Union Magazine for the first time until January 1850, three months after his own mysterious death.

Sharing a similar style and rhythm to his previous The Raven and its theme of ‘nevermore’ it differs in that it holds out the prospect of renewed love and redemption – which maybe in the end is all anyone can hope for.

Annabel Lee

It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of Annabel Lee;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.

I was a child and she was a child,
In this kingdom by the sea:
But we loved with a love that was more than love–
I and my Annabel Lee;
With a love that the winged seraphs of heaven
Coveted her and me.

And this was the reason that, long ago,
In this kingdom by the sea,
A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling
My beautiful Annabel Lee;
So that her highborn kinsman came
And bore her away from me,
To shut her up in a sepulchre
In this kingdom by the sea.

The angels, not half so happy in heaven,
Went envying her and me–
Yes!–that was the reason (as all men know,
In this kingdom by the sea)
That the wind came out of the cloud by night,
Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.

But our love it was stronger by far than the love
Of those who were older than we–
Of many far wiser than we–
And neither the angels in heaven above,
Nor the demons down under the sea,
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee:

For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise, but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling–my darling–my life and my bride,
In her tomb by the sounding sea.

Elizabeth I: The Woodstock Verse

On 18 March 1555, the Princess Elizabeth was arrested on the orders of her half-sister Queen Mary and taken to the Tower of London to await interrogation.

It was believed by many, including Mary, that she was implicated in some way in Sir Thomas Wyatt’s plot to depose the Catholic Queen, and that if she played no part in organising the rebellion then she had at least been the standard bearer for the cause.

Under harsh questioning from a hostile Bishop Gardner, Elizabeth displayed dexterity of argument, subtlety of wit, and degree of obfuscation that would have impressed in a learned professor far in advance of her callow youth.

Nonetheless, Bishop Gardner demanded of the Queen that she try Elizabeth for treason.

After much consideration and a private audience with her sister Mary declined, for the time being at least, to place Elizabeth under interdiction and in May she was released from the Tower of London and taken to a country estate at Woodstock where she would remain under house arrest.

Despite her reprieve Elizabeth -knowing how mercurial was Mary and remembering the fate of Lady Jane Grey who had similarly been shown clemency only to be executed shortly after – feared for her life every day of her incarceration.

Whilst at Woodstock she wrote these words on a shutter that covered one of the windows:

Oh, Fortune! how thy restlesse wavering state
Hath fraught with cares my troubled witt!
Witnes this present prisonn, whither fate
Could beare me, and the joys I quitt.
Thou causedest the guiltie to be losed
From bandes, wherein are innocents inclosed:
Causing the guiltles to be straite reserved,
And freeing those that death had well deserved.
But by her envie can be nothing wroughte,
So God send to my foes all they have thoughte.
By Queen Elizabeth I

Rudyard Kipling: Mandalay

Written in June 1890, and published two years later in The Barrack Room Ballads and Other Verses Rudyard Kipling’s, Mandalay, has proved one his most enduring poems.

Often described as the soldier’s poet Kipling described more vividly than any other the realities of army life, the boredom, the dirt, the fear, and the grim determination to do a job stripped of glory but no less heroic for all that; and he did so in the language of the common man in an organisation no less rigid in its command structure than society was in its hierarchy.

Mandalay reflected Kipling’s own experience of a short visit he made to Burma in 1889 four years after it had yielded to the threat of military invasion and had permitted Britain to annexe the country.

mandalay x

A British soldier back in London reflects upon his time in Burma nostalgic for its women in particular but also its sights, sounds and power to seduce a rugged man of common tastes and simple desires.

The poem was to become closely associated with the XIV Army in World War Two which unlike its counterpart of 1885 was to fight for three long years against a tenacious enemy in the harsh environment of monsoon, extreme heat, and tropical disease to reach Mandalay.

It was a struggle that did not lend itself to verse but in the ugly confines of jungle and swamp the plain language of back home struck a chord of nostalgia in reverse of the poems original intent.

Mandalay

BY THE old Moulmein Pagoda, lookin’ lazy at the sea,
There’s a Burma girl a-settin’, and I know she thinks o’ me;
For the wind is in the palm-trees, and the temple-bells they say:
“Come you back, you British soldier; come you back to Mandalay! ”
Come you back to Mandalay,
Where the old Flotilla lay:
Can’t you ‘ear their paddles chunkin’ from Rangoon to Mandalay ?
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin’-fishes play,
An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China ‘crost the Bay!

‘Er petticoat was yaller an’ ‘er little cap was green,
An’ ‘er name was Supi-yaw-lat – jes’ the same as Theebaw’s Queen,
An’ I seed her first a-smokin’ of a whackin’ white cheroot,
An’ a-wastin’ Christian kisses on an ‘eathen idol’s foot:
Bloomin’ idol made o’ mud
Wot they called the Great Gawd Budd
Plucky lot she cared for idols when I kissed ‘er where she stud!
On the road to Mandalay…

When the mist was on the rice-fields an’ the sun was droppin’ slow,
She’d git ‘er little banjo an’ she’d sing “Kulla-lo-lo!
With ‘er arm upon my shoulder an’ ‘er cheek agin my cheek
We useter watch the steamers an’ the hathis pilin’ teak.
Elephints a-pilin’ teak
In the sludgy, squdgy creek,
Where the silence ‘ung that ‘eavy you was ‘arf afraid to speak!
On the road to Mandalay…

But that’s all shove be’ind me – long ago an’ fur away
An’ there ain’t no ‘busses runnin’ from the Bank to Mandalay;
An’ I’m learnin’ ‘ere in London what the ten-year soldier tells:
“If you’ve ‘eard the East a-callin’, you won’t never ‘eed naught else.”
No! you won’t ‘eed nothin’ else
But them spicy garlic smells,
An’ the sunshine an’ the palm-trees an’ the tinkly temple-bells;
On the road to Mandalay…

I am sick o’ wastin’ leather on these gritty pavin’-stones,
An’ the blasted English drizzle wakes the fever in my bones;
Tho’ I walks with fifty ‘ousemaids outer Chelsea to the Strand,
An’ they talks a lot o’ lovin’, but wot do they understand?
Beefy face an’ grubby ‘and –
Law! wot do they understand?
I’ve a neater, sweeter maiden in a cleaner, greener land!
On the road to Mandalay…

Ship me somewheres east of Suez, where the best is like the worst,
Where there aren’t no Ten Commandments an’ a man can raise a thirst;
For the temple-bells are callin’, an’ it’s there that I would be
By the old Moulmein Pagoda, looking lazy at the sea;
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the old Flotilla lay,
With our sick beneath the awnings when we went to Mandalay!
O the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin’-fishes play,
An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China ‘crost the Bay !

J Milton Hayes: The Green Eye of the Little Yellow God

Written in 1911, The Green Eye of the Little Yellow God, as much a dramatic monologue as it is a poem, became a popular Music Hall refrain which would have delighted its author James Milton Hayes, a plain spoken northerner who was to win the Military Cross in World War One, and had perhaps realising that art no matter how great if it remains unknown can only be diminished by its ignorance intended it to be performed.

Indeed, so popular was it to become that it seemed whether they be a gentleman, seamstress, railway porter, or schoolchild everyone could quote at least the opening lines of The Green Eye of the Little Yellow God.

The Green Eye of the Little Yellow God

There’s a one-eyed yellow idol to the north of Khatmandu,
There’s a little marble cross below the town;
There’s a broken-hearted woman tends the grave of Mad Carew,
And the Yellow God forever gazes down.

He was known as “Mad Carew” by the subs at Khatmandu,
He was hotter than they felt inclined to tell;
But for all his foolish pranks, he was worshipped in the ranks,
And the Colonel’s daughter smiled on him as well.

He had loved her all along, with a passion of the strong,
The fact that she loved him was plain to all.
She was nearly twenty-one and arrangements had begun
To celebrate her birthday with a ball.

He wrote to ask what present she would like from Mad Carew;
They met next day as he dismissed a squad;
And jestingly she told him then that nothing else would do
But the green eye of the little Yellow God.

On the night before the dance, Mad Carew seemed in a trance,
And they chaffed him as they puffed at their cigars:
But for once he failed to smile, and he sat alone awhile,
Then went out into the night beneath the stars.

He returned before the dawn, with his shirt and tunic torn,
And a gash across his temple dripping red;
He was patched up right away, and he slept through all the day,
And the Colonel’s daughter watched beside his bed.

He woke at last and asked if they could send his tunic through;
She brought it, and he thanked her with a nod;
He bade her search the pocket saying “That’s from Mad Carew,”
And she found the little green eye of the god.

She upbraided poor Carew in the way that women do,
Though both her eyes were strangely hot and wet;
But she wouldn’t take the stone and Mad Carew was left alone
With the jewel that he’d chanced his life to get.

When the ball was at its height, on that still and tropic night,
She thought of him and hurried to his room;
As she crossed the barrack square she could hear the dreamy air
Of a waltz tune softly stealing thro’ the gloom.

His door was open wide, with silver moonlight shining through;
The place was wet and slipp’ry where she trod;
An ugly knife lay buried in the heart of Mad Carew,
‘Twas the “Vengeance of the Little Yellow God.”

There’s a one-eyed yellow idol to the north of Khatmandu,
There’s a little marble cross below the town;
There’s a broken-hearted woman tends the grave of Mad Carew,
And the Yellow God forever gazes down.

Robert Browning: My Last Duchess

Robert Browning who was born in Southwark, London on 7 May 1812, is often portrayed as the epitome of the dashing Victorian poet, the man who had against all odds won the hand of the talented but sickly Elizabeth Barrett in a love affair that has since become the staple of romantic fiction and movie making but in his poetry he was no Byron or Shelley.

An argumentative man sceptical of the verities of romantic fantasy poetry was for him an intellectual pursuit intended to be no less challenging to the reader than it had been for him the author.

So much so, that despite remaining one of the Victorian eras most prominent Victorian literary figures the difficulty of his work would see his popularity wax and wane.

Indeed, for the duration of his marriage to Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1846-61) it was his wife who was beloved and received most of the accolades and plaudits for her poetry replete of love and loss without the cynicism and dark humour of her husband’s caustic pen.

browning liz & rob x

So for a time at least he would play second fiddle to his wife in what in the public imagination was the the romantic couple of its age.

But in truth it was a stormy relationship often played out in public no more so than in their long running dispute regarding the veracity of spiritualism.

Although few ever doubted that they were very much in love, in the manner perhaps that it is best expressed in disagreement, understanding, and reconciliation.

The master of the dramatic monologue Browning would often place his work in an historical context and show rather than tell the reader of events, after all poetry is of the imagination it is not a picture painted on canvass to be admired for its brushstrokes.

lucrezia de medici x

Browning’s technique of combining contrary rhythms and a complex syntax with historical imagination is no better expressed than in My Last Duchess which based on the marriage of Alfonso d’Este, Duke of Ferrara and his 14 year old bride Lucrezia de Medici who died three years later in mysterious circumstances remains one of his most popular and studied works with its sinister undertones and subtle evocation of the descent into madness and murder so spine-chilling that Edgar Allan Poe (an admirer) would have been proud.

Even now, My Last Duchess remains a challenge both in its reading and understanding.

Robert Browning would appreciate that.

My Last Duchess

FERRARA

That’s my Last Duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive. I call
That piece a wonder, now: Frà Pandolf’s hands
Worked busily a day, and there she stands.
Will’t please you sit and look at her? I said
“Frà Pandolf” by design, for never read
Strangers like you that pictured countenance,
The depth and passion of its earnest glance,
But to myself they turned (since none puts by
The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)
And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,
How such a glance came there; so, not the first
Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, ’twas not
Her husband’s presence only, called that spot
Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek: perhaps
Frà Pandolf chanced to say “Her mantle laps
Over my lady’s wrist too much,” or “Paint
Must never hope to reproduce the faint
Half-flush that dies along her throat”: such stuff
Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough
For calling up that spot of joy. She had
A heart—how shall I say?—too soon made glad,
Too easily impressed; she liked whate’er
She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.
Sir, ’twas all one! My favour at her breast,
The dropping of the daylight in the West,
The bough of cherries some officious fool
Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule
She rode with round the terrace—all and each
Would draw from her alike the approving speech,
Or blush, at least. She thanked men,—good! but thanked
Somehow—I know not how—as if she ranked
My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name
With anybody’s gift. Who’d stoop to blame
This sort of trifling? Even had you skill
In speech—(which I have not)—to make your will
Quite clear to such an one, and say, “Just this
Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss,
Or there exceed the mark”—and if she let
Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set
Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse,
—E’en then would be some stooping; and I choose
Never to stoop. Oh sir, she smiled, no doubt,
Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without
Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands
As if alive. Will’t please you rise? We’ll meet
The company below, then. I repeat,
The Count your master’s known munificence
Is ample warrant that no just pretence
Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;
Though his fair daughter’s self, as I avowed
At starting, is my object. Nay, we’ll go
Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though,
Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,
Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!

Edgar Allan Poe: The Raven (1845)

Most famous as the purveyor of nightmares both realised and imagined in such stories as the Tomb of Ligeia, Pit and the Pendulum, and Masque of the Red Death, Edgar Allan Poe saw himself first and foremost as a poet, a man of lyrical imagination but everything in his literary canon speaks of loss, or the fear of loss, and the desire to forget and the inability to do so.

In a short life blighted by alcohol, ill health, and death it could be no other way.

Even The Raven, a poem notable for its upbeat tempo and lyrical musicality deliberately written to be popular remains nonetheless a tale of forced commemoration and torment.

The Raven was indeed popular in his own time and remains so today but it never made him the money he hoped for in the four years remaining before his own mysterious death – but then that was the story of a life in which no amount of success would ever compensate for that overwhelming sense of failure.

The Raven)

the raven in flight x

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
”Tis some visitor,’ I muttered, ‘tapping at my chamber door-
Only this, and nothing more.’

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December,
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow;- vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow- sorrow for the lost Lenore-
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore-
Nameless here for evermore.

And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me- filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating,
”Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door-
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door;-
This it is, and nothing more.’

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
‘Sir,’ said I, ‘or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you’- here I opened wide the door;-
Darkness there, and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering,
fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortals ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, ‘Lenore!’
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, ‘Lenore!’-
Merely this, and nothing more.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
‘Surely,’ said I, ‘surely that is something at my window lattice:
Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore-
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;-
‘Tis the wind and nothing more.’

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and
flutter,
In there stepped a stately raven of the saintly days of yore;
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed
he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door-
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door-
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore.
‘Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,’ I said, ‘art sure no
craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the Nightly shore-
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!’
Quoth the Raven, ‘Nevermore.’

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning- little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blest with seeing bird above his chamber door-
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such name as ‘Nevermore.’

But the raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further then he uttered- not a feather then he fluttered-
Till I scarcely more than muttered, ‘other friends have flown
before-
On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before.’
Then the bird said, ‘Nevermore.’

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
‘Doubtless,’ said I, ‘what it utters is its only stock and store,
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore-
Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore
Of ‘Never- nevermore’.’

But the Raven still beguiling all my fancy into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and
door;
Then upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore-
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking ‘Nevermore.’

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamplight gloated o’er,
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamplight gloating o’er,
She shall press, ah, nevermore!

Then methought the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose footfalls tinkled on the tufted floor.
‘Wretch,’ I cried, ‘thy God hath lent thee- by these angels he
hath sent thee
Respite- respite and nepenthe, from thy memories of Lenore!
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!’
Quoth the Raven, ‘Nevermore.’

‘Prophet!’ said I, ‘thing of evil!- prophet still, if bird or
devil!-
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted-
On this home by horror haunted- tell me truly, I implore-
Is there- is there balm in Gilead?- tell me- tell me, I implore!’
Quoth the Raven, ‘Nevermore.’

‘Prophet!’ said I, ‘thing of evil- prophet still, if bird or
devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us- by that God we both adore-
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore-
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.’
Quoth the Raven, ‘Nevermore.’

‘Be that word our sign in parting, bird or fiend,’ I shrieked,
upstarting-
‘Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken!- quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my
door!’
Quoth the Raven, ‘Nevermore.’

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamplight o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the
floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted- nevermore!

Robert Burns: The Ploughman Poet

Robert Burns is the national poet of Scotland but his influence spreads much further.

He is considered by some to be the first of the Romantic Poets, writing not just in Gaelic and a Scots dialect but also in standard English and his poetry captured the mood of dissatisfaction and insurrection that would culminate in the French Revolution and influence those that such as Wordsworth, Byron, and Shelley who would come later.

Indeed, his unconventional views were reflected in his private life as he had numerous love affairs and sired a number of children out of wedlock.

He is also credited with not just preserving but saving the folklore, songs, and literary traditions of Auld Scotland.

He was born in the village of Alloway in Ayreshire on 25 January, 1759, the son of a tenant farmer and eldest of 7 children.

His father later came into possession of a much larger farm and as the eldest son the burden of working it largely fell upon his shoulders taking an early toll upon his health.

It was subsistence level farming and hard graft that rarely provided more than food on the table, and the nightmare of poverty often loomed large.

His first book of verse was published on 31 July 1786, was an instant success and it was it was to be poetry not the sweat of his brow that would elevate Burns to a position of at least some comfort.

Having at last received the consent of her parents in 1788, he married his long-time companion Jean Armour by whom he was to have 9 children having already sired 4 others by different women; and the many influential friends he now made, the commissions he received, and the sales of his verse allowed him to provide for his large family though he was never by any means a rich man.

A Scottish nationalist Burns, unlike most of his contemporaries was a Lowland Scot who sympathised with the plight of his Highland brethren perhaps as a result of his travels north to collect the oral history of his country that might otherwise had been lost forever.

Robert Burns died of rheumatic fever 21 July 1796, aged just 37.

The date of his birth, 25 January, is now celebrated every year in Scotland as ‘Burns Night’ which in some ways has come to make him appear a comfortable or safe poet which he certainly never was, and it is no coincidence that there are not similar celebrations in England.

He is largely viewed today by historians as a radical, and even by some a proto-socialist – the poetical equivalent of Thomas Paine – but if so his was a radicalism born of patriotism, a love of Scotland, of its people, of a concern for their rights, but most of all a regard for their freedom.

Such A Parcel Of Rogues In A Nation

Fareweel to a’ our Scottish fame,
Fareweel our ancient glory;
Fareweel ev’n to the Scottish name,
Sae fam’d in martial story.
Now Sark rins over Solway sands,
An’ Tweed rins to the ocean,
To mark where England’s province stands-
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!

What force or guile could not subdue,
Thro’ many warlike ages,
Is wrought now by a coward few,
For hireling traitor’s wages.
The English stell we could disdain,
Secure in valour’s station;
But English gold has been our bane-
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!

O would, or I had seen the day
That Treason thus could sell us,
My auld grey head had lien in clay,
Wi’ Bruce and loyal Wallace!
But pith and power, till my last hour,
I’ll mak this declaration;
We’re bought and sold for English gold-
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!

A Man’s A Man For A’That

Is there for honesty poverty
That hings his head, an’ a’ that;
The coward slave – we pass him by,
We dare be poor for a’ that!
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
Our toils obscure an’ a’ that,
The rank is but the guinea’s stamp,
The man’s the gowd for a’ that.

What though on hamely fare we dine,
Wear hoddin grey, an’ a’ that?
Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine,
A man’s a man for a’ that.
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
Their tinsel show, an’ a’ that,
The honest man, tho’ e’er sae poor,
Is king o’ men for a’ that.
Ye see yon birkie ca’d a lord,
Wha struts, an’ stares, an’ a’ that;
Tho’ hundreds worship at his word,
He’s but a coof for a’ that.
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
His ribband, star, an’ a’ that,
The man o’ independent mind
He looks an’ laughs at a’ that.

A price can mak a belted knight,
A marquise, duke, an’ a’ that;
But an honest man’s aboon his might,
Gude faith, he maunna fa’ that!
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
Their dignities an’ a’ that,
The pith o’ sense, an’ pride o’ worth,
Are higher rank than a’ that.

Then let us pray that come it may,
(As come it will for a’ that,)
That Sense and Worth, o’er a’ the earth,
Shall bear the gree, an’ a’ that.
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
That man to man, the world o’er,
Shall brithers be for a’ that

August Stramm: Battlefield/Attack/War Grave

The literature of World War One has often focused on the verse of a small number of British poets whether it, be the sentimental idealism of Rupert Brooke or the war-weary disillusionment of Siegfried Sassoon but others adopted a different approach to its grim realities.

August Stramm, born in the town of Cathedrals in 1874 was an Army Reservist and Civil Servant who had been a playwright and an early exponent of German Expressionism, or the deliberate distorting of reality for emotional effect and the evocation of feeling through the use of sound and image.

Called up for service in World War One, Stramm was awarded the Iron Cross (Second Class) as a Company Commander in France before being transferred to the Eastern Front where he was shot through the head and killed in close-quarter fighting with the Russians near the town of Horodec on 1 September 1915, aged 41.

Battlefield

Yielding clod lulls iron off to sleep
bloods clot the patches where they oozed
rusts crumble
fleshes slime
sucking lusts around decay.
Murder on murder blinks
in childish eyes.

Attack

Scarves
Wave
Flutter
Chatter
Winds clatter.
Your laughter blows
Grasp hold
Scuffle force
Kiss
Surrounded
Sink down
Nothingness

War Grave

Staffs flehen cross arms
Writing zagt pale unknown
Flowers impudent
Dust shyly.
Flare
Water
Glast
Forgotten.

Rudyard Kipling: A Smuggler’s Song

He will always be one of the more controversial poets criticised as he is as the arch-advocate of British Imperial rule – the purveyor of the ‘White Man’s Burden.’

He is also respected within the military as the ‘Soldiers Poet’, a man who understood and could express in verse the hardships and moral dilemmas faced by a man in uniform. But again is seen by others to be little more than an apologist for those who use war as the means to an end.

Yet Rudyard Kipling is also beloved of children for adventure stories such as Kim, the wild imaginings of The Jungle Book, and for the rhythmic tones and fast- paced musicality of A Smuggler’s Song delivered with a whiff of Grapeshot and no little sense of danger:

A Smuggler’s Song

IF you wake at midnight, and hear a horse’s feet,
Don’t go drawing back the blind, or looking in the street,
Them that ask no questions isn’t told a lie.
Watch the wall my darling while the Gentlemen go by.

Five and twenty ponies,
Trotting through the dark –
Brandy for the Parson, ‘Baccy for the Clerk.
Laces for a lady; letters for a spy,

Watch the wall my darling while the Gentlemen go by!

Running round the woodlump if you chance to find
Little barrels, roped and tarred, all full of brandy-wine,
Don’t you shout to come and look, nor use ’em for your play.
Put the brishwood back again – and they’ll be gone next day!

If you see the stable-door setting open wide;
If you see a tired horse lying down inside;
If your mother mends a coat cut about and tore;
If the lining’s wet and warm – don’t you ask no more!

If you meet King George’s men, dressed in blue and red,
You be careful what you say, and mindful what is said.
If they call you ” pretty maid,” and chuck you ‘neath the chin,
Don’t you tell where no one is, nor yet where no one’s been!

Knocks and footsteps round the house – whistles after dark –
You’ve no call for running out till the house-dogs bark.
Trusty’s here, and Pincher’s here, and see how dumb they lie
They don’t fret to follow when the Gentlemen go by!

‘If You do as you’ve been told, ‘likely there’s a chance,
You’ll be give a dainty doll, all the way from France,
With a cap of Valenciennes, and a velvet hood –
A present from the Gentlemen, along ‘o being good!

Five and twenty ponies,
Trotting through the dark –
Brandy for the Parson, ‘Baccy for the Clerk.
Them that asks no questions isn’t told a lie –
Watch the wall my darling while the Gentlemen go by!