Journal of the Australian War Memorial - Issue 29
"We are the women who mourn our dead": Australian civilian women's poetic responses to the First World War
Author: Dr Jacqueline Manuel
Is there among men, not excluding editors of war-poetry anthologies, the atavistic feeling that war is man’s concern, as birth is women’s; and that women quite simply cannot speak on the matter - an illogic which holds sway even when women have done so with knowledge and talent? [ 2 ].
‘Fight on!’ the Armament-kings besought:
Nobody asked what the women thought. [
Here we are mothers in the darkness
like a rare specimen
of other ages.
Without these words
being capable of changing
the decisions of the men
who keep the people in the shadows. [
The time was to come ... when women were to hide themselves and sometimes faint at the approach of the clergyman of their faith lest he should bear the news of the death of a son or husband ... when lamps burned late in solitary rooms where sleepless women prayed and suffered. Such is women's part in war, how bitter and hopeless only a woman knows. [ 9 ] The European wave reached her heart - The parson came and brought the news last night. [ 10 ]
O dauntless manhood and unflinching soul
That over me have flung their splendid shield;
Howe’er the tides of that grim battle roll,
Your line may swerve and bend but will not yield!
Knee-deep in blood and mire, steel-like you stand,
That I may walk secure in this fair land. [
Honourably he died,
Doing his "little bit";
None stand his grave beside,
And yet, because of it,
The world is nobler far,
And liberty more great;
More clear is Honour’s star,
Less mean, ignoble Fate. [
His rotting, fruitless body lies
That sons may grow from other men. [
On wings triumphant shall my swift heart rise
That I have known the glory of your worth:
And pride and joy are wed within my eyes
In that my womb bore hero-fruit to birth! [
"I weep but mother's tears: my sons
Were my sons, bone of my bone:
And, though in my heart I heard the guns,
They went - and I made no moan."
She took her bonnet up in her hand:
Its silken folds hung over the land. [
Oh, I think you know, as memories of the dead days gather o’er me,
That I speak your name this morning with a passionate pride: and yet
Bitter tears of hopeless longing blot the blue hills out before me -
Pride is mighty, Heart’s Beloved, but it cannot curb regret. [
I have not heard the Channel waters roar
Nor seen the old Thames go by
Brown-barged and shouting from full shore to shore
Her hoarse commercial cry;
But I can hear the waters of the creek
Where we played Nelson’s fight,
And all the memories of our childhood speak
To me this blue, still night. [
England! Her name is as a knell to me
And shall be till I die.
Outside the gum-leaves whisper wistfully
And the faint night-winds sigh.
Brother, I know how utterly she keeps the souls of her great men.
And are they greater than her starlight sweeps
Than you by field or fen? [
Out in the dust he lies;
Flies in his mouth,
Ants in his eyes ...
I stood at the door
Where he went out;
Ruddy and stout;
I heard the march
Of the trampling feet,
Slow and steady
Come down the street;
The beat of the drum
Was clods on the heart,
For all that the regiment
Looked so smart!
I heard the crackle
Of hasty cheers
Run like the breaking
Of unshed tears,
And just for a moment,
As he went by,
I had sight of his face,
And the flash of his eye.
He died a hero's death,
When they came to tell me
My boy was dead;
But out in the street
A dead dog lies;
Flies in his mouth,
Ants in his eyes. [
not so much [of] a woman’s culture as a contribution to a culture that must now be for and of women’s experiences, as well as men’s, [and] that must change to accommodate such rich, diverse and powerful work [ 28 ].
We are the women who mourn our dead.
Yea! Let us weep for them. [
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