A Year and a Day

I shall remember miraculous things you said

  My whole life through –

Things to go unforgotten till I am dead;

  But the hundredfold, adorable ways of you,

The tilt of your chin for laughter, the turn of your head

  That I loved, that I knew –

Oh, while I fed on the dreams of them, these have fled!

Words which no time can touch are my life’s refrain,

  But each picture flies.

All that was left to hold till I meet you again,

  Your mouth’s deep curve, your brows where the shadow lies,

These are the things I strive to capture in vain,

  And I have forgotten your eyes,

And the way that your hair spun curls in the beating of rain.

=by Kathleen Coates, quoted by Vera Brittain in “Testament of Youth”

 

 

 

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Hedauville, November 1915

The sunshine on the long white road

That ribboned down the hill,

The velvet clematis that clung

Around your window-sill

Are waiting for you still.

Again the shadowed pool shall break

In dimples round your feet,

And  when the thrush sings in your wood,

Unknowing you may meet

Another stranger, Sweet.

And if he is not quite so old

As the boy you used to know,

And less proud, too,and worthier,

You may not let him go –

(And daisies are truer than passion-flowers)

It will be better so.

by Roland A. Leighton, quoted by Vera Brittain in “Testament of Youth”

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May Morning

The rising sun shone warmly on the tower;

Into the clear pure heaven the hymn aspired,

Piercingly sweet. This was the morning hour

When life awoke with spring’s creative power,

And the old city’s grey to gold was fired.

Silently reverent stood the noisy throng;

Under the bridge the boats in long array

Lay motionless. The choristers’ far song

Faded upon the breeze in echoes long.

Swiftly I left the bridge and rode away.

Straight to a little wood’s green heart I sped,

Where cowslips grew, beneath whose gold withdrawn

The fragrant earth peeped warm and richly red;

All trace of winter’s chilling touch had fled,

And song-birds ushered in the year’s bright morn.

I had met Love not many days before,

And as in blissful mood I listening lay

None ever had of joy so full a store.

I thought that spring must last for evermore,

For I was young and loved, and it was May.

 

Now it is May again, and sweetly clear

Perhaps once more aspires the Latin hymn

From Magdalen tower,but not for me to hear.

I toil far distant, for a darker year

Shadows the century with menace grim.

I walk in ways where pain and sorrow dwell,

And ruin such as only War can bring,

Where each lives through his individual hell,

Fraught with remembered horror none can tell,

And no more  is there glory in the spring.

And I am worn with tears, for he I loved

Lies cold beneath the stricken sod of France;

Hope has forsaken me, by death removed,

And Love that seemed so strong and gay has proved

A poor crushed thing, the toy of cruel chance.

Often i wonder, as I grieve in vain,

If when the long, long future years creep slow,

And War and tears alike have ceased to reign,

I ever shall recapture, once again,

The mood of that May Morning, long ago.

 

by Vera Brittain in “Testament of Youth” – “Verses of a V.A.D.

 

The writer commented: The concluding speculation is answered now – not only for me but for all my generation. We never have recaptured that mood; and we never shall

[Vera Brittain lost her brother, her fiance and other close friends on the battlefields of France during the First World War. She herself sacrificed a place at oxford university to serve as a nurse]

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After World War I …

“Two campaigns seem to me at the present momentous and worthwhile – that for the equalisation of the position of women and that for economic security for the worker. [Yet] whoever puts his hand to the plough of the first will be told he is furthering immorality and the break-up of the family; whoever puts his hand to the second will be told he is a Bolshevik.”

From a letter written in 1923 – quoted by Vera Brittain

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Prayer after a crushing bereavement

“And lastly to me who am left to mourn his departure, grant that I may not sorrow as one without hope for my beloved who sleeps in Thee; but that, always remembering his courage, and the love that united us on earth, I may begin again with new courage to serve Thee more fervently who art the only source of true love and true fortitude; that, when I have passed a few more days in this valley of tears and in this shadow of death, supported by Thy rod and staff, I may see him again, face to face, in those pastures and amongst those waters of comfort where, I trust, he already walks with Thee. Oh Shepherd of the Sheep, have pity upon this darkened soul of mine!”

Prayer composed by Robert Hugh Benson and quoted by Vera Brittain in “Testament of Youth”

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Fragment from the French trenches

“When you are a soldier you are one of two things, either at the front or behind the lines. If you are behind the lines you need not worry. If you are at the front you are one of two things. You are either in a danger zone or in a zone which is not dangerous. If you are in a zone which is not dangerous you need not worry. If you are in a danger zone you are one of two things; either you are wounded or you are not. If you are not wounded you need not worry. If you are wounded you are one of two things, either seriously wounded or slightly wounded. If you are slightly wounded you need not worry. If you are seriously wounded one of two things is certain – either you get well or you die. If you get well you needn’t worry. If you die you cannot worry, so there is no need to worry about anything at all.”

from “Testament of Youth” by Vera Brittain

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The Superfluous Woman

“Ghosts crying down the vistas of the years,

Recalling words

Whose echoes long have died,

And kind moss grown

Over the sharp and blood-bespattered stones

Which cut our feet upon the ancient ways.

 

But who will look for my coming?

 

Long busy days where many meet and part;

Crowded aside

Remembered hours of hope;

And city streets

Grown dark and hot with eager multitudes

Hurrying homeward whither respite waits.

 

But who will seek me at nightfall?

 

Light fading where the chimneys cut the sky;

Footsteps that pass,

Nor tarry at my door.

And far away,

Behind the row of crosses, shadows black

Stretch out long arms before the smouldering sun.

 

But who will give me my children?”

 

– by Vera Brittain (from “Testament of Youth” and “Verses of a V.A.D.)

[Vera Brittain lost her brother, her fiance and other close friends during World War I. She herself gave up study at Oxford to become a nurse in France.

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