Thursday 26 March 2015

Death of a Poet: We Will Remember Them Julian Grenfell

Many of the young men who went into battle in World War I were poets, either established or as a way to express themselves and fill the hours of waiting to go over the top. As an act of remembrance to those that never returned to their civilian existence on centenary of the day that they fell I will publish one of their poems.

Today marks 100 years from the passing of Julian Grenfell who as a Captain in the Royal Dragoons on the 13th May had been standing talking to fellow officers near Ypres when a shell landed near them. A splinter hit him in the head and he was transferred to hospital in Boulogne where his mother, father and sister were at his bedside when he died of his wounds. The day after his death alongside news of his death his most famous was published in The Times. 

Into Battle

The naked earth is warm with Spring,
And with green grass and bursting trees
Leans to the sun's gaze glorying,
And quivers in the sunny breeze;
And life is Colour and Warmth and Light,
And a striving evermore for these;
And he is dead who will not fight,
And who dies fighting has increase.
The fighting man shall from the sun
Take warmth, and life from glowing earth;
Speed with the light-foot winds to run
And with the trees to newer birth;
And find, when fighting shall be done,
Great rest, and fullness after dearth.
All the bright company of Heaven
Hold him in their bright comradeship,
The Dog star, and the Sisters Seven,
Orion's belt and sworded hip:
The woodland trees that stand together,
They stand to him each one a friend;
They gently speak in the windy weather;
They guide to valley and ridges end.
The kestrel hovering by day,
And the little owls that call by night,
Bid him be swift and keen as they,
As keen of ear, as swift of sight.
The blackbird sings to him: 'Brother, brother,
If this be the last song you shall sing,
Sing well, for you may not sing another;
Brother, sing.'
In dreary doubtful waiting hours,
Before the brazen frenzy starts,
The horses show him nobler powers; -
O patient eyes, courageous hearts!
And when the burning moment breaks,
And all things else are out of mind,
And only joy of battle takes
Him by the throat and makes him blind,
Through joy and blindness he shall know,
Not caring much to know, that still
Nor lead nor steel shall reach him, so
That it be not the Destined Will.
The thundering line of battle stands,
And in the air Death moans and sings;
But Day shall clasp him with strong hands,
And Night shall fold him in soft wings.

Grenfell attended Eton along with fellow war poet Patrick Shaw-Stewart, before going up to Balliol College Oxford, where he is known to have bullied Philip Sassoon who was later an MP and a cousin of Siegfried. He joined the army in 1910 and , he was the son of William Grenfell who had been Liberal MP for Salisbury (1880-86) and Hereford (1892-3) resigning after falling out with Gladstone over Home Rule, he returned to the commons as Conservative MP for Wycombe (1900-1905) before becoming Baron Desborough. His next oldest brother Gerald William died about 2 months after his elder brother about a mile away from where the shell struck and the youngest brother Ivo George as to perish in a car crash in 1926.

On 1 January 1915 Julian Grenfell was awarded the Distinguished Service Order:
On 17 November he succeeded in reaching a point behind the enemy's trenches and making an excellent reconnaissance, furnishing early information of a pending attack by the enemy.

There are very few poems by Grenfell that exist. But some had been published in the Eton College Chronicle and while studying there also in London World and Vanity Fair.

Julian Henry Francis Grenfell DSO 30 March 1888 London, England - 26 May 1915 Boulogne-sur-Mer, France

See also: The other poets who died in the war.

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