Rose Macaulay

Update: This is a post written a while back, but I notice that search engines are still sending people to it. For a more recent research discovery about the origin of this poem, click here.

Thinking about my “White Feathers” paper, and the kinds of pressure that women exerted on men to make them enlist, I looked again at Rose Macaulay’s poem Many Sisters to Many Brothers. It puzzles me. In 1916 Macaulay would write Non-Combatants and Others, one of the most thoughtful novels of wartime, which ends with a commitment to pacifism, but in this poem, published, or maybe republished in Poems of Today (1919), she’s writing about war like this:

Oh it’s you that have the luck, out there in the blood and muck;
You were born beneath a kindly star;
All we dreamt, I and you, you can really go and do,
And I can’t, the way things are.
In a trench you are sitting, while I am knitting
A sock that never gets done.
Well, here’s luck, my dear – and you’ve got it, no fear;
But for me… a war is poor fun.

Is this a statement of Macaulay’s own feelings? Or a dramatic monologue making fun of naive girls? Or a feminist protest against “the way things are”? When I first read it, I assumed the first, but in the light of Macaulay’s novels, I’m less sure – especially since she was a woman in her thirties when she wrote it. Puzzling.

6 Comments

  1. Posted May 20, 2006 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    Hmm, if it was written today I’d say it reeked of post-modern irony. I suppose the crux is, never mind the publication date, when was it written? It seems to describe an attitude more indicative of the beginning of the war than the end. Or perhaps that is more my modern interpretation of how people felt, and there really were people who were quite gung ho about the war throughout.

    • Posted November 6, 2011 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

      quite a nice reply you have got going on there. i wish that i had the patients to care for this poem

  2. Posted May 21, 2006 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    There certainly were people who felt gung-ho throughout, but Rose M wasn't one of them, Her Non-Combatants and Others (1916) is a deeply thoughtful novel about a woman's journey towards a pacifist position. That's why I find this poem so odd.

  3. Posted June 6, 2006 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

    I’m fairly sure this poem was written in 1914

  4. Elizabeth Hawkins
    Posted August 13, 2008 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

    I’m very late to this conversation, but: I think that the poem, while obviously satiric, is actually consistent with Non-Combatants and Others. Alix ends with a commitment to pacifism, but she also does express envy at the men who are actually able to *act* in a meaningful way in wartime, while all of the roles women were meant to take were comparatively ineffectual. I don’t think the poem is gung-ho about war itself – I doubt we’re meant to actually think that being in a trench or in the blood and muck would be “fun” – but it does reflect the disparity between what is expected of men – action – and what is expected of women – waiting.

  5. Posted November 6, 2011 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    dont understand why people feel the need to write long poems. please just gtfo. war poetry is not interesting and neither are you.


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