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.