Tim Kendall’s comment on my post about Arnold Bennett’s White Feather story got me looking up the poet Helen Hamilton. The biographical details in both Scars upon my Heart and The Winter of the World are sketchy. She was a schoolteacher, apparently, who enjoyed rock-climbing. I don’t think she was a very good poet, but she expressed strong opinions in chopped-up prose that has a certain rhetorical force.
Her poem, The Jingo-Woman, though, interested me because it is a bus poem. Buses provided an environment where different classes met in close proximity, and poets could observe their fellow-humans. Some of Susan Miles’s best poems are set on buses. The villainness of The Jingo Woman takes a mean revenge on a young man who offers his seat:
Men there are, and young men too,
Physically not fit to serve,
Who look in their civilian garb
Quite stout and hearty.
And most of whom, I’ll wager,
Have been rejected several times.
How keen, though, your delight,
Keen and malignant,
Should one offer you his seat,
In crowded bus or train,
Thus giving you the chance to say,
In cold, incisive tones of scorn:
‘No I much prefer to stand
As you, young man, are not in khaki !’
I noticed this especially because yesterday, while looking through issues of Collier’s Magazine for the 1914 Bennett story, I came across a piece by May Sinclair on Women’s Sacrifices for the War (She begins by saying she dislikes the title, which was not of her choosing.) It suggests that the coming of war, which threatened to change so much, even changed the etiquette of standing on buses: