Rose Macaulay’s poems

I reviewed Merryn Williams’s excellent anthology The Georgians elsewhere, so haven’t said much about it on this blog.  I probably should have done, since I haven’t seen many reviews of it, and it’s a very good book that deserves as much publicity as it can get. Briefly, it makes a good case for the Georgians by tracing the influence of Hardy on their best work, and by showing how intimately the finest war poems are connected to the Georgian tradition.

I mention it now, because I am currently looking at  Rose Macaulay’s pre-war work, and her poetry collection Two Blind Countries (1914). It strikes me that she would have been a good candidate for inclusion in Merryn Williams’ anthology, since the best poems have much of the best Georgian spirit, even though she may have had no connection with Eddie Marsh’s anthologies.

Here is a poem that I like:

TRINITY SUNDAY

As I walked in Petty Cury on Trinity Day,
While the cuckoos in the fields did shout,
Right through the city stole the breath of the may,
And the scarlet doctors all about

Lifted up their heads to snuff at the breeze,
And forgot they were bound for Great St-Mary’s
To listen to a sermon from the Master of Caius,
And ” How balmy,” they said, ” the air is !”

And balmy it was ; and the sweet bells rocking
Shook it till it rent in two
And fell, a torn veil ; and like maniacs mocking
The wild things from without peered through.

Wild wet things that swam in King’s Parade
The days it was a marshy fen,
Through the rent veil they did sprawl and wade
Blind bog-beasts and Ugrian men.

And the city was not. (For cities are wrought
Of the stuff of the world’s live brain.
Cities are thin veils, woven of thought,
And thought, breaking, rends them in twain.)

And the fens were not. (For fens are dreams
Dreamt by a race long dead ;
And the earth is naught, and the sun but seems :
And so those who know have said.)

So veil beyond veil inimitably lifted :
And I saw the world’s naked face,
Before, reeling and baffled and blind, I drifted
Back within the bounds of space.

I have forgot the unforgettable.
All of honey and milk the air is.
God send I do forget. . . . The merry winds swell
In the scarlet gowns bound for St. Mary’s.

I first got this book as a file for my Kindle, but as often seems to happen with poetry on this machine, the line-breaks were chopped up horribly, and one only got the mangled corpse of a poem, rather than the real thing. Never mind. I found a nice copy on the internet, with a 1958 inscription from one of Macaulay’s cousins to Constance Babington Smith (her first biographer) ‘In memory of Rose’. for only a tenner.

Several early Macaulay novels can also be found as Kindle files. So far I have read The Lee Shore, the book that won Hodder and Stoughton’s novel competition, and landed Macaulay a contract with the firm. It is a very good novel indeed, and I may write more about it here later. I have just started The Making of a Bigot (1914) and am enjoying that even more, since it begins by poking mild fun at the National Service League, the doughty volunteers who organised themselves to protect England in case of invasion.

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