.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

The 'forgotten' female war poet

As we approach the 100th anniversary of the armistice that ended the First World War, the Guardian has a fascinating article on the 'forgotten' female war poet, Mary Borden.

Despite spending a large part of my degree studying some of the war poets, I was unaware of Mary Borden's existence and her poetry. She certainly does not appear in any of the anthologies that I possess, which is a shame as she appears to have a unique perspective on the war.

The paper says that a love poem written from the frontline of the Somme by this “great forgotten voice of the first world war”, the American author, heiress, suffragette and nurse Mary Borden, will form the heart of an event at the Tower of London to mark the centenary of Armistice Day:

'Borden’s poem, the third in a sequence entitled Sonnets to a Soldier, was written for a young British officer with whom she had an affair while running a field hospital during the first world war. It will be the basis for a choral work by the artist and composer Mira Calix, accompanying a light show that will fill the Tower of London moat from 4-11 November with thousands of individual flames, in the build-up to the 100th anniversary of peace.

Opening: “If you this very night should ride to death / Straight from the piteous passion of my arms,” the poem was not published during Borden’s lifetime. It is, according to Borden expert Professor Paul O’Prey, “the only love poem I know about the battle of the Somme”.

Her life story is extraordinary:

Borden was married to a Scottish missionary with three children when, in 1915, at the age of 29, she persuaded the French army to let her fund and run a field hospital as close to the battlefront as possible. The hospital treated 25,000 soldiers in its first six weeks. In 1916, she met the young British officer Louis Spears, writing of the encounter: “My apron is stained with mud and blood; I am too tired to take it off. My feet are burning lumps as I hobble to open the door. A young officer stands there. He too is splattered with mud; his face is haggard.”

They began an affair; Spears left the love poems Borden wrote to him at the flat of an ex-girlfriend, who sent them to Borden’s husband. “He had had enough – he divorced her and she lost her children for a number of years,” said O’Prey.

In 1929, Borden published The Forbidden Zone, which contained stories and poems about her wartime experiences. “It was my business to know which of the wounded could wait and which could not. I had to decide for myself. There was no one to tell me,” she wrote. The book did not include the love poems, which were only published for the first time three years ago, as Poems of Love and War, edited by O’Prey.

“She wrote a series of extraordinary poems about being at war, including The Song of the Mud. She was very much like Walt Whitman, free-spirited, writing almost a stream of consciousness, an outpouring of thoughts and feelings,” said O’Prey, who was not surprised the love poems weren’t published in her lifetime: “They were quite intimate, personal and passionate – slightly erotic in a very disguised way … too private.”

Borden went on to marry Spears, who became a Conservative MP and a general in the second world war. She set up and ran a mobile ambulance unit that operated across France, north Africa and the Middle East during that conflict.

It sounds like the show at the Tower of London is well worth attending both for the choral performance, and the display, but also to remember the millions who gave their lives during the two World Wars and other conflicts.
Good post...Their are quite a few poets who did not get the recognition as war poets, were not selected to be worthy enough at the time by those chaaracters who wanted to shape the imageof the war for posterity. A classic exampleis Ivor Gurney . Arguably a greater poet than most of them who wouldbe peripatically walkfrom
town to town sleeping in hedges. He was too mad to get recognition
Its much safer now to give Gurney the acclaim, the war is long gone, as is Gurney.
Safer to give dead poets recognition, like Sassoon or Wilfred Owen
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?