Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Marguerite Maude McArthur (181892 - 1919) - British teacher, writer and poet

Reading through the book about Marguerite, I noticed that she wrote poetry.  I wonder if she wrote poetry about the conflict?

MARGUERITE MAUDE McARTHUR, a volunteer with the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA).

Marguerite was born on 25th March 1892 in Kensington, London, UK.  Her parents were Allen Gordon McArthur, a barrister and J.P., who was born in Australia, and Emma Maude Finley McArthur, nee Finlay, who was born in Canada.  Marguerite had a brother, Alexander and a sister, Kathleen. Marguerite was educated at Norland Place School in Notting Hill Gate, London, Newnham College, Cambridge and then in Dresden in Germany.  She was well travelled and well educated.

When war broke out, Marguerite was visiting family in Canada.  She returned to Britain in October 1914 and immediately volunteered. She worked in the War Office Translation Bureau fro two years due to her language skills. From March 1918 Marguerite worked for the Army Education Service of the YMCA, teaching in Etaples, France.

Marguerite died of pneumonia on 13th February 1919, at the age of 26 and was buried in Etaples Military Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France - Grave Reference: XLV. B. 7.

After her death, Marguerite’s friend Josephione Kellett put together a book about her which is available here:   I urge you to read it!

Monday, 11 February 2019

Elsa Lasker-Schüler (1869 – 1945) – German Poet and Artist

Elsa Lasker-Schüler (1869 – 1945) – German Poet and Artist

The Queen of Expressionism

Elsa was born on 11th February 1869  in Elberfeld, which is now a suburb of Wuppertal, in Germany. Her parents were Aaron Schueler – a banker – and his wife, Jeanette.

In 1894, Elsa married Jonathan Berthold Lasker, who was a doctor.  They settled in Berlin, where Elsa’s first volume of poetry was published in 1902.  Jonathan and Elsa were divorced and in 1903, Elsa married Georg Lewin, a German writer and artist who used the pen-name Herwarth Walden .

Elsa died on 22nd January 1945.

Elsa’s poem “Als Der Blaue Reiter War Gefallen… (Translation: As the Blue Rider Died…)
was a comment upon the death of German impressionist painter and printmaker Franz Marc who was a member of the expressionist “Blaue Reiter” group of artists – “Blaue Reiter being the title of their magazine.   In 1913, Franz Marc painted a picture called "Tierschicksale", which seems to predict the slaughter of the First World War.

Franz Marc was killed in France in March 1916.  The following poem was published in “Neue Jugend” Magazine, Volume 1, Issue 11/12, February/March 1917, on page 245.

“Als Der Blaue Reiter War Gefallen…"

Griffen unsere Hände sich wie Ringe:-
Küssten uns wie Brüder auf den Mund.

Harfen wurden unsere Augen,
Als sie weinten: Himmlisches Konzert.

Nun sind unsere Herzen Waisenengel.
Seine tiefgekränkte Gottheit
Ist erloschen in dem Bilde: Tierschicksale.

Translation:  “When the Blue Rider Died”

We clasped our hands in shapes of rings:-
And, like brothers, kissed each other on the lips.

Our eyes became harps
Our tears flowed as a heavenly concert.

Now our hearts are orphaned angels.
His deep-drawn godliness
Has been removed from the picture: the fate of the animals.

The name for the Blue Rider Group (Blaue Reiter) came from a work painted in 1903 by Russian artist Wassily Wassilyevich Kandinsky (1866 – 1944).

Saturday, 9 February 2019

Winifred Mabel Letts (1882 - 1972) – British poet and author

Winifred Mabel Letts featured in the very first commemorative WW1 exhibition we produced - Female Poets of the First World War.  The exhibition was held at the award-winning Wilfred Owen Story in Argyle Street, Birkenhead, Wirral, UK from November 2012.   

Winifred Mabel Letts was born on 10th February 1882 in Salford, Manchester, formerly in Lancashire.  Her parents were Ernest Frederick Letts, an Anglican church minister and his wife, Mary Isabel, nee Ferrier.  Winifred has the following siblings:  Mary F.S., b. 1877 and Dorothy M., b. 1878.  After the death of Winifred’s father, the family moved to Ireland.

Educated at Abbots Bromley School, Winifred went on to study at Alexandra College in Dublin.  Her career as a writer began in 1907 when  the novels “Waste Castle” and “The Story Spinner” were published.

During the First World War, Winifred joined the Volunteer Aid Detachment and worked as a nurse at Manchester Base Hospitall. She then trained as a medical masseuse with the Almeric Paget Military Massage Corps and worked at Army camps in Manchester and Alnwick, Northumberland.

Winifred’s WW1 poetry collections were “Hallow-e’en, and other poems of the war” (Smith, Elder, 1916) and  “The Spires of Oxford, and other poems” (Dutton, New York, 1917). Her poems were included in 21 WW1 poetry anthologies.

Winifred died on 7th June 1972 at the Tivoli Nursing Home in Dun Laoghaire, Ireland and was buried in Rathcoole, County Dublin.

Sources:  Bairbre O’Hogan, who, as a child, knew Winifred Letts, who was a friend of Bairbre’s Mother.  Bairbre is researching the life of Winifred Mabel Letts and is happy to hear from anyone with queries or information by e-mail to

The photograph of Winifred is reproduced here by kind permission of Bairbre.

Catherine W. Reilly “English Poetry of the First World War: A Bibliography” (St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1978) p. 198

There is a book of the exhibition held at the WOS "Female Poets of the First World War - Volume One" available via Amazon.

The Award-winning Wilfred Owen Story is at 34 Argyle Street, Birkenhead, Wirral, CH41 6AE. The WOS is open Tuesdays to Fridays from 12 noon until 2 pm. Entry is free.  Please check their website for details:

An exhibition about the WW1 Aftermath and its Legacy is now on display at the WOS.  If you are planning a visit, don't forget to visit the Futility statue in Hamilton Square.

Monday, 4 February 2019

Why was poetry so popular during the First World War?

I think the answer to that question lies in the fact that, unlike now when there are so many distractions, there was relatively little for people to do in their spare time in the early part of the 20th Century. For a start, there were no computers and no Internet, no radio or television broadcasts and most people did not have telephones in their homes.  There were several literary magazines that published poetry and newspapers such as “The Daily Mail”, to which the poet Jessie Pope was a regular contributor, also published poems on a regular basis. We know that newspapers and magazines were made available to those at the Front, so people would have been exposed to poetry in a way that we are not.  Music hall entertainers recited poems and monologues on stage. Patriotic poems were especially popular in time of war and during WW1 music halls in Britain were used to recruit volunteers for the armed forces.

Poetry was taught in schools – my Mother, who was born in 1910, often used to quote from poems she learnt at primary school.  People copied out poems into exercise books – I have seen quite a few – and they read or recited poems at family gatherings.

In his book “The Years of Promise”, writer, journalist and poet Cecil Roberts, who worked for the “Liverpool Post” during WW1, has this to say: “In the years preceding the First World War there was a renaissance of poetry in England.   Two events marked the spirit of this time, one was the publication in 1912 of the first volume of “Georgian Poetry” edited by Edward Marsh, which has a phenomenal success; the other was a brave enterprise launched by Harold Munro.”  Roberts was referring to The Poetry Workshop, which opened in Devonshire Street, off Holborn in January 1913.

On Friday, 12th June 1914, Cecil Roberts, hired the Bechstein Hall in Wigmore Street, London W1 for an evening reciting poems he had written.  Tickets were on sale from ten shillings and sixpence (which represents the buying power of about £115 in today’s money) down to two shillings (about £20 today), and the event was a sell-out and a great success.  Incidentally, like the British Royal Family, the Bechstein Hall had a name change during the First World War and it became the Wigmore Hall.

“The Years of Promise” (Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1968 ) 

Louise Bogan (1897 – 1970) - American poet

The first woman to hold the title of Poet Laureate in America

With thanks to Connie Ruzich for introducing me to Louse and her work.

Louise was born on 11th August 1897 in Livermore Falls, Maine, United States of America.  Her father, who was of Irish origin, was a clerk in a mill.  Louise was educated at the Girls' Latin School in Boston, where she began writing poetry and reading the first issues of “Poetry: A Magazine of Verse”. This led to Louise going to study at Boston University, after which she moved to New York to pursue a career in writing. In 1916, Louise married a soldier. He was posted to Panama during the First World War and after a short stay in Panama, Louise and her daughter returned to America and moved in with Louise's parents. Four years later she was left a widow. Louise’s older brother, Private Charles J. Bogan, served with the 104th Massachusetts Infantry on the Western Front in France and was killed on 17th October 1918.

In 1920 Louise spent a few years in Vienna, leaving her daughter with her parents.  In Vienna, Louise explored her loneliness and her new identity in verse. She returned to New York City and in 1923 her first poetry collection, “Body of This Death: Poems”, was published by McBride and Company, New York.

Louise married the poet Raymond Holden in 1925 but the marriage ended in divorce in 1837.

In 1927, Louise became poetry editor of “The New Yorker” Magazine.

Louise’s poetry was published in “The New Republic”, “The Nation”, “Poetry: A Magazine of Verse”, “Scribner's”, and “Atlantic Monthly”. “Collected Poems: 1923–1953” won Louise the Bollingen award in 1955 as well as an award from the Academy of American Poets in 1959. She was the poetry reviewer of The New Yorker from 1931 until she retired in 1970.

Louise died on 4th February 1970.

Connie Ruzich's commemorative WW1 poetry website is called Behind their Lines - such a clever title -

From "Fifteenth Farewell"

You may have all things from me, save my breath. 
The slight life in my throat will not give pause 
For your love, nor your loss, nor any cause. 
Shall I be made a panderer to death, 
Dig the green ground for darkness underneath, 
Let the dust serve me, covering all that was 
With all that will be? Better, from time's claws, 
The hardened face under the subtle wreath. 

Cooler than stones in wells, sweeter, more kind 
Than hot, perfidious words, my breathing moves 
Close to my plunging blood. Be strong, and hang 
Unriven mist over my breast and mind. 
My breath! We shall forget the heart that loves, 
Though in my body beat its blade, and its fang.

From “Body of this Death: Poems” by Louise Bogan, published by Robert M. McBridge & Company, New York, 1923.

Photo of Louise Bogan from