Monday 22 May 2017

Eleanor Alexander (1857 - 1939) - Poet

Eleanor Jane Alexander was born in 1857 in County Tyrone, Ireland.  Her father was the Rev. William Alexander, an Anglican priest, who became Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, and her mother was the poet and hymn writer Cecil Frances Alexander, nee Humphreys.  Eleanor’s father also wrote and published poetry.  Eleanor had the following siblings – Robert Jocelyn, b. 1852, Cecil John Francis, born in 1859, and Dorothea Agnes, born in 1861.  Their mother died in 1895.  

Eleanor's brother, the poet Robert Jocelyn Alexander, was killed on 10th October 1918 when he was travelling from ireland to Britain aboard the RMS "Leinster" when the ship was torpedoed and sunk.

Eleanor never married and lived with her father in Devon when he retired. After the death of her father in 1924, the King granted Eleanor permission to live in rooms in Hampton Court Palace in honour of her father’s lifetime of service.  She died there on 3rd June 1939.  Eleanor’s body was returned to Londonderry for burial.  She had lived there for much of her life and her family were buried there.

Eleanor’s poems were included in seven WW1 poetry anthologies and were also published in “The Times”, “The Spectator” and the “Belfast Telegraph”.

The following lines, taken from Eleanor’s “Commemorative Ode”, were written by Eleanor in late June 1917 to mark the first anniversary of the Battle of the Somme.  She dedicated the poem to the memory of the 36th (Ulster) Division.  The poem was published in “The Belfast Telegraph”:

‘Heaven for a moment; heaven, then hell,

Into the sunshine yellow on the grass

With brows uplifted, stern-lipped, glad they pass

To shot and splitting shell.

Now in the open, now at last

For love of liberty in England’s name,

To prove the soul of Derry’s ancient fame,

The mettle of Belfast

Not tear-dimmed, downcast, follow higher

Proud eyes, the well-beloved that toil and strain

In battle-storm and death and bitter pain

Through enfilading fire.

On to the trenches burrowed deep –

What of the brave, the brave who fight and fall

On to that last line in the smoke’s grey pall,

To have, to hold, to keep.’

Find my Past and Catherine Reilly “English Poetry of the First World War A Bibliography” (St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1978)