Thursday, 20 December 2018

Margaret Widdemer (1884 - 1978) - American writer and poer

Margaret Widdemer was born in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, USA on 30th September 1884. She was raised and educated in Asbury Park, New Jersey, where her father, Howard T. Widdemer, was a Minister of the First Congregational Church. Margaret graduated from the Drexel Institute Library School in 1909. She first came to public attention with her poem “The Factories” abour child labour.

In 1919, Margaret married Robert Haven Schauffler.  She also won the Pulitzer Prize (known then as the Columbia University Prize) in 1919 for her collection “The Old Road to Paradise”. The Award was shared with writer, poet, editor, singer/songwriter Carl Sandburg for his poetry collection “Cornhuskers”.

Margaret's memoir “Golden Years I Had” recounts her friendships with writers Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald, T. S. Eliot, Thornton Wilder, and Edna St. Vincent Millay.

Margaret Widdemer died on 14th July 1978, leaving a legacy of novels, poems and children’s fiction.

“The Old Road to Paradise”

Ours is a dark Easter-tide,
  And a scarlet Spring,
But high up at Heaven-Gate
  All the saints sing,
Glad for the great companies
  Returning to their King.

Oh, in youth the dawn's a rose,
  Dusk's an amethyst,
All the roads from dusk to dawn
  Gay they wind and twist;
The old road to Paradise
  Easy it is missed!

But out on the wet battlefields,
  Few the roadways wind,
One to grief, one to death
  No road that's kind–
The old road to Paradise
  Plain it is to find!

(Martin in his Colonel's cloak,
  Joan in her mail,
David with his crown and sword–
  None there be that fail–
Down the road to Paradise
  Stand to greet and hail!)

Where the dark's a terror-thing,
  Morn a hope doubt-tossed.
Where the lads lie thinking long
  Out in rain and frost,
There they find their God again,
  Long ago they lost:

Where the night comes cruelly,
  Where the hurt men moan,
Where the crushed forgotten ones
  Whisper prayers alone,
Christ along the battlefields
  Comes to lead His own:

Souls that would have withered soon
  In the hot world's glare,
Blown and gone like shriveled things,
  Dusty on the air,
Rank on rank they follow Him,
  Young and strong and fair!

Ours is a sad Easter-tide,
  And a woeful day,
But high up at Heaven-Gate
  The saints are all gay,
For the old road to Paradise,
  That's a crowded way!

Original Source: Catherine W. Reilly "English Poetry of the First World War: A Bibliography" (St. Martin's Press, New York, 1978)

Photograph from:

Thursday, 13 December 2018

Edith Nesbit (1858 - 1924) – British writer and poet

Edith is on my list of Female Poets of the First World War because she is listed in Catherine Reilly’s work but I had not yet researched her.  My thanks to Connie Ruzich for her post about one of Edith’s poems (see below) on her weblog which reminded me that I had not yet researched Edith.

Edith Nesbit, who is perhaps best remembered for writing “The Railway Children”, was born in 1858 in Lower Kennington Lane, Kennington, Surrey. This area is now considered to be Inner London.  Edith’s parents were John Collis Nesbit, a chemist, and his wife, Sara Nesbit, nee Green.

Edith’s father died in March 1862. As her sister, Mary, was not in good health, the family travelled for several years and lived in Brighton, in Buckinghamshire, in France, in Spain and in Germany, before settling for three years at Halstead Hall in Halstead in Kent.  When Edith was in her teens, the family moved to Eltham which was in Kent but is now in South London.  They then lived in nearby Lewisham, Grove Park and Lee.

Edith married Hubert Bland, a bank clerk, in April 1880.  The marriage was not a happy one as Hubert had an affair which resulted in the birth of children which Edith adopted.

Edith had the following children: Paul Bland (1880–1940), to whom “The Railway Children was dedicated”; Iris Bland (1881-1950s); Fabian Bland (1885–1900); Rosamund Bland (1886–1950), to whom “The Book of Dragons” was dedicated, and John Bland (1898–1971), to whom “The House of Arden” and “Five Children and It” were dedicated.

After the death of Hubert, Edith married married Thomas "the Skipper" Tucker, whose nick-name referred to the fact that he was the Captain of the Woolwich Ferry.

Edith died in 1924 and was buried in the churchyard of St Mary in the Marsh.

“In Hospital”

Under the shadow of a hawthorn brake,
Where bluebells draw the sky down to the wood,
Where, 'mid brown leaves, the primroses awake
And hidden violets smell of solitude;
Beneath green leaves bright-fluttered by the wing
Of fleeting, beautiful, immortal Spring,
I should have said, 'I love you,' and your eyes
Have said, 'I, too . . . ' The gods saw otherwise.

For this is winter, and the London streets
Are full of soldiers from that far, fierce fray
Where life knows death, and where poor glory meets
Full-face with shame, and weeps and turns away.
And in the broken, trampled foreign wood
Is horror, and the terrible scent of blood,
And love shines tremulous, like a drowning star,
Under the shadow of the wings of war.

First published in “The Westminster Gazette” on 11th December 1915.

Edith’s WW1 collection was entitled “Many Voices – Poems” (Hutchinson, London, 1922).  Her poems were published in four WW1 anthologies.
“English Poetry of the First World War:  A Bibliography” (St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1978) – page 234

Photograph of Edith, photographer unknown, from

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Elsie Spence Rae (1898 - 1973) – Scottish poet

With many thanks to Dr Alison T. McCall, independent researcher, Kintore, for reminding me that I had not yet researched Elsie.  Dr. McCall has kindly sent me scans of some of Elsie's poems from her collection of WW1 poems.

Elsie was born in Banff, in the Banff and Buchan area of Aberdeenshire, Scotland, on 16th November 1898. Her parents were John S. Rae, a grocer, and his wife Annie.  Elsie had the following siblings:  Annie, Kathy, John, William and Maggie.  Elsie studied at Aberdeen University and during the First World War, she served with the Voluntary Aid Detachment as a nurse.

On 5th April 1921, Elsie married Robert Wilson.

Alison says: “Elsie Rae's poems are a mixture of Doric (broad Scots) and English.” 

Elsie’s WW1 poetry collection is “Private John M’Pherson and other war poems” (Aberdeen Daily Journal Office, Wyllie, Aberdeen, 1918)

Catherine W. Reilly “English Poetry of the First World War:  A Bibliography” (St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1978) p. 260.  Poems from Elsie’s WW1 collection kindly supplied by Alison McCall

Sources:  Find my Past
Aberdeen University Memorial Roll 1914  - 1918)
Catherine W. Reilly “English Poetry of the First World War:  A Bibliography” (St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1978) p. 260.  Information about Elsie's marriage supplied by Dr. McCall.