Sunday, 31 October 2021

Dora Maria Sigerson Shorter (1866 – 1918) – Irish poet, artist and sculptor

With thanks to Dr Margaret Stetz for reminding me that I had not yet researched Dora who is on the List  of Female Poets of the First World War under Ireland.

Dora by John Lavery
Dora Maria Sigerson was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1866 - the eldest of four children born to George Sigerson, a surgeon and writer, and his wife Hester Varian, who was also a writer. Dora’s siblings were Hester, William and George - both the boys died young.  Dora’s Father was a Professor of Biology and President of the Irish Literary Society. 

The Sigerson family home was at 3 Clare Street, Dublin and was a gathering-place for artists and writers. As she grew up, Dora met many important figures of the emerging Irish literary revival at parties given by her parents. She studied at the Dublin School of Art at the same time as W.B. Yeats. Dora had several of her collections of poetry published, beginning with “Verses” in 1893. Her sister, later called Hester Sigerson Piatt also became a writer. 

In September 1896, Dora married English journalist and literary critic Clement King Shorter (1857 – 1926) in Hampstead, London. The couple lived in Marylebone, London until her death on 6th January 1918.  Dora then wrote using the name Dora Sigerson Shorter.

In 1900, at the height of the Boer War, Clement founded and became the first Editor of “The Sphere” newspaper. “The Sphere" was an illustrated newspaper for the home, published by London Illustrated Newspapers weekly from 27th January 1900 until the closure of the paper on 27th June 1964. DuringThe First World War, the weekly papers were called 'war numbers' and over two hundred issues were published between 1914 and 1919.

"The Sphere" 1914

According to Catherine W. Reilly, Dora Sigerson Shorter wrote several collections of war poems during WW1:

 “Comfort the Women, A Prayer in Time of War” (1915), which was reprinted from “The Daily Telegraph” of 27th February 1915 in a limited edition of 20 copies by Dora’s husband for distribution to friends.

“An Old Proverb ‘It will all be the same in a thousand years’ ” (1916), a limited edition of 25 copies printed privately by Clement Shorter and first published in “The Nation” of 20th May 1916.

“The Sad Years and other poems” (Constable, 1918) a limited edition of 50 copies printed for private circulation.

“The Tricolour: poems of the Irish Revolution” (Maunsel & Roberts, Dublin, 1922).

 Dora had 3 poems published in the WW1 Anthology “The Paths of Glory: A Collection of Poems written during the War, 1914 – 1918”, Edited by Bertram Lloyd (Allen & Unwin, London, 1919), which is available to read as a free download on Archive

 “AN OLD PROVERB” a poem by Dora Sigerson Shorter published in “The Paths of Glory” pp. 104 - 107   "It will be all the same in a thousand years." 

AND in a thousand years 

It will be all the same, 

Whether or no 

Women's tears flow, 

Or battles take us 

To save or to break us, 

Or man against man 

Advance but a span ; 

Hideous in anger. 

Tame in death's languor, 

Shouting and crying. 

Sobbing and dying, 

On the red fields of war ; 

Calling on those afar. 

Mother and child and wife 

There in the midst of strife. 

God, the earth shakes with it ! 

Down in the hellish pit, 

Where the red river ran, 

Hatred of man to man ; 

Maddened they rush to kill, 

That but their single will ; 

Strangle or bayonet him ! 

Trample him life and limb 

Into the awful mire ; 

Break him with knife or fire ! 

So that we know he lie 

Dead to the smiling sky. 

And in a thousand years 

It will be all the same. 

Which of us was to blame ? 

What will it matter then ? 

Over the sleeping men 

Grass will so softly grow 

No one would ever know 

Of the dark crimson stain. 

Of all the hate and pain 

That once had fearful birth 

In the black secret earth. 

Ah ! in a thousand years 

Time will forget our tears. 

Babes in their golden hour 

Seeking some hidden flower 

Will, in those years afar, 

Play on the fields of war ; 

And as they laughing roam 

Mothers will call them home ; 

Laden with fruit and flower 

Run they at twilight hour. 

Cattle will, lowing, stray, 

Little lambs frisk and play, 

Birds nest in hedge and tree, 

All in Time's victory. 

Dark o' night, dawn o' day, 

Dark o' night, dawn o' day. 

Thus in a thousand years 

Time will forget our tears, 

And the lost fields of war ; 

In the good years afar 

When the lads silent lie, 

When women's tears are dry. 

All the wives comforted. 

All the maid's grief is shed, 

Crying babes safe and still 

Sleeping in vale and hill, 

Sobbing of men is mute, 

And scream of dying brute, 

On the red fields of war. 

In those good years afar. 

Only the waving grass. 

Where the shy children pass 

Seeking the hidden flower. 

Glad in their golden hour. 

And as they laughing roam 

Mothers will call them home. 

Laden with fruit or flower 

Run they at twilight hour. 

Over the meadow grass 

Slow the moon's shadows pass. 

Only the chirp of bird 

From the deep hedge is heard. 

This in a thousand years 

Payment of blood and tears, 

Horrors we dare not name, 

It will be all the same. 

What is the value then 

To all those sleeping men ? 

It will be all the same, 

Passion and grief and blame. 

This in the years to be, 

My God, the tragedy !

DORA SIGERSON (MRS. SHORTER) published in her collection  "The Sad Years."  (London : Constable & Co., Ltd., 1918. 58.)

Sources: Wikipedia, Find my Past, Free BMD and Catherine W. Reilly.- “English Poetry of the First World War: A Bibliography” (St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1978) pp. 292 and 19.