Sunday Poetry – Eileen Newton

It’s Remembrance Day tomorrow so this will be my last poem from the Virago anthology. There’s no information about Eileen Newton in the Notes so all I know is that this poem, Last Leave (1918), was published in Lamps in the Valley in 1927.

Let us forget tomorrow! For tonight
At least, with curtains drawn, and driftwood piled
On our own hearthstone, we may rest, and see
The firelight flickering on familiar walls.
(How the blue flames leap when an ember falls!)
Peace, and content, and soul-security – 
These are within. Without, the waste is wild
With storm-clouds sweeping by in furious flight,
And ceaseless beating of autumnal rain
Upon our window pane.

The dusk grows deeper now, the flames are low:
We do not heed the shadows, you and I,
Nor fear the grey wings of encroaching gloom,
So softly they enfold us. One last gleam
Flashes and flits, elusive as a dream,
And then dies out upon the darkened room.
So, even so, our earthly fires must die;
Yet, in our hearts, love’s flame shall leap and glow
When this dear night, with all it means to me,
Is but a memory!

When I first read this poem, I thought there might be a hopeful ending for this love story. I know the title is Last Leave & there’s a melancholy feeling to it but it is 1918 & it’s autumn so maybe it was the soldier’s last leave because the war ended & he came home safely.

But then, I read the next poem, Revision (for November 11th), also published in 1927 & I’m afraid that the soldier never did come home. Although in this poem, it’s April & springtime so maybe this was the last time of that leave not the last, last time? Maybe Last Leave was written in 1918 about an earlier time? I know poetry doesn’t have to be autobiographical but all the poems in this anthology seem so very personal that I can’t help drawing that conclusion even though I’m now quite confused. This is still a lovely poem about memory & loss, no matter the circumstances in which it was written.

In those two silent moments, when we stand,
To let the surging tide of memory fill
The mind’s deep caverns with its mingled flood
Of joys and griefs, I shall not think again,
As I was wont, of the untimely slain,
Of poppies dipped and dyed in human blood,
Of the rude cross upon the ravaged hill,
And all the strife which scarred that lovely land.

My thoughts shall seek, instead, a hallowed place – 
The little, leafy wood where you and I
Spent the last hour together, while the breeze,
Lulled every nodding daffodil to rest;
And from the flaming ramparts of the west
Shone bars of gold between black stems of trees,
Till dusk crept softly down the April sky,
And Hesperus trembled in the sapphire space.

Remembering this, my heart, at length set free
From gyves of hate, its bitter passion shed,
May hear once more the low, caressing call
That so entranced it, seven sad years ago.
Then, in those poignant moments, I shall know
That pain and parting matter not at all,
Because your soul, long-risen from the dead,
Is crowned by Love’s immortal constancy.

4 thoughts on “Sunday Poetry – Eileen Newton

  1. It's wonderful that we can now read so many rediscovered women writers. Thank goodness for editors & researchers like Catherine Reilly who search out these beautiful poems.


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