When I came across this poem, I thought the author’s name was familiar. Olivia FitzRoy was an author of children’s books (among many other titles) & some of her books have been reprinted by Fidra. She enlisted in the WRNS during WWII & her pilot boyfriend was killed in Singapore in 1945. After the war, she spent time travelling with a circus, collecting material for a book & rented a croft in Scotland for a few years. She married & had two daughters but died, aged only 48, in 1969.
This poem, When He Is Flying, must reflect not only FitzRoy’s own experience but the experiences of so many people waiting for news of a loved one. She must have only been in her early 20s when she wrote this poem but the refrain “when I was young” & the weary tone of the speaker expresses the constant fear & dread that Death was just waiting for His moment & His coming was inevitable – if not for you & yours, then for someone else.
When I was young I thought that if Death came
He would come suddenly, and with a swift hand kill,
Taking all feeling;
Want, laughter and fear;
leaving a cold and soulless shell on earth
While the small winged soul
I used to think those things when I was young,
But now I know.
Death stands beside me, never very far,
An unseen shadow, just beyond my view
And if I hear an engine throb and fade
Or see a neat formation pass
Or a lone fighter soar, hover and dart,
He takes another step more near
And lays his cold unhurried hand upon my heart.