Thursday, 27 August 2009

Soldiers' Love Poems of the Spanish Civil War and Beyond

A desperately sad story here about the 'lost children' of the Spanish Civil War. I came across it while looking for John Cornford's 'Huesca', to check the justice of Valentine Cunningham's claim in The Cambridge Companion to War Writing that 'Huesca' is 'one of the most moving soldierly love poems in the English language'. I own Hamish Henderson's lightly annotated copy of Cunningham's Penguin Book of Spanish Civil War Verse, which almost certainly includes 'Huesca', but it's in work and I'm at home.

'Moving soldierly love poems': what other contenders are there? If by 'love poems' Cunningham means romantic love (and therefore rules out, say, Owen's 'Greater Love'), then I would add Keith Douglas's 'Canoe' and his masterpiece-in-miniature, 'To Kristin Yingcheng Olga Milena'. (Strictly speaking, each can be disqualified on a technicality, the first having been written just before he signed up and the second serving as a loving farewell to love.) There must be others --- though surprisingly few except for the homosocial and homoerotic poems of the First World War. Any poems for or about lovers back home?

Here is my chapter on Auden's 'Spain' and his later poetry of the Sino-Japanese war. A shame that Auden's much-revised set-piece, which he disliked and eventually tried to suppress, has eclipsed the many Anglophone poems to have come out of Spain by Cornford, Spender and others.

And here is Cornford's 'Huesca', written for Margot Heinemann. Cornford was killed, aged 21, a few months after it was written. The rhyme grave/love is grimly to the point.

Heart of the heartless world,
Dear heart, the thought of you
Is the pain at my side,
The shadow that chills my view.

The wind rises in the evening,
Reminds that autumn is near.
I am afraid to lose you,
I am afraid of my fear.

On the last mile to Huesca,
The last fence for our pride,
Think so kindly, dear, that I
Sense you at my side.

And if bad luck should lay my strength
Into the shallow grave,
Remember all the good you can;
Don't forget my love.

Update: I forgot Keith Douglas's 'The Knife'.


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    1. Alun Lewis : "Goodbye", at least, and surely a couple more.