‘Voices of Silence’ – Vivien Noakes /The Poetry of J. L. Crommelin Brown

Greetings to readers of this blog in many countries, interest always appreciated. A companion blog to this one is World War 2 Poetry Blog

‘Voices of Silence- The Alternative Book of First World War Poetry’ (2006) edited by Vivien Noakes was a landmark attempt to deliberately move away from the more established poets.

In her own words ;

“What I discovered was a body of rich, exciting, often deeply moving work that complements the established literary canon, the two should be read side by side “

Work by all serving  ranks along with poems written by Conscientious Objectors and civilians was  included in this anthology without distinction. There was no attempt to elevate certain poets above the others. Copies are still available and a kindle edition has been launched.

Vivien Noakes included a section on sea poetry. One favourite that was selected ;

Image taken from Pinterest – unsure of origin.

The Lusitania

” In a world that is neither night nor day,

A quiet twilight land.

With fifty fathoms over you

And the surge of seas to cover you,

You rest on the kindly sand.

Above, the earth is March or May,

And skies are fair in spring.

But all the seasons are one with you,

Summer and winter have done with you,

And wars, and everything.

Surely this is a goodly gift,

To sleep so sound and sure

That neither  spite  nor weariness,

Passion, nor pain, nor dreariness

Can touch you any  more .

In drifting fume and flying scud,

When the great tides shoreward sweep,

The seas that are in all to you

Whisper and move and call to you.

Whisper and call and weep.”

J.L. Crommelin Brown

One question that doesn’t seem to be addressed now is what happens after the centenary ? It’s now hundred and one years after the torpedoing of the ‘The Lusitania’ on 7th May 1915 with the loss of 1198 lives. Thought that it was worth selecting this poem deliberately out of sync with all the anniversary marking.

J.L  ( John Lewis) Crommelin Brown (1888- 1953) fascinates me. Involved in the Cambridge Footnotes, where he was a university contemporary of Rupert Brooke,and later a commissioned officer in Royal Garrison  Artillery in December 1915:  Vivien Noakes placed him at the Western Front in February 1916 then invalided out of the Army in March 1916. Between  May 1917 and July 1918 he was an instructor at the Cadet School at Trowbridge, and sent to Salonika in August 1918.
His work ‘Dies Heroica’ war poems 1914-1918 featured such subjects as The Battle of Dogger Bank, the novelty of submarine warfare, war at sea in general, a tribute to Rupert Brooke, along with poems attacking German icons such as Krupps and Nietzsche. And J.L Crommelin Browns poetry managed to get ignored in subsequent anthologies until ‘Voices of Silence’ . In later years he became better known for playing cricket for  Derbyshire. The poem ‘Morphia’ , written whilst the poet was recovering in hospital in 1916, is a neglected gem.

“I eddy upwards towards a thing half-seen;

Sways like sea-currents, fluidly and green,

The flood of consciousness across my sight;

Till, one by one, the veils are stripped away;

The smoke of slumber blows away like dust;

And follows, sudden as a bayonet thrust,

The swift intolerable light of day.”

Text of Dies heroica
Will leave this post with some lines from J. L. Crommelin Brown’s poem ‘Troy’ , written in April 1915, connecting Gallipoli with Antiquity…

For nigh three thousand years have rolled
Since Hector fought and Homer sung,
When Greece and all the world was young.

A nobler Navy breasts the waves,

Across the plain fresh armies go,
Once more above those quiet graves

From dusk to dawn the watch-fires glow.
Perchance some bugle faintly blown,

Some distant echo of the fight,
May bring them, sleeping there alone,

The memory of another night
When, black beneath the Southern Cross,
The lean ships came from Tenedos.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *