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Violet Jacob

I recently ran across another poet recently that was new to me, Violet Jacob (1863-1946), a Scottish novelist, historian and poet. While most of her poems are in Scots and will need some annotation for most readers, her poems in English are very good.

Born Violet Augusta Mary Frederica Kennedy-Erskine, she married Arthur
Jacob, an Irish Major in the British army, and lived with him in India where he was serving. Their son, Harry, also served in the army and was killed in World War I at the battle of the Somme in 1916. When Arthur died in 1936, Violet returned to Scotland.

She wrote five books of poetry, including ‘More Songs of Angus” (Angus is a district on the eastern coast of Scotland), published in 1918, two years after her son’s death. Perhaps this one was for him:


The willows stand by Fringford brook,
From Fringford up to Hethe,
Sun on their cloudy silver heads,
And shadow underneath.

They ripple to the silent airs
That stir the lazy day,
Now whitened by their passing hands,
Now turned again to grey.

The slim marsh-thistle's purple plume
Droops tasselled on the stem,
The golden hawkweeds pierce like flame
The grass that harbours them;

Long drowning tresses of the weeds
Trail where the stream is slow,
The vapoured mauves of water-mint
Melt in the pools below;

Serenely soft September sheds
On earth her slumberous look,
The heartbreak of an anguished world
Throbs not by Fringford brook.

All peace is here. Beyond our range,
Yet 'neath the selfsame sky,
The boys that knew these fields of home
By Flemish willows lie.

They waded in the sun-shot flow,
They loitered in the shade,
Who trod the heavy road of death,
Jesting and unafraid.

Peace! What of peace? This glimpse of peace
Lies at the heart of pain,
For respite, ere the spirit's load
We stoop to lift again.

O load of grief, of faith, of wrath,
Of patient, quenchless will,
Till God shall ease us of your weight
We'll bear you higher still!

O ghosts that walk by Fringford brook,
'Tis more than peace you give,
For you, who knew so well to die,
Shall teach us how to live.

Perhaps she wrote this one is for him as well:


When winter's pulse seems dead beneath the snow,
And has no throb to give,
Warm your cold heart at mine, beloved, and so
Shall your heart live.

For mine is fire--a furnace strong and red;
Look up into my eyes,
There shall you see a flame to make the dead
Take life and rise.

My eyes are brown, and yours are still and grey,
Still as the frostbound lake
Whose depths are sleeping in the icy sway,
And will not wake.

Soundless they are below the leaden sky,
Bound with that silent chain;
Yet chains may fall, and those that fettered lie
May live again.

Yes, turn away, grey eyes, you dare not face
In mine the flame of life;
When frost meets fire, 'tis but a little space
That ends the strife.

Then comes the hour, when, breaking from their bands,
The swirling floods run free,
And you, beloved, shall stretch your drowning hands,
And cling to me.

And even this:


I have brought no store from the field now the day is ended,
The harvest moon is up and I bear no sheaves;
When the toilers carry the fruits hanging gold and splendid,
I have but leaves.

When the saints pass by in the pride of their stainless raiment,
Their brave hearts high with the joy of the gifts they bring,
I have saved no whit from the sum of my daily payment
For offering.

Not there is my place where the workman his toil delivers,
I scarce can see the ground where the hero stands,
I must wait as the one poor fool in that host of givers,
With empty hands.

There was no time lent to me that my skill might fashion
Some work of praise, some glory, some thing of light,
For the swarms of hell came on in their power and passion,
I could but fight.

I am maimed and spent, I am broken and trodden under,
With wheel and horseman the battle has swept me o'er,
And the long, vain warfare has riven my heart asunder,
I can no more.

But my soul is still; though the sundering door has hidden
The mirth and glitter, the sound of the lighted feast,
Though the guests go in and I stand in the night, unbidden,
The worst, the least.

My soul is still. I have gotten nor fame nor treasure,
Let all men spurn me, let devils and angels frown,
But the scars I bear are a guerdon of royal measure,
My stars--my crown.



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