I got this slim poetry collection through Bookmooch, a 1946 original edition full of witty poems about the Home front during WWII. I have no passion for rare editions and old books per se, but I’m in awe whenever I land such an old book by chance. And even more when I can relate with its content despite the years.
You probably won’t know Virginia Graham as a recognized poet, or even as a famous person (but Persephone Books has republished the book, bless them!), and I must warn beforehand that you should not expect unique, unforgettable poetry à la Shakespeare. Does any English expression translate the French “vers de mirliton”? It means childish verses, funny puns and poetry not intended to be highbrow or literary at all.
Those poems were published in Punch during the war, and meant to cheer up the British women struggling on the home front with severe food and resources shortage, uncertain news if any at all from their loved ones, refugees, cramped housing conditions and air raids. They address all those themes but still manage to be cheerful and witty. Sometimes, she quips in mock German about the possible invasion. Sometimes, despondency and grief creep up, but Graham has a great eye for the beauty and joys of everyday life that manages to push past the gloom. The poetry equivalent of the beloved slogan “Keep Calm and Carry On”. In short, a short poetry ration when you see disaster around and still have to carry on with your day even if your heart is heavy, like these days in face of tragedy.
Missed Opportunity (1940)
Somehow I think we made a big mistake, / That time when we walked in the Spring twilight. / It was warm, I remember, and very clear, / And you stuck a primrose behind your ear, / And there was some sort of tree in blossom, white, / Reflected in the fly-dotted edge of the lake.
Somehow something tells me we missed the bus. / The moment is gone now, it is past recall; / But we walked there, in the sweetest scented breeze, / And I spoke, I know, at some length of evacuees, / And you of the maps you had pinned with flags to your wall. / I think, my friend, more than this was expected of us.