Sunday 29 May 2022

Yours for a Bawbee, and All in a Good Cause...

 Here's something I spotted in a charity shop this morning – Border Songs and Other Verse by M.J.D. and W.G.M.D, published in 1914 by J. Maxwell & Son, printers and lithographers, of Dumfries. The price was sixpence, and it was being sold in aid of the War Relief Funds, part of a huge charity fundraising endeavour that continued throughout the Kaiser War. I had never seen a publication like this before, so naturally I bought it (for £1 – less than half the present value of that sixpence). It's a slim volume of just 24 pages, and many of the poems it contains are in the Walter Scott tradition, celebrating the history, lore and landscape of the Scottish Borders. However, there are also verses on more general subjects: 'September', 'Swallows', 'Breakers', 'The Song of the Heart', 'The Song of Life' – and a stirring celebration of Albanian freedom, 'Albania (Written During the Balkan War)'. These are all competently written, if very much of their time; some indeed had already appeared in various magazines. 
  This sonnet, with nothing of the Scottish Borders (or indeed Albania) about it, caught my eye. Its epigraph is taken from Dr Johnson's famous letter to Lord Chesterfield: 'The notice which you have been pleased to take of my labours, had it been early, it had been kind; but it has been delayed till I am indifferent and cannot enjoy it, till I am solitary and cannot impart it, till I am known and do not want it.' The poem has little to add, but it translates Johnson's sentiments neatly, if rather strenuously, into (Petrarchan) sonnet form – 

And this is Fame! and this is what I sought
And longed for with a yearning and a pain
That made my youthful years a weary strain!
And now the victory's won, the battle fought;
But I would gladly give what years have brought
To hear the long-hushed voices once again
In my old home, where only peace did reign,
And love and tenderness and kindly thought.
Too late has come the world's praise to me,
The hearts are still that would have throbbed with pride;
And now my tired heart only says "too late";
For Death has changed the nights and days to me.
Save hope of meeting there is nought beside,
And Name and Fame have come to me too late. 

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