Sunday 3 April 2016

Australian Poetry in World War 1

Leon Gellert (1892-1977) is said to have written some of the best poetry that came out of WW1 and is generally considered to be Australia's finest war poet. I stumbled upon one of his poems in a small anthology of Australian verse, The Call of the Gums, and sought out more of his work. A volume of his poems, which was published as Songs From a Campaign, hasn't been reprinted since 1917, as far as I know, and it's not easy to find his poetry in print.
The drawings below were done by Gallipoli artist, Major Hore (1870-1935). They are taken from  Gallipoli & the Anzacs site, which also contains the background information related to the drawings and much more besides. It is well worth a good look around.

Anzac Beach – June 1915


Leon Gellert was 23 years old when he landed on Anzac Beach (better known as Anzac Cove) on 25 April 1915 with the 10th Battalion, South Australia. In July he was evacuated to Malta due to illness and shrapnel wounds, and after that to London. There he was declared medically unfit for duty, and was discharged from the forces at the end of June.

North Beach – Evening Nov 5. 1915

Anzac Cove

    There’s a lonely stretch of hillocks:
    There’s a beach asleep and drear:
    There’s a battered broken fort beside the sea.
    There are sunken trampled graves:
    And a little rotting pier:
    And winding paths that wind unceasingly.
    There’s a torn and silent valley;
    There’s a tiny rivulet
    With some blood upon the stones beside its mouth.
    There are lines of buried bones:
    There’s an unpaid waiting debt:
    There’s a sound of gentle sobbing in the south.

‘Early Morning Gallipoli’ – Oct 1915

The Cross

'I wear a cross of bronze,' he said,
                   'And men have told me I was brave.                 
He turned his head,
   And pointing to a grave,
'They told me that my work of war was done.'
His fierce mouth set.
'And yet, and yet…..'
   He trembled where he stood,
 'And yet, and yet'…..
I have not won
     That broken cross of wood!' 

‘Finis’ – Dec 20 1915 – Evacuation

The Last To Leave

The guns were silent, and the silent hills
had bowed their grasses to a gentle breeze
I gazed upon the vales and on the rills,
And whispered, "What of these?' and "What of these?
These long forgotten dead with sunken graves,
Some crossless, with unwritten memories
Their only mourners are the moaning waves,
Their only minstrels are the singing trees
And thus I mused and sorrowed wistfully

I watched the place where they had scaled the height,
The height whereon they bled so bitterly
Throughout each day and through each blistered night
I sat there long, and listened - all things listened too
I heard the epics of a thousand trees,
A thousand waves I heard; and then I knew
The waves were very old, the trees were wise:
The dead would be remembered evermore-
The valiant dead that gazed upon the skies,
And slept in great battalions by the shore.

A short biography of Gellert is here and some of his poems are available online e.g. allpoetry,
and as a PDF here.
The AusLit  website has a list of the contents of Gellert's book Songs of a Campaign.

 I'm linking this post to the Poetry Month Celebration at Edge of the Precipice.


Hamlette (Rachel) said...

I love how you paired these poems with artwork! Very effective. I especially liked "The Cross."

I must admit the only Australian poet I really know of is A. B. "Banjo" Patterson -- but I really love his. I'm so glad you shared these!

Carol said...

Thanks Hamlette. I liked these drawings so much more than the WW1 paintings I've seen. Banjo is wonderful & would probably be one of the best known Aussie poets here.

Unknown said...

Dear Carol,
I recently found your blog when I was looking for other folks who had read The Winged Watchman. I came across a video you had posted on the progression of WWII. It had WWII music in the background. It was so helpful in our understanding of this book but now I can't find the video again. Could you direct me to which page you posted it on? Thank you! Warmly, Darla

Carol said...

Hi Darla, is this the video you mean? It's at the bottom of this post:

Brona said...

Thanks for highlighting a poet I have never heard of before...& I'm a fellow Aussie!

Carol said...

I was so pleased to stumble upon his poetry. His work had been neglected until one of his poems, The Last to Leave, was recited as part of the opening ceremony of the Australian War Memorial at Hyde Park in London in 2003.

CanadaRoots said...

Hi Carol,
Yes, that is the one! I am sorry I didn't see your response until now. For some reason I thought it would come to me in an email. Thank you again for the link!
Very warmly,

Shwetablog said...


Carol said...

Pity his poetry is almost off the radar here in his own country.