This fortnight’s Somme poem, selected and provided by the Scottish Poetry Library, is ‘Glory’ by Scots poet Violet Jacob, who lost her twenty-year-old son Harry in the battle. Written soon after his death and published in December of that year, the poem would surely have resonated with thousands of bereaved mothers across the country.
Growing up in Angus, Violet wrote many of her poems, including this one, in her native Scots tongue. If you are unfamiliar with the language, you can look up individual words using the online Dictionary of the Scots Language.
I canna’ see ye, lad, I canna’ see ye,
For a’ yon glory that’s aboot yer heid,
Yon licht that haps ye, an’ the hosts that’s wi’ ye,
Aye, but ye live, an’ it’s mysel’ that’s deid!
They gae’d frae mill and mart; frae wind-blawn places,
And grey toon-closes; i’ the empty street
Nae mair the bairns ken their steps, their faces,
Nor stand to listen to the trampin’ feet.
Beside the brae, and soughin’ through the rashes,
Yer voice comes back to me at ilka turn,
Amang the whins, an’ whaur the water washes
The arn-tree wi’ its feet amang the burn.
Whiles ye come back to me when day is fleein’,
And a’ the road oot-by is dim wi’ nicht,
But weary een like mine is no for seein’,
An’, gin they saw, they wad be blind wi’ licht.
Deith canna’ kill. The mools o’ France lie o’er ye,
An yet ye live, O sodger o’ the Lord!
For Him that focht wi’ deith an’ dule afore ye,
He gie’d the life – ‘twas Him that gie’d the sword.
But gin ye see my face or gin ye hear me,
I daurna’ ask, I maunna’ seek to ken,
Though I should dee, wi’ sic a glory near me,
By nicht or day, come ben, my bairn, come ben!
by Violet Jacob
Reproduced by permission of the Estate of Violet Jacob
About Violet Jacob
Arthur Henry Jacob – Harry – was a twenty year old Lieutenant in the 4th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers, engaged at the Somme in the summer of 1916. He wrote to his beloved mother of the things he knew she would like: ‘There are the most wonderful cornfields in this country: full of poppies, cornflowers, corncockles …’ and related stories about his fellow soldiers at the front.
But he will have known well what the odds of survival were, and to his father he was more honest about the dangers, asking him not to let his mother ‘get frightened about things’. Sadly, inevitably, Harry was killed in action in July of that terrible summer.
Harry’s mother was the Scottish poet Violet Jacob; she poured out her grief at his loss in her poetry. ‘Glory’ was written soon after his death and published in December of that year. For all that she was a laird’s daughter, Violet had absorbed in her youth the language spoken by the folk of her native county of Angus, and wrote her most successful poems in the Scots of the North-East. The war, with its immense losses, touched the lives of almost every family in the land, and when Violet wrote this poem, she wrote as just one of the many bereaved mothers of Angus. The last line is sheer heartbreak, as she adds her voice to those of the other mothers, calling, as they must surely all have done, for her bairn to come ben.
Read more about Violet Jacob here.