WWI: Fifty two months, fifty two posts – 22 – Death of a Poet

On May 26, 1915, in a hospital in Boulogne-sur-Mer, France, Julian Grenfell, then a Captain in the Royal Dragoons, died of the wounds he received on 13 May as he stood talking with other officers during operations near Ypres at Hooge . A splinter of shell which had landed near them hit him in the head and unfortunately niether of the two operations attempted were able to save him. His mother, father and sister were at his bedside when he died.

He is probably best known – other than for the poem “Into Battle” which I’ve reproduced below – for the comment he made in a letter in October 1914:

“I adore war. It is like a big picnic but without the objectivelessness of a picnic. I have never been more well or more happy.”

The following information about Julian is taken from this page on The Poetry Foundation Website because I couldn’t put it any better myself:

His early poems celebrate his love of hunting and sporting, such as the poem “To a Black Greyhound.” Grenfell also wrote a series of unpublished essays excoriating high society, and his general distaste for genteel manners may have led to his decision to join the Royal Dragoons in 1910. Grenfell was sent to India and, after the outbreak of World War I, served in France.

Grenfell’s courage during the war was notable: he was rewarded a Distinguished Service Order and refused a staff position in order to continue fighting. Best remembered for his war poem, “Into Battle,” Grenfell’s attitude toward war was remarkably patriotic, even idealistic; it stands in sharp contrast to other World War I poets such as Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon.“Into Battle” was printed alongside his obituary in The Times.

Into Battle
by Julian Grenfell

The naked earth is warm with Spring,
And with green grass and bursting trees
Leans to the sun’s gaze glorying,
And quivers in the sunny breeze;
And life is Colour and Warmth and Light,
And a striving evermore for these;
And he is dead who will not fight,
And who dies fighting has increase.

The fighting man shall from the sun
Take warmth, and life from glowing earth;
Speed with the light-foot winds to run
And with the trees to newer birth;
And find, when fighting shall be done,
Great rest, and fulness after dearth.

All the bright company of Heaven
Hold him in their bright comradeship,
The Dog star, and the Sisters Seven,
Orion’s belt and sworded hip:

The woodland trees that stand together,
They stand to him each one a friend;
They gently speak in the windy weather;
They guide to valley and ridges end.

The kestrel hovering by day,
And the little owls that call by night,
Bid him be swift and keen as they,
As keen of ear, as swift of sight.

The blackbird sings to him: “Brother, brother,
If this be the last song you shall sing,
Sing well, for you may not sing another;
Brother, sing.”

In dreary doubtful waiting hours,
Before the brazen frenzy starts,
The horses show him nobler powers; —
O patient eyes, courageous hearts!

And when the burning moment breaks,
And all things else are out of mind,
And only joy of battle takes
Him by the throat and makes him blind,
Through joy and blindness he shall know,
Not caring much to know, that still
Nor lead nor steel shall reach him, so
That it be not the Destined Will.

The thundering line of battle stands,
And in the air Death moans and sings;
But Day shall clasp him with strong hands,
And Night shall fold him in soft wings.

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