Constance Savery: Unpublished Verse CWS

Savery's Unpublished Verse

From earliest childhood Savery wrote verse, and when she earned her teaching diploma from the University of Birmingham, her thesis was entitled The Teaching of English Poetry. Nevertheless, she disparaged her own work, speaking of her doggerel or her verse rather than her poetry. Much of what she wrote was incorporated, untitled and anonymous, into her books and short stories. When writing seriously, she used true rhymes, and she understood meter well enough to interrupt it now and again. Two of her better poems, Yellow Pamments and The Fool Adorning, see below, were never published. As I am not qualified to judge poetry, I have frequently substituted excerpts for opinions in what follows. Many of the unpublished poems were in a clothbound bedside book entitled "Verses," which remains in the possession of her goddaughter, E. C. W. Hummerstone.

She made a recording of twenty-one poems, and these are in the Knight Library at the University of Oregon.

For Abandoned Garden, see Autobiographical Manuscripts.

All in vain, all in vain.... May 3, 1976, 16 lines, handwritten in "Verses."

Here is Savery's own introduction and beginning:
In (somewhat removed from) the style of Jean Ingelow, PORPHYRIA comments on the mad lover in Browning's poem:
All in vain, all in vain
I came gliding through the rain.
Pity for your looks so pale
Made me brave the sullen gale...
Perhaps you'll prefer these:
Strangled with my own hair, too!
Had I guessed what you would do,
Those yellow locks I would have wound
Quick round your neck instead, you hound!
Savery is simply amusing herself.

All Silver Are the Stars, April 15, 1943, 12 lines, handwritten in a music manuscript book entitled For Elizabeth.

"Poems" written by Savery for her goddaughter, Elizabeth Barker. The quotation marks are the author's. Here is the last verse:
All silver are the stars
  Above the rocking tide,
And every wave is charmed
  To stillness as we glide.

The Bird and the Flowers. Summer, 1932, 24 lines, handwritten in "Verses."

The work diaries state that this poem was printed in "Follow the Star" by Arrival Press, but it is not there. The poem is addressed to the Holy Spirit, offering a white bird and flowers as a return for the gifts of the Spirit. Here is the fifth of six verses.
The white bird is my heart
  Cleansed by Thy mighty powers;
Graces Thou didst impart
  Blossom as blue dove-flowers.

The China Squirrel. Nov. 9, 1936, 12 lines, handwritten in "Verses.".

With what appears to be a contemporary comment, Savery wrote "Poor verse" next to the entry for this poem and two others. After enlisting our sympathy,
My little blue squirrel
  Sits nibbling all day;
He can't leave his nut,
  And run off to play.
she tells us not to grieve:
He is made of blue china
  And can't move at all!

Down by the Sleepy Sea. May 17, 1943, 20 lines, handwritten in manuscript book entitled "For Elizabeth."

This is one of the twenty-one poems recorded by Savery for her frequent correspondent Agneta Thomson. According to the transcript of the recording, this is one of three children's rhymes written for 'Elizabeth Hummerstone's older sister, Bridget.' The statement contradicts "For Elizabeth" on the booklet cover. The other poems in the booklet are Hushaby Land and When I Went Sailing through the Coral Sea, q.v.
As the title suggests, this is a bedtime rhyme. The second verse is typical:
Down by the sleepy sea,
  If you chance to peep,
You will find the baby crabs
  All fast asleep.

Epilogue to King Lear. Feb. 18, 1975, 10 lines, handwritten in "Verses."

Here is Savery speaking for herself, Nov. 13, 1994, at Resthaven, Pitchcombe, Stroud:
As this... is the week in which the channel tunnel between London and Paris made its first journey with a passenger train, I think I will start... with two small pieces I wrote for my own amusement in about 1975 when the plans for the chunnel, as it was then called, were abandoned for the time being, only to be revived later.
Savery then mentions having known "an old, blind lady" whose father had prepared plans for a 19th Century tunnel that were given serious consideration and then abandoned. The two 'chunnel poems' are this one and Lament for the Chunnel, below.
Shakespearean tragedies feature an epilogue delivered at the end of the play by a person of consequence, and Savery proposes this one for the King of France. It begins:
All these funerals quite distract me:
Three in-laws, besides Cordelia,
Goneril, Regan, and my beau-pere...
To say nothing of....
After listing three more deaths plus a probable one, the King concludes with the requisite rhymed couplets:
If we'd only had a chunnel
(That's a British word for tunnel),
I might have got here faster
And prevented this disaster.
The bridled Bard could use a Smetana tune here.
NOTE: For The Evil Flowers, see The Pleasance of Cockleshells below.

Flower of Paradise. July 1932, 22 lines, handwritten in "Verses."

The work diary does not mention this title, it was not one that Savery recorded, and the only information about it in "Verses" is the date. Savery writes of a strange garden where every flower has the same name:
For Christ is the myrtle,
And flow'r of the vine,
And Christ the sweet camphire
And blue columbine.
The meter and rhyme are regular, except that Savery repeats the last two lines of the final verse:
My garden first flower'd
On cold Christmas Day.

The Fool Adoring. March 1921, 20 lines, handwritten in "Verses."

Among Savery's papers was a tattered piece of paper with this scribbled poem. I think it possible that this is the oldest extant copy. Savery graduated with Honours from Oxford in 1920. One encounters her fondness for Town and University in works as diverse as the 1933 short story Jacintha at College, the 1985 unpublished manuscript, Haggiston Hall, and this poem. Savery makes no attempt to outdo generations of Oxonians such as Dorothy L. Sayers, whose celebration of their Alma Mater has been recognized. Instead Savery writes:
Take, then, my silence, for thy Fool
  Hath this alone to offer thee.
He will not dare untune thy praise
  By jangled song in jarring key.
No jangling here! I think she strikes precisely the right note. When Savery recorded this, she said only that it was a poem she wrote at Oxford. Modest, both in these lines and in comments about her verse in general, she was entitled to take pride in this one.
NOTE: For Elizabeth contains five poems, All Silver Are the Stars, Down by the Sleepy Sea, Hushaby Land, The White Prayer, and White Walk. Of these, only Hushaby Land was published.

I follow, Lord, in darkness all the way. 1924? 1932?, 8 lines, handwritten in "Verses."

These lines were written into "Verses" on two separate pages, both in the shaky handwriting of the 1990s, when failing eyesight may explain the duplication. By this time the book was full, so additional verses had to be written on the blank pages between earlier entries. The two dates, with their question marks, were written just that way by the author.
Savery titles this "Fragment," but the poem is complete, and so is the point it makes. Following the title line, Savery speaks of mist, of gloom, of a form she can neither see nor trace. In distress, she feels no comfort. Yet, the sand beneath her shaking,
...I know I follow. Hold my hand.

The Irish Child's Dream. All Saints Day, 1971, 24 lines, handwritten in "Verses."

Savery submitted this poem for publication, refusing payment, but it was not accepted. This is no lullaby! Much later, when she recorded it, she said
It was written at the very beginning of what we call 'The Troubles,' twenty-five years ago, when there were awful stories of savagery.
Savery would not have been neutral about the conflict in Northern Ireland. Two of her sisters were actively engaged in the work of the Sandes Soldiers and Airmen's Centres, where servicemen came for hospitality, recreation, and evangelism. The Sandes Centre at Ballykinler was destroyed without warning by an IRA bomb in 1974, killing two soldiers and injuring thirty-three others, including two civilians. Attached to the manuscript copy of the poem is a 1971 clipping that begins
Women who laughed and jeered as a soldier fell with blood pouring from his wounds have created a wave of revulsion across Northern Ireland.
In the poem, the Irish child wakes in the night following a dream in which its mother
...stroked my hair and bade, "God bless,"
  And still her hands were red,
Red as the soldiers' blood, who fell
  In our street, quickly dead.
The antecedent of 'quickly dead' is awkwardly handled here. The English would be better if the line ran "Red as the blood of those who fell."
The ending of the poem is as grim as the rest. The child, lying frightened in the dark, dares not call its mother: "What if my dream were true?"

Lament for the Chunnel. Feb. 18, 1975, 12 lines, handwritten in "Verses."

Like Epilogue to King Lear above, these lines were intended for Savery's own amusement. They also lament the 1973 decision not to continue with plans for the Channel Tunnel. Two timid ladies wish to travel, but...
They shuddered away from flying.
  Too vasty for them was the Deep.
So they pinned all their hopes on the Chunnel,
  And now they do nothing, but weep.
The poems reveal Savery's interest in public affairs as, approaching eighty, she contemplated retirement.

Limericks. 1970, two limericks, handwritten in "Verses."

I'll just copy these out for you.
A witch from the city of Wells
Went to Egypt to learn some new spells.
  She travelled by sea
  With a heart full of glee
Till she found she'd forgotten her Quells. [9 Jan '70]
NOTE: Quells are scopolamine tablets used to prevent seasickness.
To Gibralter, now cut off from Spain,
The tourists came flocking amain.
  But the apes of the Rock
  Had the worst kind of shock
When old FRANCO stepped out of the plane. [14 Jan '70]

Lines in Imitation of Marlowe. 1918, 14 lines, handwritten into "Verses" in 1944.

Savery acknowledges that this was a college exercise. It must have been fun to declaim in class.
O all ye multitudinous eyes of Heaven,
That pierce the fabric of Night's glimmering veil,
Be darkened now till Caspar be revenged.
Quench, quench your silver fires and let the sun
In oozy ocean cave chafe furiously,
There closely pent till Caspar be revenged.
Wow!

Mothering Sunday Poems. 1938 to 1943, short rhymes written annually and copied into "Verses."

I think these were created for local use, and I was tempted to pretend they did not exist. They were collected and sent to an American publisher with the title Verses for Mother's Day, but Mother's Day in America comes in May, when the Mothering Day violets are long gone! Here is the 1939 poem, together with Savery's note about it.
All the lily bells are ringing, Sweet, for thee,*
    Sweet for thee.
All the merry birds are ringing, Sweet, for thee,
    Sweet for thee.
All the violets are springing, Sweet, for thee,
    Sweet for thee.
Violets white and violets blue
Are none of them sweeter, dear Mother
        Than you!

*Regret to say that this line was composed in 1927 as an example of bad verse!

Noel: From the French. ~1940, 16 lines, handwritten in "Verses."

The poem is Noel by Theophile Gautier (1811-1872). Since this is a translation, I will give only the first verse.
The sky is dark, the earth is white.
  O bells, ring merrily!
To new-born Jesus Mary bends
  Her fair face tenderly.
'Merrily' and 'tenderly' do not rhyme, but I like "bends her fair face tenderly." Here is the French original.
Le ciel est noir, la terre est blanche;
- Cloches, carillonnez gaiment! -
Jesus est ne; la Vierge penche
Sur lui son visage charmant.

Ode to Bunny. Jan. 3, 1927, 21 lines, handwritten on a loose sheet of paper.

This doggerel in three verses was composed on the occasion of her sister, Christine (Brown Rabbit), leaving home. Here are the first two lines:
O Bunny dear, you're missed, I fear,
We miss your pleasant ways...
What the lines lack in artistic merit is more than compensated by the love they show. Christine kept them for over sixty years, and her sister after that.

Pitying our Sore Distress. Summer 1932, 8 lines, handwritten in "Verses."

Here are the first four lines:
Pitying our sore distress,
Jesus came in tenderness,
Jesus came to save and bless.
    In excelsis gloria.

The Pleasance of Cockleshells. 1934, a long narrative poem, handwritten in "Verses." Incorporated, 1969, into the unpublished novel The Charming Companion.

The Pleasance of Cockleshells was one of twenty-one poems recorded by Savery on Nov. 13, 1994, at Resthaven, Pitchcombe, Stroud, so we have the benefit of her own comments.
This long poem was begun in Aug. 1932, during the time that Savery lived at Reydon, near Southwold in Suffolk. Describing the poem before reading it, Savery says:
A pleasance, as no doubt you know, is an old-fashioned word for a garden. When I lived in East Anglia long ago, my home was about three miles from what had been the town of Dunwich. There was still a village on the cliff by the newly formed shore called Dunwich, but the old Dunwich, which was a large and prosperous town, was lost beneath the sea in the later Middle Ages. The sea in this part of East Anglia is very violent, and it takes large parts of the coast line every year. I wrote this story, The Pleasance of Cockleshells, about an imaginary lost town called Sarwich. But nothing in the lost town of Dunwich bears any resemblance to the story of The Pleasance of Cockleshells.
The poem consists of rhymed couplets, largely in iambic pentameter, but with a sprinkling of anapests for variation and to facilitate the narrative, for this is a story in rhyme rather than a poem with a story. The couplets are grouped into twelve-line verses, except for the sixth verse, which has fourteen lines. There are thirteen verses in all. The poetry is pleasant, and so is the tale.
Maid Barbary lives in Sarwich, a medieval town behind a seawall, where there is a tradition that the wall will fail if anyone should grow flowers within the town. A knight, Sir Guyon, patrols the walls looking for defects. Shopping in town, Maid Barbary is persuaded to buy several seashells filled with seeds, which she takes home and plants next to the wall in a garden plot decorated with cockleshells.
"Lo now," said the Watcher, "god morrow, maid.
What make you there with shovel and spade?"
"Sir Guyon," quoth I, "keep counsel sweet.
I am making a path to comfort my feet."
Admiring her 'watchet-blue' eyes, Sir Guyon assists by bringing her bits of 'salt-stone' and pebbles, and while the flowers come into bloom, the walls are neglected. The inevitable occurs. There is a storm, the seawall fails, Sir Guyon rescues Maid Barbary, but the town is drowned.
Dunwich, as Savery says, disappeared much more slowly. For a good account, I recommend Men of Dunwich by Rowland Parker.

Remembered Charms, Nov. 22, 1954, 38 lines, handwritten in Work Diaries, vol. 5, pp 72-74.

In her introduction when she recorded poems in 1994, Savery is characteristically modest.
The next piece is called Remembered Charms. It's an attempt at the style of John Betjeman, not a very good attempt, either.
The poem is a recollection of Froxfield in Wiltshire, where Savery was born and lived until she was nine years old. The text is described in greater detail under Autobiography.

The poem is in heroic couplets, except that Savery cannot resist including The Title:
Where the late Most Noble Sarah,
  Duchess of Somerset,
Built a home for widows.
(Her widows live there yet)

Remembered Charms (ii), Nov. 22, 1954, 21 lines, handwritten in Work Diaries, vol. 5, pp 75-76.

In her second attempt on the same day, this time imitating Wordsworth, Savery confines her scope to the area around Rudge, where the famed 'Rudge Cup' was found in an 18th Century excavation:
...Little recked I, a frolic urchin then,
Of pavement tesselated, Well, or CUP,
But looked with eager eye for pinkest rose
In hedgerow shining, or for bloomy sloe,
Knapweed, blue scabious, buttersweet and vetch,
The lady's slipper and good Queen Anne's lace.
The second attempt is, like the first, 'not very good.' While the lines sound better, the 'Froxfield tour' of the first poem is lacking, and listing flowers doesn't evoke Wordsworth. Note the mention of blue scabious. Savery had a 'facetious review' entitled The Seaside Holiday published in the GIRL'S REALM in December of 1913, and she signed it 'Scabious.'

The Rose of Sharon, Summer 1932, 8 lines, handwritten in "Verses."

Another devotional poem, here is the second verse:
O Rose of Sharon, Lord of Christmastide,
  I kneel to thank Thee for Thy royal grace.
Sweet Prince, great Shepherd, grant me to abide
  In Thy fair presence, gazing on Thy face.

Song by Piglet, Oct. 19, 1976, 20 lines, handwritten in "Verses."

Song by Piglet at the Celebration Feast in Honour of Winnie-the-Pooh's fiftieth birthday!
These are only pleasant lines, not inspired, for a Special Occasion.
We have made a feast
  For a pleasing beast,
etc.

Sonnet (translated from the French). Aug. 1941, handwritten in Work Diaries, vol. 5, p 71.

The sonnet is by Jean Vauquelin de La Fresnaye (1536-1608?), and you can see why Savery chose it for translation in August of 1941. Since the poem is certainly in the public domain after more than 400 years, I can give it here.
Du paresseux sommeil où tu gis endormie
  Desjà par si long temps, ô France, éveille-toy,
  Respire dedaigneuse, et tes offences voy,
Ne sois point ton esclave et ta propre ennemie.

Reprend ta liberté, gueri ta maladie,
  Et ton antique honneur, ô France, ramentoy:
  Legere, desormais, sans bien sçavoir pourquoy,
Dans un sentier tortu ne donne à l'estourdie.

Si tu regardois bien les annales des rois,
Tu connoistrois avoir triomphé: mille fois
  De ceux qui veulent or amoindrir ta puissance.
Sans toy, qui contre toy despite ouvre le sein,
Ces ventres de harpie, ejunez par souffrance,
  N'auroient jamais osé passer le Rhin germain.
The rhyme scheme and meter for sonnets are so rigid that the worst of them sound wonderful. Savery's translation begins "Awake, awake, O France..." and here are her lines 5-8. Let the Francophiles among my readers render their own judgment. My French was good enough to identify the poem.
Thy sickness cure. Thy liberty regain.
Thine ancient honour call to memory.
No longer tread, in light inconstancy,
A crooked path, where journeying is vain.

Tinkle and Twinkle, Nov. 9, 1936, handwritten in "Verses."

When she recorded this poem, Savery said only, "Here's a nursery rhyme." The words 'tinkle-inkle-inkle' are what a stream says running to the sea. The second of the two verses has the same meter, but the stars twinkle:
"Twinkle, inkle, inkle," said the stars.
"Twinkle, inkle, inkle. Aren't we fine?
  We will dance and we will show
  Such a perfect, splendid glow
With a twinkle, inkle, inkle while we shine."

Tranquility, a free translation, Easter, 1948, 40 lines, handwritten in "Verses."

I did not locate the original poem. Savery's translation ends this way.
Life's flower must fade and fall at last.
What's Death? 'Tis but to shut the eyes,
To ask forgiveness for the past,
To trust the Love that holds us fast,
To sleep--and wake in Heaven's light.

NOTE: For Wartime Tragedy, see Autobiographical Manuscripts.

The White Prayer. Summer 1928. In the manuscript copy of The Quicksilver Chronicle and handwritten in "Verses."

In her essay for METHODIST MAGAZINE, The Candle-Saint: Henry Vaughan, Savery notes Vaughan's fondness for green and for white. Savery disparaged her own poetry and wrote only a fraction of what Vaughan did, but she is just as caught up in the imagery of white. The White Prayer is a specific instance. After the introduction
Lord, make my soul white as can be
  For all white things love Thee.
White as little lambs...
Savery continues with six other white objects, the most interesting of which are
White as violet and rose
  Till this my life shall close.

White Walk. May 17, 1943 16 lines, handwritten in a music manuscript book entitled For Elizabeth.

The manuscript book holds four poems besides this one: Hushaby Land, Down by the Sleepy Sea, All Silver Are the Stars, and The White Prayer. No music was ever written. The potential composer, May Barker, Elizabeth's mother, died on January 24, 1944. Here's the first verse as Savery, Elizabeth's godmother, takes her White Walk:
In Moon-daisy Meadow
I rambled an hour;
I put down my hand
And plucked a white flower.

William Rutlish's Song (a translation from Latin?), June 20, 1952, 15 lines. Manuscript copy of The Quicksilver Chronicle and handwritten in "Verses."

I have not found a Latin original for this poem, credited to William Rutlish, who is remembered as a philanthropist, not as a poet. Each of the five verses ends Modeste, strenue, sancte! and the Rutlish public school has these words on its crest--but only since 1901. My enquiry to the school was unanswered. I am tending to the conclusion that, if there was a Latin poem, Savery wrote it! She says in her recording:
This was a song written in Latin, and I have translated it from the Latin, all except the last three words in every verse, which I couldn't very well translate.
Savery's Latin was far better than mine. I hesitate to second-guess her, and my translation has too many syllables, but I render the refrain: "Moderately, earnestly, reverently." Here is a typical verse from Savery's poem:
Fight cruelty and wrong,
Meet sorrow with a song,
Modeste strenue sancte!

The Wind in the Tree-tops, Nov. 9, 1936, 20 lines, handwritten in "Verses."

In this 'nursery rhyme,' the wind in the tree-tops confesses to blowing out candles, pulling off pine needles, and stealing pale keys from the ash trees. Savery chides the wind, singing:
O wind in the tree-tops,
  A-prancing and whisking,
Pray, aren't you ashamed of
  such impudent frisking?

Who Fashioned the Manger, June 1932, 16 lines, handwritten in "Verses."

This Christmas carol about the manger has an original idea:
Could any man make it
  And never know
It should soon clasp the Glory
  Of Heaven laid low?
Surely not! For any one of us,
Our hands in their blindness
  May serve Christ the King.

Yellow Pamments, June 22, 1943, 24 lines, handwritten in "Verses"and in her fair copy of the Work Diaries, vol. 5, pp 69-70.

Savery also recorded the poem and introduced her reading in this way:
This song is called Yellow Pamments. 'Tisn't a song... It's just a meditation... in free verse. A pamment is a tile for floor covering. It's a dialect word, a Suffolk dialect word, for pavement. So yellow pamments would be yellow tiles in a... made into a pavement.
The ellipses above indicate pauses, not omissions. The church, according to the work diary, is St. Margaret's in Reydon, Suffolk.

Here are the beginning and end of Savery's meditation:
Some people say
That there are variables and constants.
These people are philosophers.
But I, being simple,
Say that some things change,
Others don't.
The church floor, for example,
Is paved with pale yellow pamments
That go on being yellow always;
And the light from the stained windows
Falls on them in patches and pools of
    lilac and blue and rose
So gently that they do not stop being yellow.

...

I should still see them in my mind,
Flat and cool and worn into hollows,
Washed with lilac and blue and rose,
But still yellow,
In that quiet place.
Between these two quiet passages Savery suggests in a matter-of-fact way that the church might be blown up or she herself blinded. After the reading she reminds us:
Yellow Pamments was written in war-time... when I heard the sirens over seventeen hundred times.
Of all Savery's poems, this one pleases me the most.