Oct. 27th, 1944
Dear Mom and Dad,
I have been reading over what your friend - the school teacher, has said about my poem "These Things He Loved" and it made a good deal of sense to me, so - I have been working on the ending and have at last got it whipped into shape. I originally made it up as a poem intended to make people buy more bonds in either the VIth or the VIIth War Loan and as such, I gave it to Marian Angus to use as she saw fit. I don't know whether she used it or not. But that is why the ending was tacked on as it were: and though I was dissatisfied with it, no one else I showed it to expressed any doubts about it so, I decided to let it stand. But now that I have a criticism that more or less confirms what I have thought myself, I have decided to do something about it. Her substitute of "another" for "pail" spoils the metre of the line and therefore may raise doubts in the minds of those who prefer rhythm to poetical license, but I suppose the substitution is justified to suit the poetical language of the rest of the text. All the lines which follow:
"We take them as our natural heritage
And rarely think of those who fight to keep
Them safe for us" are cancelled and the following follow immediately - He died, and yet
He knew that these - the things that were his life,
Lived on to find a welcome in the hearts
Of those - as yet unborn, who are his heirs.
There is no greater sacrifice than life itself,
There is no greater glory to be won,
There is no greater heritage than these -
The things he loved and cherished as his own.
Will you show these to your friend and see if she agrees with them? I do not know if I have ever told you how I came to write this poem or not, but I can remember it as clearly as though it were yesterday. You may remember when I was home in April ‘43; I had a long talk with Marian Angus the day I left to go back to Moncton. She was working on the ‘Fifth Victory Loan' then and asked me for new ideas. I had tried for days to think of something, but nothing would come. And then one night I went to the YMCA. in Moncton and sat in the canteen while they were showing a film of a young lad's life before he joined up: and after he joined up. It was a beautiful little piece: one of the best of its kind I have ever seen and it moved me profoundly. I wrote this poem immediately afterward - in about half an hour, and it was essentially as it stands today. I had to do very little changing and polishing to it the next day. Usually, I find that my work requires a good deal of polishing when the first ‘fervour' has died down, but this was one of those rare poems that I could see ‘complete before my eyes' and had only to write it down. You may remember "The Song of the Road" and "The Song of a Retired Sea Captain" were also the same kind, though I have rewritten the latter since I first wrote it because I did not like the verse form. However, I guess you are not really interested in This kind of work, so I won't mention it any more.
I have just finished seven days leave after leaving OTU. and I am now at a Battle School preparing to take my Conversion Course on to ‘Halifaxes', at least I hope it is ‘Hallies' we will go on through, we cannot be sure of anything just now. I had a rather dull time on leave: everyone seems terrifically busy these days and they have no time for playing anymore. But I guess I shouldn't complain about that. I saw the Beverlys and Mrs. Sayers and Mr. Simpson and outside of that, I didn't do very much. I bought $400 worth of War Bonds which you should be getting some time before next March. But I wish I hadn't now, because I forgot all about Xmas presents for you and my friends over here and I am afraid I am going to be very short. There is so little that I can buy that is worth buying (anyway) that I am almost tempted not to waste my money: except that it seems to mean (somehow) not to buy Anything. Things are so shoddy now and so very expensive! Can you imagine paying $5.00 for a child's wooden train? Just the engine - mind you, no tracks or cars and very poor workmanship too. And yet that is what I saw in a store in London and there were other things in like-condition at comparable prices. It is a crime the prices people are asked to pay for a child's playthings! But I think we are going to have a bit better Xmas dinner this year than usual though, even though I haven't much to complain about over the past five.
I am enclosing some clippings that may interest you. I have carried them around in my pocket for ages intending to send them home. I have not heard from Stan for weeks now. I couldn't get any news of his whereabouts in London either, so I decided I had better not go down to Aldershot till I found out where he is. I have written him 3 times and got no answer, do you know where he is? I guess that is about all I can say for now. Write soon and tell me everything! It is a long time since I have had a long newsy letter from you and I am missing them dreadfully! I am losing weight very rapidly this past 2 weeks...only weigh 173 lbs. now, lowest I have been for over 5 years. I usually weigh about 185!
Yours ever lovingly,
The Song of the Road
Give me a road, a broad highroad
Winding o'er the lea,
Give me a pack upon my back
Let me wander free
I'll have no home to call my own
Except this woodland tree,
And grasses dry, piled thick and high
My feather bed shall be
Why mind the rain, the heat or pain?
What's lost if I should die?
Alone I'll wander - see out yonder
The rainbow in the sky?
No cares have I, a cloud-flecked sky
Spreads its canopy,
And sweet I'll sing as on I sing
For the world belongs to me!
Song of a Retired Sea Captain
I love the roar of the wintry wind,
To feel it bluing my cheek,
To see the wash of the foaming waves,
To feel the sting of the sleet.
To hear the crack of the flapping sails
As they billow away from the mast.
To hear the cries of the white seagulls
As they rush downwind on the blast.
To fight for life with all my strength
When lightening flashes grand!
To feel the cold fingers of death on my face,
As we creep through the mist off Newfoundland.
Give me again that rolling waste,
A stout ship ‘neath my feet,
Give me the helm, I’ll steer her free,
Without a slackened sheet!
I know I’m useless here ashore -
An old man past his prime,
But put me on a ship again,
I’ll yet serve out my time!
If only I may end my days
Where wild winds never sleep,
And sink ‘neath the waves with my gallant ship,
To our unmarked grave in the restless deep.