This week’s featured poem is “Daybreak” by Lilian Bowes Lyon.
The morning is a symbol of the rivers’ confessions being exposed.
The unexpected precipitation was silenced by the excessive use of words.
A territory that can deeply affect one’s emotions; a place hidden from view by our eyes.
I have memorized through repetition, not leaned over like lovers.
The secret was revealed about the towns in a terrifying pit.
The battles were intense in the glowing heart of the foundry.
Compassionately day underlines the doom
We apply on a billboard, look at in a reflection.
The tree’s perfection was destroyed when it was tripped by its own root.
petals of the rose
We praise the fiery passion of man, although it may be weak and delicate like the petals of a rose.
Zealot of metal, cheat the wildwood forehead,
Remove the desolate world’s longing for greenness.
Morning is a redeeming and a condemning.
Sparrows at two a farthing leave no smudge
On sanguine earth. May dawn forbear to judge
Between my blood-guilt and the bomber gleaming.
Lilian Bowes Lyon (1895-1949), a poet and novelist, gained recognition in Britain during the 1930s and 40s. However, despite her contributions to war writing, 20th-century poetry anthologists often disregarded her work. Fortunately, her poem “Daybreak” has been featured in the newly released anthology, “Contra-Flow: Lines of Englishness 1922-2022.”
The book Tomorrow is a Revealing, which was published in 1941, includes the piece Daybreak. During this time, Bowes Lyon was involved in volunteer work related to the war and eventually relocated to London’s East End the next year to better serve the community that was heavily impacted by bombings.
The morning brings to light different aspects of a divided England. The quiet sounds of nature, such as rivers and rain, gradually give way to the chaotic hustle and bustle of towns in turmoil. The first stanza fondly reminisces of a field that holds a special place in the heart, while also acknowledging the monotonous familiarity of a land that has been learned by repetition, rather than experienced intimately. Notably, the word “field” lacks an article, unlike the impersonal “a land”. This learned land may refer to London, where the poet, who was originally from the countryside, took on the demanding task of working with the Women’s Voluntary Service.
The second verse evokes images of industrial settings, potentially both weapons factories and bombed-out areas. The speaker presents the idea of a hidden stash of weapons being produced in the “flickering womb” of a foundry. A satirical adverb in the phrase “Compassionately day underlines the doom…” leads to a realization that is less abstract and more connected to human flaws. The word “doom” may be used as political propaganda when plastered on a wall, but it also speaks to the innate humanity within us, just as our own reflections do. The use of the pronoun “we” reveals that the speaker acknowledges their own responsibility in this matter.
The third stanza begins with a sudden shock, as we are taken off guard by the tree’s root. The tree has been toppled and the elevation of military values, represented as the “zealot of metal”, further undermines humanity. The stanza is filled with restrained emotion: the tree is still showing signs of life, yet we disrespect and deceive nature. The use of powerful verbs highlights the insult: we praise false qualities in humans and deceive nature. This stanza foreshadows the destruction of our environment.
Bowes Lyon effectively expands upon the themes introduced in the opening verses in her final stanza. The morning embodies a paradox, acting as both a “redeemer” and a “condemner” in its clear-sightedness. The second line alludes to a biblical story in which God’s compassion for fallen sparrows is questioned (Matthew 10:29). However, the sparrows in the poem are seen as less valuable (“two for a farthing”) and their blood goes unnoticed in a world described as “sanguine” – both cheerful and blood-soaked. It is worth noting that the underlying morals of the poem are based on Christianity and potentially pacifism, yet there is no mention of divine intervention by the speaker or within their world. The poem boldly embraces its own human qualities and acknowledges their limitations. Its only plea is directed towards the morning: “May dawn show mercy / And not judge between my guilt and the gleaming bomber.” The glimmers of blood and metal are intertwined and cannot be separated.