Valley of the Shadow

    God, I am travelling out to death's sea,
       I, who exulted in sunshine and laughter,
    Dreamed not of dying -- death is such waste of me! --
       Grant me one prayer: Doom not the hereafter
    Of mankind to war, as though I had died not --
       I who, in battle, my comrade's arm linking,
    Shouted and sang, life in my pulses hot
       Throbbing and dancing! Let not my sinking
    In dark be for naught, my death a vain thing!
       God, let me know it the end of man's fever!
    Make my last breath a bugle call, carrying
       Peace o'er the valleys and cold hills for ever!

    John Galsworthy (1867-1933)

John Galsworthy was awarded the 1923 Nobel Prize in literature. Born in Kingston Hill, Surry on August 14, he was educated as a lawyer but soon gave it up to become a novelist and playwright. His fiction was primarily concerned with English upper middle class often dealing with the economically or socially oppressed. A dramatist of considerable technical skill his confrontation of double standard of justice as applied to the upper and lower classes in Justice (1910), his most famous play, led to a prison reform in England.

World War I was the primary influence on the poetry he wrote, Valley of the Shadow is an example. Bob Blair writes at The Poet's Corner:

(Valley of the Shadow) is the strangest use of dactylic verse I've found, because it seems to combine two contrasting traditional uses of the dactyl: as an indicator of forward motion and as a mourning rhythm. I'm not sure it works, but it does make the poem memorable.

Galsworthy died on January 31, 1933. During his career Galsworthy produced 20 novels, 27 plays, 3 collections of poetry, 173 short stories, 5 collections of essays, 700 letters, and many sketches and miscellaneous works.Galsworthy refused knighthood in 1917 in the belief that writers should not accept titles and gave away half of his income to humanitarian causes. His best remembered works are from The Forsyte Saga which follows the lives of three generations of the British middle-class before 1914. His reputation declined after his death and he was heavily attacked by the next generation of writers. D.H. Lawrence and Virginia Woolf accused Galsworthy of being thoroughly embodied in the values he was supposedly criticizing.


Public domain text taken from The Poets’ Corner:

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