By in Personal

An ironically inappropriate poem for a 1914 diary

In a previous post I mentioned that my uncle kept a diary for the year 1914, and that I have it on my desk now. In that post I was particularly interested in his entries for the days in early August when Great Britain declared war on Germany, but I also had a good look at the diary itself, and I have discovered something that is tragically ironic.

My uncle was a student teacher at the beginning of 1914, which is presumably why he bought a ‘Teachers’ Pocket Diary’ published by Charles Letts and Co. It contains quite a lot of information that would be of use to teachers, such as lists of colleges that offer teacher training, addresses of educational publishers, dates of public exams, space in which to write one’s school timetable, and much more besides.

However, I was particularly struck by what appears on the opening page of the diary, opposite the title page. This is a poem entitled ‘My Diary’ by a poet named Elsie Dickinson. I cannot find any references to a poet of this name in any of my printed sources (and I have plenty!), neither does she appear in any Google search. Please note – this is not Emily Dickinson, but Elsie. There is no error here, which does not surprise me because the quality of the poem is way below anything that the sainted Emily would have written!

It is not the quality of the verse that is of interest so much as its sentiment. One has to make allowances for the fact that the diary was published before the year 1914 began, and there is no way of knowing when the poem was written. Neither poet not publisher could have foreseen the tragedy that was about to unfold as Europe plunged into war, but that does not detract from the fact that the poem is about as far off-beam as could be imagined in terms of what it hopes for and what was about to occur.

Here is the final verse:

An untrod path, the year before me lies
I know not what this book of mine shall tell,
Yet sure I feel a kindly Providence
Is over all, and shall make all things well.

(One for LoudMan )

Image Credit » Photograph taken by me (John Welford) August 2014

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bridgetidelaney wrote on August 5, 2014, 12:06 PM

it is really cool that you have these historical things! I am glad that you are sharing them!

MegL wrote on August 5, 2014, 2:05 PM

She was perhaps the publisher's daughter or niece or a friend's daughter? It also sounds as if she had been brought up in Ireland "Yet sure I feel...." Maybe I am just reading it incorrectly. So interesting to see these items and hear the stories.

MegL wrote on August 5, 2014, 2:34 PM

I highlighted the text and used "search Google" and your PersonaPaper came straight up - head of the Google results. So PersonaPaper is being indexed!

indexer wrote on August 5, 2014, 2:55 PM

I'm surprised that the indexing is that quick - very interesting!

Ellis wrote on August 5, 2014, 3:45 PM

Well if you thought she was a crap poet she was an even crappier fortune teller...

Scorpie wrote on August 5, 2014, 4:01 PM

Life without irony would be like a fish without osprey.

LoudMan wrote on August 5, 2014, 8:55 PM

Too bad it wouldn't be appropriate for you to share the whole poem here (or would it?). This is probably now a one-of-a-kind book. Thank you for this submission to the contest.

LeslieAdrienne wrote on August 8, 2014, 8:51 PM

She sounds prophetic to me... not pathetic, but prophetic.... Providence was kind in the end.

LeslieAdrienne wrote on August 8, 2014, 8:53 PM

History is fascinating in light of a given context... I would really hold onto that poem just because of the irony of the circumstances and timeline