Memorial to W H Davies in Commercial Road, Newport
W H Davies ... The Forsaken Dead
This poem appeared in New Poems, published in 1907.
Reading the poem you get the impression that it refers to an actual village, recently
abandoned. But if so I have not yet been able to identify the village. It seems to
have been an industrial village, the mills now empty, where the village people demanded
a fairer sharer of the profits and were forced to leave in an impoverished state
when the owner laid them off rather than accede to their demands.
If it was a real village then there are several ways in which W H Davies may have
become aware of it:
· He may have read about it during one of his many visits to the local library.
· He may have passed through the village on his travels as a vagrant in southern
Britain and the English midlands.
· He may have been told about it at a lodging house by one of the gridlers, pedlars,
or downrighters whose company he shared.
The Forsaken Dead
What tyrant starved the living out, and kept
Their dead in this deserted settlement?
There is no voice at home, no eyes to look
Down from their windows on these gardens wild;
A tyrant hath refused his people work,
Since they had claimed a right to share his spoils,
And they have left their dead forsaken here.
Here will I sit upon this fallen tree,
Beside these ancient ruins, ivy-crowned,
Where Nature makes green mosses ooze and spread
Out of the pores of their decaying walls ―
Here will I sit to mourn that people gone.
Where are they gone that there's no maiden left
To weep the fall of this sweet village lost,
Down where its waters pass the empty mills?
No living thing except one tethered lamb,
That hath been crying full an hour in vain,
And, on that green where children played their games,
Hath browsed his circle bare, and bleats to see
More dewy pastures all beyond his reach.
Where is maid Margaret, whom I saw crowned
Queen of the May before so many eyes?
And scornful Maud, of her rare beauty proud ―
That cruel rose bud, with her close hard heart,
Between whose folds no mercy drop could lodge:
And where the men who threw the hammer's weight,
And leapt this common but three moons ago
When unto heaven they sent a deafening shout
Like wild Pacific, when he leaps and falls
At Raratonga, off a coral reef:
Then, in Life's glorious deep they swam and laughed,