Jean McAulay

Dunkirk,1940, By Dorothy Emily Stevenson - Poem by Jean McAulay

We were not broken men, we were betrayed
O'ercome by cruel odds but undismayed.
Out of the fog of treachery came we
In Regiments, in Companies or one by one.
We stood half-dazed and looked upon the sea
And, in the glory of the setting sun
Amongst those rosy clouds beyond the foam,
We dreamed that we could see the shores of home.
The Israelites, in wondering surprise,
Saw the sweet peace of Canaan's fertile parts;
Our land was hidden from our longing eyes,
Yet it was clear and living in our hearts.
Oh, England, island home, fair as a star
How near you seemed that day - and yet how far!

When Israel escaped from Pharaoh's might
The Red Sea lay before them in the wind,
And Pharaoh's chariots, spoiling for the fight,
Came rolling up behind.
God wrought great things for Israel that day
He plucked them safely from the tyrant's hands
The sea rolled back and left a narrow way
And Israel went dryshod to happier lands.
Did others think as I? Did other men
Long for that wonder to be wrought again?

Oh, that these waters, bounding with the breeze,
Could suddenly divide
And leave a narrow path between the seas
With towering walls of foam on either side,
So we (like Israelites in days of yore)
Might gain a happier shore!
A miracle there was, but not as I had prayed,
God stretched His hand and 'Peace be still' He said.

And lo, this channel 'twixt unquiet seas,
Fretted by tides that never rest nor sleep,
Excited by the winds, stirred by the breeze,
Plagued by the currents' sweep;
This restless water hemmed by rocky land
Lies still beneath the shadow of His hand.
Calm lie the waters now, the winds have died;
No wave, no swell, no undertow is here.
Calm like the waters and the ebbing tide
Laps gently as a sheltered English mere.
And now from England's shore our brothers come
To bring us safely home.

Amidst a storm of fire - a very hell -
Comes yacht and ferry-boat and collier barge,
Comes sloop and ketch and dancing cockleshell
Comes little boat - and large.
A double miracle to set us free -
Lion-hearted men, calm sea.

(from the novel Mrs Tim Carries On, by D. E. Stevenson,1941.)

Topic(s) of this poem: war, warfare

Poet's Notes about The Poem

Dorothy Emily Stevenson wrote this poem as part of her novel Mrs Tim Carries On, in 1940. I first read it in about 1973. Now that it's the 75th anniversary of Dunkirk, I traced it by buying a secondhand copy of the novel. (Bloomsbury will be republishing it but have no definite date.)

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Poem Submitted: Thursday, March 26, 2015

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