Gerald C. Siordet: To the Dead

Portrait of Siordet by Glyn Philpot, via Leicester Galleries

The remarkable appearance on ebay of an Earthly Paradise volume signed by Jane Morris to one Gerald C. Siordet raises a question for some of us: who was Siordet?

Siordet was an aspiring poet, artist, and critic when he died in Mesopotamia in 1917, becoming yet another victim of the “Great War.”

Before he died, he’d befriended many London artists, including Glyn Philpot, John Singer Sargent, and Brian Hatton, all of whom created portraits of him. His most lasting legacy, perhaps, is his bittersweet poem, “To the Dead.” 

To the Dead

By Gerald Caldwell Siordet (Killed in action February 9, 1917)

ONCE in the days that may not come again
The sun has shone for us on English fields,
Since we have marked the years with thanksgiving,
Nor been ungrateful for the loveliness
Which is our England, then tho’ we walk no more
The woods together, lie in the grass no more.
For us the long grass blows, the woods are green,
For us the valleys smile, the streams are bright,
For us the kind sun still is comfortable
And the birds sing; and since your feet and mine 
Have trod the lanes together, climbed the hills,

Then in the lanes and on the little hills
Our feet are beautiful forevermore.
And you — O if I call you, you will come
Most loved, most lovely faces of my friends
Who are so safely housed within my heart.
So parcel of this blessed spirit land
Which is my own heart’s England, so possest
Of all its ways to walk familiarly
And be at home, that I can count on you,
Loving you so, being loved, to wait for me,
So may I turn me in and by some sweet
Remembered pathway find you once again.
Then we can walk together, I with you.
Or you, or you, along some quiet road.
And talk the foolish, old, forgivable talk.
And laugh together; you will turn your head,
Look as you used to look, speak as you spoke,
My friend to me, and I your friend to you.
Only when at the last, by some cross-road.
Our longer shadows, falling on the grass,
Turn us back homeward, and the setting sun
Shines like a golden glory round your head.
There will be something sudden and strange in you.
Then you will lean and look into my eyes.
And I shall see the bright wound at your side.
And feel the new blood flowing to my heart.
Your blood, beloved, flowing to my heart,
And I shall hear you speaking in my ear—
O not the old, forgivable, foolish talk.
But flames and exaltations, and desires.
But hopes, and comprehensions, and resolves,
But holy, incommunicable things
That like immortal birds sing in my breast.
And springing from a fire of sacrifice.
Beat with bright wings about the throne of God.

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