Ella Wheeler Wilcox: War Mothers
Born on November 5, 1850, in Johnstown Center, Rock county, Wisconsin, Ella Wheeler from an early age was an avid reader of popular literature, especially the novels of E.D.E.N. Southworth, Mary Jane Holmes, and Ouida. Her first published work, some sketches submitted to the New York Mercury, appeared when she was 14 years old. Soon her poems were appearing in the Waverly Magazine and Leslie's Weekly. Except for a year at the University of Wisconsin (1867-68), she devoted herself thereafter to writing.
Wheeler's first book, a collection of temperance verses, appeared in 1872 as Drops of Water. Shells, a collection of religious and moral poems, followed in 1873 and Maurine, a highly sentimental verse narrative, in 1876. The rejection of her next book, a collection of love poems, by a Chicago publisher on grounds that it was immoral helped ensure its success when it was issued by another publisher in 1883 as Poems of Passion, a titillating title that was as racy as any of the contents. The sale of 60,000 copies in two years firmly established Wheeler's reputation.
In 1884 she married Robert M. Wilcox, a businessman. While making herself the center of a literary coterie, Wilcox continued to pour out verses laced with platitudes and easy profundities. They were collected in such volumes as Men, Women, and Emotions (1893), Poems of Pleasure (1888), Poems of Sentiment (1906), Gems (1912), and World Voices (1918).
Wilcox also wrote much fiction, including Mal Moulée (1885), A Double Life (1890), Sweet Danger (1892), and A Woman of the World (1904); two autobiographies, The Story of a Literary Career (1905) and The Worlds and I (1918); and columns of prose and poetry for various newspapers and articles and essays for Cosmopolitan and other magazines.
After her husband's death in 1916 Wilcox made her long-standing interest in spiritualism the subject of a series of columns as she sought--successfully, she claimed--to contact his spirit. At her husband's direction (she said), Wilcox undertook a lecture and poetry-reading tour of Allied army camps in France in 1918. She fell ill early in 1919 and died at her home in Short Beach, Connecticut, on October 30, 1919.
Source: PoemHunter.com: http://www.poemhunter.com/ella-wheeler-wilcox/biography/
There is something in the sound of drum and fife
That stirs all the savage instincts into life.
In the old times of peace we went our ways,
Through proper days
Of little joys and tasks. Lonely at times,
When from the steeple sounded wedding chimes,
Telling to all the world some maid was wife -
But taking patiently our part in life
As it was portioned us by Church and State,
Believing it our fate.
Our thoughts all chaste
Held yet a secret wish to love and mate
Ere youth and virtue should go quite to waste.
But men we criticised for lack of strength,
And kept them at arm's length.
Then the war came -
The world was all aflame!
The men we had thought dull and void of power
Were heroes in an hour.
He who had seemed a slave to petty greed
Showed masterful in that great time of need.
He who had plotted for his neighbour's pelf,
Now for his fellows offers up himself.
And we were only women, forced by war
To sacrifice the things worth living for.
Something within us broke,
Something within us woke,
The wild cave-woman spoke.
When we heard the sound of drumming,
As our soldiers went to camp,
Heard them tramp, tramp, tramp;
As we watched to see them coming,
And they looked at us and smiled
(Yes, looked back at us and smiled),
As they filed along by hillock and by hollow,
Then our hearts were so beguiled
That, for many and many a day,
We dreamed we heard them say,
'Oh, follow, follow, follow!'
And the distant, rolling drum
Called us 'Come, come, come!'
Till our virtue seemed a thing to give away.
War had swept ten thousand years away from earth.
We were primal once again.
There were males, not modern men;
We were females meant to bring their sons to birth.
And we could not wait for any formal rite,
We could hear them calling to us, 'Come to-night;
For to-morrow, at the dawn,
We move on!'
And the drum
Bellowed, 'Come, come, come!'
And the fife
Whistled, 'Life, life, life!'
So they moved on and fought and bled and died;
Honoured and mourned, they are the nation's pride.
We fought our battles, too, but with the tide
Of our red blood, we gave the world new lives.
Because we were not wives
We are dishonoured. Is it noble, then,
To break God's laws only by killing men
To save one's country from destruction?
We took no man's life but gave our chastity,
And sinned the ancient sin
To plant young trees and fill felled forests in.
Oh, clergy of the land,
Bible in hand,
All reverently you stand,
On holy thoughts intent
While barren wives receive the sacrament!
Had you the open visions you could see
Phantoms of infants murdered in the womb,
Who never knew a cradle or a tomb,
Hovering about these wives accusingly.
Bestow the sacrament! Their sins are not well known -
Ours to the four winds of the earth are blown.