By Sylvia Topp
The never before told story of George Orwell’s first wife, a woman who shaped, supported and even saved the life of one of the 20th century’s greatest writers.
Tuesday, 12 December 2017
End of the Century, 1984 - A Poem by Eileen
An Extract from Chapter 4: BETWEEN OXFORD AND ORWELL
Eileen’s high school in Sunderland celebrated their fiftieth anniversary, in 1934, with gatherings and dinners both on the school grounds and in London. In advance, looking ahead to the school’s one-hundredth anniversary, she wrote a poem which she titled “End of the Century, 1984,” and it was published in the Sunderland High School magazine, in 1934, the year before she met Orwell.
Death Synthetic winds have blown away
Material dust, but this one room
Rebukes the constant violet ray
And dustless sheds a dusty doom.
Wrecked on the outmoded past
Lie North and Hillard, Virgil, Horace,
Shakespeare’s bones are quiet at last.
Dead as Yeats or William Morris.
Have not the inmates earned their rest?
A hundred circles traversed they
Complaining of the classic quest
And, each inevitable day,
Illogically trying to place
A ball within an empty space.
Birth Every loss is now a gain
For every chance must follow reason.
A crystal palace meets the rain
That falls at its appointed season.
No book disturbs the lucid line
For sun-bronzed scholars tune their thought
To Telepathic Station 9
From which they know just what they ought:
The useful sciences; the arts
Of telesalesmanship and Spanish
As registered in Western parts;
Mental cremation that shall banish
Relics, philosophies and colds—
The Phoenix Worlds have died that they may live,
May plume again their fairest feathers
And in their clearest songs may give
Welcome to all spontaneous weathers.
Bacon’s colleague is called Einstein,
Huxley shares Platonic food,
Violet rays are only sunshine
Christened in the modern mood.
In this house if in no other
Past and future may agree,
Each herself, but each the other
In a curious harmony,
Finding both a proper place
In the silken gown’s embrace.
As Eileen wrote this poem, in 1934, she was engulfed by news of the growing horrors of governments close by, those led by Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin. She feared that the world of scholarship and cultural life that she so loved—represented by some interesting choices of writers in the poem—was being destroyed by the designs of men she abhorred.