Eileen: The Making of George Orwell

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—

                        Mañana-minded ten-year-olds.


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.

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