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This review is taken from PN Review 137, Volume 27 Number 3, January - February 2001.

MAY AND BEVIL MAY CANNAN and BEVIL QUILLER-COUCH, The Tears of War, edited by Charlotte Fyfe (Cavalier Books) £12.99

[...] Can I forget the passage from the cool white-bedded Aid Post
Past the long sun-blistered coaches of the khaki Red Cross train
To the truck train full of wounded, and the weariness and laughter,
And 'Goodbye, and thank you, Sister', and the empty yards again?

Can you recall the parcels that we made them for the rail-road
Crammed and bulging parcels held together by their string,
And the voices of the sergeants who called the Drafts together,
And the agony and splendour when they stood to save the King? [...]

If May Cannan is remembered these days, it is in part thanks to Philip Larkin who included 'Rouen', subtitled 'April 26 May 25, 1915', in The Oxford Book of Twentieth Century English Verse (1973). The poem is also included in Catherine Reilly's important anthology of First World War women's poetry, Scars upon my Heart (1981). Though one of Cannan's best poems, it is also one of her least characteristic, with its long bouncy lines and abundance of observed detail. More typical are her pensive lyrics, at best as in 'Any Woman' with implicit bitterness.

[...] Across the warm safe English fields
The sun brings up his day,
I live my life because in France
You give your life away...

There will be summer nights for me,
And poppies in the wheat -
O God, the bugles call ...


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