Photograph of my poet great gran Helen Duncan
Poetry,  Write

The Poems of Helen Duncan

This is a photo of my Great Grandmother, Helen Duncan and she was born in 1888.  I recently discovered she wrote poems. All I know about her comes from my Dad. He’s spent a lot of time looking into our ancestry and I’ve taken a keen interest in it too.

From noble roots

William the Conquerer is my 31st great uncle. I’ve looked into my husband’s side of the tree and he’s related to a Saxon warlord called Edric the Wild. Fun to think our ancestors were bashing each other over the head with swords and axes in a shield wall. Now it’s fighting for sofa space and tickling matches.

Helen Duncan's poetry poem notebooks

Helen’s poems

This is all in the distant past, and I want to go back to Helen. For a long time, Dad gave me the impression his father had destroyed most of the photos etc. It took me unawares when Dad gave me the box of family history to rummage through. I found two notebooks, which belonged to Helen, filled with pages of poetry. Many were of favourite poems she copied yet she penned her own too. Other family members sent and wrote poems and within these two books of elegant handwriting weave worlds of written words. You’d think the contents would be world’s apart yet it’s quite the opposite. Furthermore, what fascinates me is the stark similarities we find.

Looking back to the nostalgic past

Her sister-in-law gave her a poem about the fast paced world compared to happier Victorian times. I imagine in those days it did seem a giant leap in technology, and driven primarily by two world wars. There’s no social media, mobile phones or television but the core message is the same. One of nostalgia and a sense of yearning for the simplicity of earlier days. Were things easier and happier then? Or is it just our perception, warped by time and old age?

Treasures caught on ink and paper

There’s a lot of love in these lines. One regular feature is a special poem she’d pen on the anniversary of her mother’s death. It’s obvious by the emotion in the lines and the frequency of these poems that they were very close. On the tenth year of her death, Britain is at war. There’s grief in the loss of her mother, yet she wouldn’t wish her back into such a restless world.

These are treasures. Words of love and kindness. Friendships and memories of good times. It seems a shame to leave her words alone to the written pages of her two notebooks. I wonder what Helen would have thought of the internet? To know some of her poetry resided in a place where people all over the world could find and read them. It’s an interesting thought. I want to make her poems a little feature of my blog and below is the first two of many. Perhaps she didn’t want to share them. If that’s the case then wherever you are, Helen, I am sorry, but I and Dad love your words and wanted to share them.

Keep Onward

Life’s way is hard and rocky, there are lots of hills to climb,
And many feet are tired and sore, for the road is hard to find.
The burdens hard to carry and rest seems far away.
But first keep going onward, for the path will turn some day.

I’ve known the awful longing, you feel for friends and home,
The heart that’s daily yearning, but you bear it all alone.
The hands that once did guide you, have vanished and the way-
Is dark, but still keep onward, the light will come some day

The way will soon lie ended, the hills no longer there,
The feet no longer tired and sore, no aching heart to bear.
the home and friends you long for, will ever with you stay.
So courage friend, keep onward.
And rest will come someday.

Helen E Duncan
West Norwood – Jan 3rd 1916 (aged 28)

Ten Years Ago Today
Jan 21st 1938 – Jan 21st 1948

We loved you darling mother and our hearts were torn with pain
When God took you ten long years ago, we wished you back again
Those years have passed we’ve carried on, you shared our hopes and fears
In spirit you have dwelt with us, through these ten long years.

The world has changed dear since you left us – for that better land
In every corner of the earth, things have got out of hand
Man seeks to torture, maim and kill – so great in human hate
and many brave soul have gone forth to meet an unknown fate

On storm-tossed seas they’ve clung to life, and prayed when all was lost
the air they conquered – bravely so, but oh! and what a cost!
On land they fought – and won the battles, shirked not duty’s call
and thousands in the bombed out cities gave their very all!

The world has changed, and life goes on unto the bitter end
Oh! will it be the downward, or upward way we’ll trend?
Will all this human sacrifice be for naught – of no avail!
To find the hidden answer, the stoutest heart must quail.

But you dear in your Heaven – see many, many things
The broken hearts; the anguish, that war and parting brings
You know of all our hopes and fears – we feel your guiding hand.
Oh! the blessed power of loved ones, and the faith on which we stand!

We would not wish you back again. God knows what’s really best
He took you from a restless world and gave you perfect rest
The memory of you darling lives on and by God’s grace
No fears that war can leave behind – can ever it efface

Another dear loved mother whom you know and also loved
had gone to join you darling in your happy home above
we loved you both so dearly and our hearts though full of pain
Rejoice as we remember, that our loved ones meet again

God gives to all the healing power of visions which we see
That loved ones may forever dwell – within our memory
He heals our hearts and gently bids us not to fret and weep
They are not dead – they really live – We know they only sleep.

Helen E Duncan (aged 60)
In memory of my own dear mother


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