Remembrance Sunday: The Poetry of James Farrar

Mon 6/Nov/23

The Poetry of James Farrar


Remembrance Day Blog: The Poetry of James Farrar


When we think of famous war poets, we think of people like Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen. The London Borough of Sutton also has their own war poet, James Farrar, whose work only started to get exposed to a larger audience when the writer Henry Williamson edited and published an anthology of it in 1950.


Photo: Whitehall Historic House, WW1 Room, Cheam Serves The Nation.

World War I Room at Whitehall Historic House, Cheam


Farrar was born in Essex in 1923 but grew up in Carshalton. He enlisted in the RAF at the age of 18 in 1942. Even while fighting in the war, he always found time to write. Sadly, he died on the 26th of July 1944 on a dawn mission over the English Channel, just three months before his 21st birthday. In honor of him, his mother founded Sutton Grammar School’s James Farrar English Prize with an £84 endorsement in 1947.


Farrar wrote in different forms - short stories, poems, autobiographical sketches, and descriptive passages. War, death, and nature were major themes in his works. For example, quite a few of his poems feature allusions to war and the death and destruction associated with it, such as the following three.


Photo: Whitehall Historic House, WW1 Room, Barbed Wire

World War I Room at Whitehall Historic House, Cheam




Flame in the sky.

O writhing shadow-charm: O burnished-blossomed trees

     Lapping the water-sun, the soft lake-fires

That char your petalled brows arise

     As multi-winged mocking doves of light

Caged in the lashes of my brooding eyes.


Soldier, lie still and gladsome with your love

Lest known no more her body’s charity.

Trees, hide the poised fire.


It stoops, the falcon anguish in my brain,

     And claws you, trees, to burned grass

And grass to dust, the blood-brown acrid dust

     Of aching summer battlefields.

I, trembling, touch the soldier, with his love

     So close and silent in the starry grass.


He crumbles, and the ants swarm from his eyes.

St. James’s Park, Spring, 1942

  (on leave)

Raiders Homing


“Hence is this horror borne

And they are free: no lips of pain

Ravish away the dark

That hears their homing.

Forgotten the fume of fire

That falsely steeps this midnight air

With day: sowers departed

Have no harvesting.


“The finger rests, that brought

And broadcast down the shrieking night

A thunderous crusade

Of never-waking.

Shadowless are their eyes

That smile ahead; no pause

Betrays remembrance as they

Fly home joking.”


And We: under louring heaven,


Grey, hollow with time

We fly home.

After Night Offensive


Glowed through the violet petal of the sky

Like a death’s-head the calm summer moon

And all the distance echoed with owl cry.


Hissing the white waves of grass unsealed

Peer of moon on metal, hidden men,

As the wind foamed deeply through the field.


Rooted to soil remote and faint as stars,

Looking to neither side, they lay all night

Sunken in the murmurous seas of grass.


No flare burned upwards: never sound was shed

But lulling cries of owls beyond the world

As wind and moon played softly with the dead.

Not all the poems mention war in them. That said, the following three still evoke a melancholy mood.




I came down through Hangman’s Copse

Telling my mind I had no qualms.

Words in the pine tops.


The sun went out, the wind flurried

In the leaves where no bird came.

My footsteps hurried.


A fall of leaves like an opened fan

Chanced to form into a man

Gibbering at me as I ran.



This strange evening

Light of snow

Hangs wistful stars

Above the plain

And, leaving earth

Asleep, doth now

Walk mistily

In every vein

And shine upon

Her paler brow.

The Night Without Sleep


All night about this windless isle

Shall my life’s glittering foam defile

Sands of forgetfulness?--

As the slow sleep-breakers climb

And curl and die

Against the pulse of time.


Soft to the magic shell of Night

My sleepless ear is pressed and seems

To hear the hollow murmur

Of a sea of ancient dreams.

Some of his prose pieces have hints of poetry in them too, such as this short piece here.


The Songs of Delius

Subtle, intangible. The last chord before despair, but yet never despair.


His last prose piece, The Imagination to the Wraith, is both haunting and foreboding, particularly the final line.


The sun is dying. Oh, Maddison, your sea speaks to me…


More of Farrar’s poetry, along with his prose and observations, can be found in The Unreturning Spring, a book of his work compiled by Williamson (1895-1977). It was republished in 2008 by the Friends of Honeywood Museum, with John Monks providing a new introduction.


Works Cited:

Farrar, James. The Unreturning Spring. Friends of Honeywood Museum, 2008.