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In Memory of May 1st 1945

a poem by Clara Sharland

Great Eagle, fold your wings awhile
And turn away your eyes;
In smoke and thunder, flame and blood
Your Best and Highest dies;
And all His happy Land,
His great emprise,
A shattered wreck of ugly ruin lies.

Great Eagle, flee a little while
To some far lonely height.
There shall you watch and wait . . .
Your land is sunk in night:
All, all those cities bright
In ruins far and wide torment the night.

Oh Eagle, did you hear that shout,
That thundered triple roar?
Its clamourous echoes smote the earth
And rolled from shore to shore;
And all the glorious Dead,
Who fealty swore,
Received Him home; His earthly flight is o’er.

His flight, that made the nations shake,
And hearts and pulses leap,
Is over now. He rests. But we
Are sunk in anguish deep.
He rests,—at last. No dreams
Torture His sleep,
While grave-eyed Angel-guards their watches keep.

Great Eagle, that He worked to save,
And fought to guard,—and died,
Flee from this piteous German wreck,
In some far corner hide,
Until the Land is free
And far and wide,
Throughout the world His name is glorified!

Meanwhile, we hold the heights He won.
And keep His torch aflame;
No slothful ease for us who bear
The honour of His name.
To do His work we count
Higher than fame,
Indifferent to earthly praise or blame.

National Socialism, the Day After:
Editor’s Preface to “In Memory of May 1st 1945”

R.G. Fowler

“In Memory of May 1st, 1945” is a poem of mourning and hope: mourning for Adolf Hitler, who committed suicide on 30 April 1945; hope for Germany, for National Socialism, and for the Aryan race, all of which lived on to the next day. The poem subtly emphasizes hope over mourning by commemorating not the day of Hitler’s death, but the day after.

The capitalized pronouns “He” and “His” refer to Adolf Hitler. The “Great Eagle” seems, in the third and fourth stanzas, to refer to Hitler as well: “His earthly flight is o’er” and “His flight, that made the nations shake.” But in the fifth stanza, Hitler and the eagle are distinct: “Great Eagle, that He worked to save,/And fought to guard,—and died.”

The Great Eagle seems to be identified with Germany. This impression, however, seems to be contradicted later in the fifth stanza, where the author bids the Great Eagle to “Flee from this piteous German wreck,/In some far corner hide,/Until the Land is free.”

Could the Great Eagle be the Aryan Race that Hitler fought to save? This seems unlikely, since the Aryan race numbers hundreds of millions of people, spread out over the earth. It could not “flee a little while/To some far lonely height” or “Flee from this piteous German wreck,/In some far corner hide.” Even taking into account the metaphorical nature of poetry, this seems farfetched.

What, then, is this Great Eagle that is identical to Adolf Hitler during his lifetime, yet survived his death, if it is not Germany herself or the Aryan race? A reasonable hypothesis is that the Great Eagle is the National Socialist movement, seen as a movement that transcends its particular German embodiment, the NSDAP. And, indeed, the eagle is an ancient symbol of the German Reichs: the First Reich of Charlemagne, the Second Reich of 1871-1918, and the Third Reich of National Socialism. Thus it is natural to identify the eagle with National Socialism, which was the animating principle of the Third Reich but also a philosophy whose import and applicability extended beyond its borders.

The sixth and final stanza, however, throws some doubt on the identification of the Great Eagle and National Socialism. Its first word is “Meanwhile,” and it deals with the duties of faithful National Socialists while the Great Eagle is resting and waiting. Perhaps, then, the Great Eagle refers only to the glorious, outward, public manifestations of National Socialism. After Hitler’s downfall, these outward manifestations would have to be replaced by the quiet, anonymous, clandestine work to lay the groundwork for a new struggle, a new accession to power, a new régime, and new glories.

The task of the loyal remnant is to “hold the heights He won./And keep His torch aflame;/No slothful ease for us who bear/The honour of His name.” In the aftermath of defeat, the “heights He won” cannot be territory. They must refer to the truths Hitler preached and the fervor he kindled. His “torch” blazes with enlightenment and enthusiasm, and it is the task of post-war National Socialists to carry his torch and pass on the flame.

During Hitler’s struggle for power, there were great dangers and few rewards for being a National Socialist, and the movement could be sustained only by disinterested idealists who would pursue the true and the good, regardless of personal consequences. When Hitler ruled Germany, however, being a National Socialist became less dangerous and more advantageous, and the ranks of the party were swelled by opportunists. Now, the day after Hitler’s death, his work will be carried on again only by disinterested idealists: “To do His work we count/Higher than fame,/Indifferent to earthly praise or blame.”

* * *

On 14 September 2004, Greg Johnson, a scholar preparing a new biography of Savitri Devi, found a typescript of this poem, along with a carbon copy, in a folder containing a number of letters written by Savitri Devi to a younger French friend. Also in the folder was a copy of Savitri’s poem “1953.” Furthermore, the addressee of the letters, who had collected the documents together, had access to Savitri’s papers and effects after her death.

The accompanying documents, and the fact that the poet’s name, “Clara Sharland,” is written on the typescript in Savitri Devi’s handwriting, lead me to believe that the typescript belonged to Savitri Devi, meaning that Savitri Devi thought enough of the poem to type it out and keep it among her papers for the rest of her life. That fact alone is reason enough to include it in the Savitri Devi Archive.

But there may be an even stronger reason to include this poem in the Archive: The author may be Savitri Devi herself. Several facts suggest this. For instance, Savitri did not merely write Clara Sharland’s name in her own hand, she “signed” Clara Sharland’s name at the end of the poem, as if she herself were the author using a (new) pen name. (“Savitri Devi” was, after all, merely a pen name of Maximine Portaz.)

Although the subject of the poem was very dear to Savitri’s heart, and although the sentiments expressed are similar to those of Savitri’s known works, these facts do not suggest her authorship, for Savitri would not have copied the work of another author if it did not accord with her own interests and sentiments.

But there are also stylistic similarities between this poem and Savitri Devi’s other works. First, Savitri was inclined to use dates in the titles of her poems. For instance, two of the sixteen poems in Savitri’s unpublished book For-Ever and Ever are entitled “1945” and “1953.” (It may be the case that all sixteen poems in the volume have similar titles, but at the time of this writing, I have not been able to consult the manuscript.) Second, Savitri was also inclined to capitalize all pronouns referring to Adolf Hitler, much as Christians capitalize pronouns referring to God and Jesus. Third, Savitri was fond of capitalizing significant words that would otherwise be in lower case, and in the poem we find, in the first stanza, “Eagle,” “Best,” “Highest,” and “Land”; in the second, “Eagle”; in the third, “Eagle” and “Dead”; in the fourth, “Angel”; and in the fifth, “Land.” Fourth, Savitri was an eccentric punctuator, and one of her characteristic patterns is to combine a comma (and sometimes a semicolon) with a dash, which appears in the fourth and fifth stanzas: “He rests,—at last”; “And fought to guard,—and died.”

Additional evidence of Savitri’s authorship may come to light. I have, for instance, written to the woman in whose files the typescript was located. Savitri Devi may well have told her who the author is. At this writing, however, I have not heard back from her. (I will update this article when and if I hear news.)

Another possible source of light on the poem’s authorship is the original publication in which it appeared. A version of “In Memory of May 1st, 1945” appears, for instance, in the poetry section of the Historical Review Press website: http://www.ety.com/HRP/poetics/may01_1945.htm Evidently it has been copied from a print publication.

There are many differences between the typescript and the published version. Some of these differences may simply be errors in transcription, either from the original typescript or from the original printed version to the website. Other differences, however, seem to be the product of a rather heavy editorial hand. For instance, the entire fourth stanza has been eliminated in the published version. I have prepared a chart comparing the two versions. Differences are noted in bold. Notice also the differences in indentation.

The fact that Savitri Devi’s typescript contains an extra stanza means that she could not have copied it from the published version. (Assuming, of course, that the website version is substantially the same as the printed version.) This is one more reason to think that she was the author.

According to the Historical Review Press website, the poem was penned by “Clare [not “Clara”] Sharland, an English woman.” The site adds that:

Her poetic inspiration was awarded First Prize for poems penned on topical events in 1945. Walter de la Mere, English poet, and President of the Poetry Society awarded the prize. Miss Sharland refused the prize, saying: "These words were written in tears and despair. I decided to submit them hoping that they might give a few people at least a glimpse of the other side. Money or anything money will buy, I could not take for them, for money has been the whole cause of this monstrous tragedy. My words belong to an entirely other world where money has no weight. I am glad that I have won your prize for the glorious man who made such a magnificent fight to save the world and failed. We praise him in his failure, we praise him in his eternal victory."

The words attributed to the poem’s author do not exactly “sound” like Savitri Devi. Savitri, it is true, was always passing up opportunities for financial gain from her writings, so much so that she often became a burden on her friends. It is also true that Savitri frequently contrasted National Socialism to the “international money power,” i.e., capitalism and the Jews. But I cannot imagine her saying that “money has been the whole cause of this monstrous tragedy [i.e., the Second World War].”

I have written to Historical Review Press to find the name of the original publication in which the poem appeared, in the hope that some light might be shed on the poem’s authorship. Again, I will update this article as soon as I receive news.

Another possible way of shedding light on the poem’s authorship is through Walter de la Mare (1873-1956), an English poet and novelist who served as the judge of the poetry contest in which the poem was awarded a prize. If Savitri Devi were the author of the poem in question, it is not likely that she revealed this fact to the contest judges. It is, however, a remote possibility, just as it is a remote possibility that some record of this fact survives.

* * *

The case for Savitri Devi’s authorship of this poem is still open. Nevertheless, “In Memory of May 1st, 1945”is a small but significant acquisition for the Savitri Devi Archive, whether it ultimately belongs among Savitri Devi’s works or merely among her papers.