Stanley Jast as Poet
Like his brother Thaddeus de Jastrzebski, Stanley Jast was a poet. It’s possible that he wrote poetry all his life, but I’ve found it a bit difficult to tell. I’m no expert! And none of his poetry is dated.
Poetry mostly goes straight over my head. I liked some of Stanley’s work, though and I wrote out some of the shorter poems: see below.
A few poems Stanley were published in 1923 along with some plays he’d written during the previous five years, in The Lover and the Dead Woman and Five Other Plays in Verse. On page 2 of that volume, is To My Lady of Skiddaw, with a note by Stanley to say that, from some points along the eastern side of Derwentwater, Skiddaw looks like a woman, lying down with her face towards the sky.
Above the lake, below the sky,
With the hills for her bier, doth my lady lie.
Was ever death-bed so free and so high?
Her winding sheet of purple and grey
Is shot with the sparkling lights of day,
And stirred by the winds in their autumn play.
Her head to the East, and her feet to the West,
And her beautiful limbs in their last sad rest,
And never a heave of the cold, still breast.
Alone with the stars, and close to the sun,
And love and lover are over and done,
Though the lake still gleams, and the streams still run.
And many the lovers shall come as we,
And as fair to them shall the landscape be,
But never again, ah God, to me.
Although he doesn’t say so, Stanley wrote My Lady of Skiddaw in remembrance of his fiancée Winifred Austin, who’d died in 1918.
The other poems in this volume are very short. They’re all dedicated to women who had been involved in productions of the plays - a couple of the actresses, and one of the costume designers, all members of The Unnamed Society amateur dramatics club that had put the plays on.
The rest of the poems I’ve picked were all published in Louis Stanley Jast: Poems and Epigrams. They were collected by Stanley’s widow Millicent, and published for private circulation amongst their friends, probably in 1946. There are a few long ballads including one about Judas Iscariot and one about the River Thames. Millicent also included an unfinished attempt to write a masque in the 17th-century style, Fragments from a Masque on the Virtues and Vices; beginning with a long speech made by “Murder”, followed by two more, to be spoken by “Scandal” and “Avarice”. However, most of the poems are short. I thought I detected - as I read through the volume from front to back - a move away from ‘thee’ and other rather Victorian phraseology towards a more natural, speech-like use of language influenced by 20th century modernism; but I’m probably wrong!
Stanley was inspired to write a poem by a wide range of different places and happenings. There are poems about the sea and about foreign places - the West Indies, several towns in Morocco, more on the Lake District, and a town in Holland; and English ones - Manchester ship canal, the woods at Mapledurham House, Holmbury Hill in Surrey. Some are on philosophical subjects - usually taking them not very seriously; including one called ‘Bacon and Shakspere’ (sic) which Stanley may have been inspired to write by remembering Golden Dawn member Robert Masters Theobald, who wrote many pamphlets and letters arguing that Bacon had written Shakespeare’s plays. Some poems were dashed off for special occasions - particularly as birthday presents for Millicent, with references to her as Stanley’s equivalent to Dante’s Beatrice - Beatrice was Millicent’s second forename. Other literary references show the range of Stanley’s reading: Omar Khayyam, Wordsworth, Goethe, Descartes, Byron’s Childe Harold and H G Wells. In the poem ‘On the Destruction of British Libraries in the German Air-Raids’ Stanley meditated on a bi-product of war that had hit him particularly hard.
I preferred the more humorous ones.
The Engineer and the Sea
Said the sea:
“I hate that mole you’ve thrust in me.
It is a slight
Both on my dignity and might,
And I will smash it in despite.”
With half a smile and half a sneer,
Said: “Don’t talk tall,
I’ve measured to a decimal
Your darndest rage against my wall.”
Then the sea
Called on the winds and moon to be
His partners, and
Rolled in his fury on the land,
And broke that mole in his great hand.
It was in vain.
The engineer brought truck and crane,
Lifted the blocks,
And others quarried from the rocks.
The mole intact at the ocean mocks.
Said to the sea: “Just look you here.
Power is not sense.
You’re mighty strong but mighty dense.
I’ve power and intelligence.”
Then the sea
Said sulkily: “Well that may be.”
And drew away
His flooding waters from the bay,
And high and dry the harbour lay.
If I Had Known, which could be about Winifred, or Millicent:
If I had known
That in your garb of white,
Over your window-stone,
You had l eaned on the amorous breast of Night,
And gazed into his thousand eyes,
So passionate-deep and secret-wise;
The while the wind played with your unbound hair,
And with a subtle care,
As seeming unaware,
Stirred the light draperies there;
If I had known,
How feverish-jealous would my heart have grown,
That while I’m far awy,
Even as was then the Day,
You did requite
The ardent wooing of the stealing Night.
A wry comment, possibly about Sir Richard Burton, in Unexplored:
Famed for his great discoveries, far and wide,
Himself he’d not discovered, when he died.
And another, this time about urban regeneration, in Town Planning:
The Devil, tired of Hell’s monotony,
Decided for a change to study botany,
And being fond of-----------*, he flew
Where on a time, some pleasant things grew.
“Phew!” cried the Devil, “What’s the matter, what
On earth has happened to my favourite spot?
Has slumdom spawned? Or is’t a hideous dream?”
“That,” said a passer-by, “is our town-planning scheme.”
“This,” quoth the Devi, “I did not expect.
Who are the committee? Who’s the architect?
No matter, in due course the lot I’ll see.
Hell needs extending. They shall plan for me.”
* Fill in your own place-name!
On Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin, in The Dictators:
When God said
In His wisdom, dark and dread,
“Let the Dictators be!”
The Devil he
Heard the decree
For he could rest.
And finally, Stanley’s Eyes are for Crying:
Eyes are for crying.
Heart is for sighing.
Body’s for dying.
Earth is for lying.
Copyright SALLY DAVIS
17 October 2013