On the eve of the 100th anniversary of the murder of Rosa Luxemburg, we republish a poetic tribute to her written by Sylvia Townsend Warner.
The Polish revolutionary and theorist Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919) was murdered in Berlin on 15 January 1919 by GKSD paramilitaries on the orders of Friedrich Ebert’s Social Democratic government. Her final article, ‘Order reigns in Berlin‘ was published the day before she died.
She was much admired by Sylvia Townsend Warner (1893-1978), a musicologist, composer, poet and novelist, who gained little recognition for her poetry during her own lifetime: she once joked, ‘I intend to be a posthumous poet!’ Her biographer, Claire Harman, argues that she remains greatly under-appreciated. Like Rosa Luxemburg, she was appalled by the militarism of the First World War:
I knew a time when Europe feasted well:
bodies were munched in thousands, vintage blood
so blithely flowed that even the dull mud
grew greedy, and ate men…
Townsend Warner lived for many years with her wife, Valentine Ackland. Although marriage between women was not legally recognised at the time, they celebrated 12 January 1931 as their wedding day. In 1935, they joined the Communist Party of Great Britain and both were active in supporting the Republican cause in the Spanish Civil War. They also wrote powerful erotic poetry (‘For long meeting of our lips/ Shall be breaking of ships’ – Townsend Warner; ‘My hand, being deft and delicate, displays/ Unerring judgment; cleaves between your thighs/ Clean as a ray-directed airplane flies.’ – Ackland).
Here we re-publish Townsend Warner’s tribute to Luxemburg, first published in her 1925 collection, The Espalier.
I Bring Her a Flower
Such looks of quiet hath
That those on whom she’s smiled
Lie down to sleep as easy as a child.
However dark, can fright
Them, no, nor day
To come, however bleak and fell, dismay.
Sleep they in prison-bound
As when at liberty
And if they wake, they wake in charity;
Who rousing at the jar
Of weary foot in the rain
Pitied the wakeful sentry for his pain.