Like other women in this section, Margaret Sackville was opposed to the First World War. Her brother, the Earl De La Warr, was killed in the war, and her aunt, Muriel De La Warr, and her uncle, Herbrand Sackville, like Margaret all were involved in the Peace Movement. Sackville was a children’s author and a poet. In 1916, she wrote a hard-hitting poem, “Nostra Culpa,” in which she chastised women who did not stand against the war.
We knew the sword accursed, yet with the strong
Proclaimed the sword triumphant. Yea this wrong
Unto our children, unto those unborn
We did, blaspheming God. We feared the scorn
Of men; men worshipping pride, so where they led
We followed. Dare we now lament our dead?
Shadows and echoes, harlots! We betrayed
Our sons; because men laughed we were afraid.
That silent wisdom which was ours to kept
Deep buried; thousands perished; still we slept.
Children were slaughtered, women raped, the weak
Down-trodden. Very quiet was our sleep.
There was no sound at all, no crying in the village,
Nothing you would count as sound, that is, after the shells;
Only behind a wall the low sobbing of women,
The creaking of a door, a lost dog-nothing else.
Silence which might be felt, no pity in the silence,
Horrible, soft like blood, down all the blood-stained ways;
In the middle of the street two corpses lie unburied,
And a bayoneted woman stares in the market-place.
Humble and ruined folk-for these no pride of conquest,
Their only prayer: "O Lord, give us our daily bread!"
Not by the battle fires, the shrapnel are we haunted;
Who shall deliver us from the memory of these dead?
Reflective Questions: “Nostra Culpa” and “A Memory”
- “Nostra Culpa” is Latin meaning “our fault.” What is the fault that Margaret Sackville speaks of in this poem? Who have made mistakes? What are these mistakes? What are the end results?
- How might Sackville’s feelings ring true today?
- In A Memory Sackville talks of a scene after the war has ceased in a village. Describe that scene in your own words. How is this a memory that will stay with a person who has experienced it?
- Consider the “silence” that Sackville speaks of in the poem. She talks of silence even though she describes other sounds. What is the significance of the silence?