The Purple Heart

My father recently handed me an old manila folder, with a sheaf of poems and notes written by his grandmother, Helen Hale Ainsworth, about a century ago (ca. 1910).  I have dim memories of my great-grandmother, whom everybody called "Mom", in my grandparents' apartment near the Univ. of Minnesota.  She was very old then, both blind and deaf, but she still presided at the head of the dinner table, under an old print of Lafayette and George Washington at a fancy ball.

I had no idea she had been a poet until Dad handed me this folder.  She had produced a book-length manuscript of children's poems, along with a few others - and sent it to a professor of children's literature at the U., asking her advice (in the folder was an enthusiastic letter from the prof.).  My father also said she recited the following poem at a Memorial Day event at his elementary school (this would be early 1930s).

What strikes me about "The Purple Heart" is its political theme.  It's really an anti-war poem - or at least an anti-military-industrial-complex poem.  And she read it in public, to a gathering of students, teachers and presumably parents.  I wish we had a video recording of that event...

Here's the poem :

                        THE PURPLE HEART

            The Purple Heart, bestowed in praise
            Of singularly gallant ways,
                    Could decorate a hero’s breast
                    To show what courage he possessed,
            In Revolutionary days.

            A wounded service man displays
            This emblem now.  His country pays
                    To him, his courage to attest,
                            The Purple Heart.

            While “Means-of-War,” that Might which sways
            The world and greedily betrays
                    It, prospers!  Should our land divest
                    That Might of profits, on our crest
            For courage would not Time emblaze
                            The Purple Heart?


(p.s. speaking of "national" themes : Helen's daughter Florence Ainsworth, my grandmother, was born on the 4th of July, 1900.)

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