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LEON GELLERT - GALLIPOLI'S FINEST POET

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BOBANCRE View Drop Down
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    Posted: 02 Dec 2015 at 17:36

I believe that Gellert is the finest poet to write about Gallipoli and deserves to be more widely read. Here is a typical poem from his ‘Songs of a Campaign,’ 1917
THE LAST TO LEAVE

The guns were silent, and the silent hills
Had bowed their grasses to a gentle breeze.
I gazed upon the vales and on the rills,
And whispered, ‘What of these?’ and, ‘What of these?
These long-forgotten dead with sunken graves,
Some crossless, with unwritten memories;
Their only mourners are the moaning waves;
Their only minstrels are the singing trees.’
And thus I mused and sorrowed wistfully.

I watched the place where they had scaled the height,
That height whereon they bled so bitterly
Throughout each day and through each blistered night.
I sat there long, and listened – all things listened too.
I heard the epics of a thousand trees;
A thousand waves I heard, and then I knew
The waves were very old, the trees were wise:
The dead would be remembered evermore –
The valiant dead that gazed upon the skies,
And slept in great battalions by the shore

Gellert, Leon Maxwell (1892–1977)
Leon Maxwell Gellert (1892-1977), soldier, poet and journalist, was born on 17 May 1892 at Walkerville, Adelaide, third child and elder son of James Wallis Gellert, an Australian-born clerk of Hungarian descent, and his wife Eliza Anne, née Sutton
Eighteen days after the outbreak of World War I, 'dancing and singing', he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. In his troop-ship in the Aegean he diverted himself by writing verse. As a lance sergeant with the 10th Battalion, he landed at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915. Wounded by shrapnel, and suffering from septicaemia and dysentery, he was evacuated to Malta in July and thence to London. He was diagnosed as having epilepsy, repatriated and discharged medically unfit on 30 June 1916. In November he re-enlisted in Adelaide, only to be discharged almost immediately, but the suspected tendency to epilepsy was not borne out in later life. He returned to teaching, at Norwood Public School.
Meanwhile, Gellert revised and added to his overseas verse. Songs of a Campaign (1917) was hailed by the Bulletin as one of the best verse collections to have 'come out of the war to the English language'; it won the university's Bundey prize for English verse, and, before the year was out, Angus & Robertson Ltd published a third and enlarged edition, illustrated by Norman Lindsay.
In the best of his verse Gellert used everyday language to express what would later be termed 'a perplexed disillusionment with the soldier's lot'. But he did not maintain the impetus. Poetry gave way to journalism, and in due course to expected disillusion. He died on 22 August 1977 at Toorak Gardens and was cremated.
This was adapted from an article published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

ROBERT PIKE
The Victor Heroes.Saffron Walden in the Great War

For Still We Hear Them Singing - Poems; ISBN-10: 1781489106 - ISBN-13: 978-1781489109

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