C. Day Lewis poem for the
WI Golden Jubilee

Talking about the origins of the WI, the influence of the WI in rural communities as the WI expanded, and the role of the WI in 1965, this poem was specially written for NFWI by C. Day Lewis to celebrate the Golden Jubilee Year of the WI in 1965.
It was read, by C. Day Lewis himself, on the fist day of the AGM in 1965 and again on the second day by his wife Jill Balcon.

The Dream, 1915

Let countrywomen have their say
In the country's life. More things than raking hay,
Scolding children, scalding cream
Could use our hands and voices. To dispense
Womanly kindness and good sense
In wider spheres be our creative dream!

It is right we should remain
Shadows and housebound echoes of our men?
We are home-makers; but a home's
Made richer by the life that from outside
We bring it - bees go foraging wide
To gather sweetness for the honeycombs.

Lonely the life of womankind
In scattered farms and villages. We find
It hard to bloom in solitude.
But if we pool our needs and skills, our great
Yearning for closeness, and create
A meeting place, a happy sisterhood?

Let's make each village good and gay
As a ripe cottage garden, to display
Our loving care of heart and hand.
Let every countrywoman feel that she
Is a shareholder, a trustee
And guardian of this green and pleasant land.

The Growing

You should have seen this place, dear soul,
Fifty years ago! A dead-alive hole
Nothing but candles or paraffin lamps,
And damp enough to give you the cramps
(Yet I had to walk a hundred yards for drinking water).

As the War grew longer and the food got shorter,
They roared to us countryfolk for more - though when
It was over, like they'd chuck us on the midden again.
'Homes for heroes'! Them as returned.

A raggedy cottage was all they had earned,
A cess-pool - the rural slum untouched -
And a boozer to forget what a government had pledged.
It was a hard and narrow life
For all of us - maiden, spinster, wife.

No wonder we nagged. Well, the Institute taught us
To use our tongues for seemlier purpose.
We nagged for piped water and electric light; we nagged
For a school bus: we ran the authorities ragged
Till we got what we wanted. You take my meaning? -
The countryside needed a good spring-cleaning.

Oh, we've known our troubles. The old squire's missus
Thought it was her job to rule and organise us:
Parson wanted the chapel folk kept out.
We had to give those two the rightabout:
We said, in the Institute there must be no
Party politics nor high and low:
We'd all be like sisters, giving what each could
To do this little old village proud.

Now look at all these branches grown
From one small seed! We've come into our own -
Acting, handcrafts, lectures - yes,
And best of all, togetherness.

You'll join today?

The Jubilee, 1965

Today is when we need,
Honouring the fruitful seed,
To look beyond its harvest with clear eyes.
New ills threaten to blight
Our seasoned countryside,
New works and ways call for our enterprise.

Let not the young ones rest
Content with what we raised,
Nor take our fruits for granted. Never let
The garden go to seed
We planted, trimmed and freed,
But find new hands to keep it in good heart.

We must graft young concern
On the old stock, and turn
Fresh soil to feed fresh tastes and hungers. Strange
And hazed the future lies
Ahead. Be weatherwise,
Meeting its change, changing with its change!

But vow we to hold fast
By what is needfullest
To womankind - the vision of earth a peace.
If we can make an earth
That welcomes love and birth,
This is the first of many jubilees.

    Women of Influence

This poem was written for the WI competition, Women of Influence, and discusses women throughout history, up to the WI today.

Women of Influence
(By Joan Lister, Shadforth WI, May 2005)
Boadicea in combat chariot, the Iceni to protect,
fought with strength and vigour, the Romans to eject
her name writ in history, which even today we respect.

Good Queen Bess, ever the subtle diplomat, she did impress,
and, with Drakes’ help the Armada was stoutly suppressed,
long she reigned with prudence, tact and cleverness.

Elizabeth Fry worked with prisoners, their lot to revolutionise,
she achieve with compassion and determination, and no compromise,
if a women of today, she would win a Noble Prize.

Queen Victoria, Empress of India, her Albert she did adore,
reigning sixty four years, made Britain Great, our Ambassador,
some of her values, perhaps we should restore.

Our Darling Grace pulled many shipwrecked sailors from the cruel sea,
her courage and fortitude helping her battle the elements, ceaselessly,
Lifeboats of today carry on this work, it is her legacy.

Florence, the “Lady of the Lamp”, nursed soldiers who could live or die,
upon that battlefield of Crimea, their wounds and sores did horrify,
but her work is the foundation that today’s nurses should personify.

Emmeline and Emily, suffragettes, lived dangerously to secure us the vote,
we must use this gift, gained with hardship, our rights to promote,
they gave of themselves, to have these laws re-wrote.

Nancy Astor, our first Member of Parliament,
proved we could win against the establishment,
our aims and aspirations evolve from her consequence.

Scones, cakes and pastries, and a dab hand with the kitchen range,
Mrs Beaton’s recipe books had well worn corners on every page,
the forerunner of the TV chef “I bet she could still put them in the shade!”

Dame Margot with partner Nureyev, epitomised the Ballerina,
her skill on points had world acclaim, she was the original Diva,
thousands follow in her footsteps trying to emulate her demeanour.

Lady Denman of WI fame, bequeathed to us our college,
hoping we would use it well, to further all our knowledge,
this place of learning and achievement should never be abolished!

Mary Quant revolutionized our fashion in the sixties,
with skirts so short, if not careful would show off your panties,
sending red blooded young men into flights of fancy.

Then along came Maggie Thatcher to give us lots more freedom,
to buy your house and choose the school, this she guaranteed them,
this Lady was not for turning, to this we can all say “Amen”.

Hecklers in the Commons came to respect and fear the “Speaker”,
Betty Boothroyd would brook no rowdiness, or a “Streaker”,
to champion the rights of women, she doesn’t need a loudspeaker.

Harry Potter stories are a must for parents and kids alike,
J.K. Rowling, has Wizards, Monsters and Magic to sate your appetite,
but Harry, solving mysteries and riddles, is no “Snow White”.

As your body is a Temple, you mustn’t abuse it with Chemistry,
so Ms Rodick set up “Body Shop”, standing for purity with integrity,
her creams and lotions in basic jars would never cause you injury.

Lastly, but not least, the women of our Federation,
who together can silence politics, and bring changes to regulations,
rejoicing in friendship and an affinity with other nations,
We are today’s women working toward a better civilisation.