So We Lay Down the Pen
So we lay down the pen,
So we forbear the building of the rime,
And bid our hearts be steel for times and a time
Till ends the strife, and then,
When the New Age is verily begun,
God grant that we may do the things undone.
This short poem was written by Geoffrey Bache Smith. He was one of four members of the Tea Club and Barrovian Society, the TCBS, which also included Christopher Wiseman, Rob Gilson, and J.R.R. Tolkien. These four met while at King Edward's School and remained close friends. They dreamed of doing great things with their lives. All four served in World War I. Two of the four, Rob Gilson and G.B. Smith, died there. Smith was 23 years old at the time of his death.
In his last letter to Tolkien, Smith is comforted by the fact that if he dies, "there will still be left a member of the great T.C.B.S. to voice what I dreamed." He concludes the letter saying, "May God bless you, my dear John Ronald, and may you say the things I have tried to say long after I am not there to say them, if such be my lot." It was his lot. He died on December 3, 1916. The story of the TCBS is told in John Garth's outstanding book Tolkien and the Great War. I discovered this beautiful poem in Garth's book.
Two years after Smith's death, Tolkien edited a volume of Smith's poetry titled A Spring Harvest. The volume concludes with the short six-line poem "So We Lay Down the Pen." We know what we would have lost had Tolkien been cut down during World War I, but we have in the poems only a hint of what we lost when Smith died. We have no idea what we lost with the deaths of so many millions of others in that war, and in other wars. I think that is why this poem impacts me the way it does.
Smith writes this poem as if he knew that he would not live to fulfill the dreams he had. He lays down the pen. He refrains from writing his poetry. He encourages himself to stay strong. But he does not give up all hope. He looks for a time to come when war has ended and the new day has begun, and he prays that God will then permit him (and others) to complete what their early deaths had left unfinished.
For the Christian, death is not the end. We believe in the resurrection of the dead. We believe in a new heavens and a new earth. Will Geoffrey Smith write more poetry in the new heavens and new earth? Perhaps. I do not know. I do know this much, though. If he was a Christian, whatever dreams he had that were left unfulfilled when he died, they pale in comparison to what he is experiencing in the presence of the Lord. There he is experiencing something beyond his wildest dreams.
Left to Right: Geoffrey Bache Smith, J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Wiseman, Rob Gilson.