Winifred M. Letts (1882-1972)

Criticism

Life
b. Co. Wexford; ed. St. Anne’s Abbots, Bromley, and Alexandra College, Dublin; her parents lived in Blackrock; she became a masseuse by profession; m. W. H. F. Verschoyle, and lived in Faversham, Kent; issued poems as Songs from Leinster (1913), composed in Hiberno-English; later issued Hallowe’en and Poems of the War (1916), and More Songs of Leinster (1926); a new edition as Songs from Leinster (Dundalgan Press 1947) incls. both the earlier work and additions made in 6 reprints up to 1928 with poems reflecting World War I in the second collection; some of her poems were set to music by Sir Charles Villiers Stanford;
 
she wrote some one-act plays plays for the Abbey incl. Christina’s Son (1915), The Eyes of the Blind (Abbey 1907), in which a murderer gives himself up to a blind man who purports to know about his covert crime; also The Challenge (1909), concerning a duel between two elderly men over an insult; Hamilton and Jones (Gate Th. 1941) was a her only 3-act play; issued Knockmaroon (1933), a work of reminiscence, and wrote numerous children’s stories and saints’ lives [hagiography]; her poem “For Sixpence” expresses delight at early Abbey productions. DIW DIL IF/2 IBL ATT OCIL

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Works
Poetry
  • Songs of Leinster (London: J. Murray 1913); Do. [another edn.] (Smith, Elder & co., 1913), and Do. [later edns.] (1916, 5th rep. 1923; 6th rep. 1938), and Do., [another edn. incorporating other collections] (Dundalk: Dundalgan Press 1947);
  • Hallow-e’en and Poems of the War (London: Smith, Elder 1916) [var. John Murray];
  • The Spires of Oxford and Other Poems (NY: E. P. Dutton 1917);
  • More Songs of Leinster (London: John Murray), viii, 81pp., 8°; Do. [another edn. (NY: E. P. Dutton 1926).
See also ...

Charles Villiers Stanford, A sheaf of songs from Leinster, words by W. M. Letts; music by Charles V. Stanford (London: Stainer & Bell 1914), 27pp. score, 31cm. [contains “Grandeur”; “Thief of the World”; “A Soft Day”; “Little Peter Morrissey”; “The Bold Unbiddable Child”; “Irish Skies” [Opus 140]; and do., in Songs of Sir Charles Villiers Stanford, ed. Geoffrey Bush (London; Stainer & Bell 1986), 230pp. [facs.; 33cm.]

Fiction
  • The Story-Spinner (London: T. C. & E. C. Jack 1907);
  • Waste Castle (London & Edinburgh: T. C. & E. C. Jack 1907), and Do. [other edns.] (London: T. Nelson & Sons [1916; 1918; 1920]);
  • Bridget of All Work (London: Hodder & Stoughton 1909);
  • Diana Dethroned (London:/NY: John Lane 1909);
  • The Quest of The Blue Rose ([Oxford:] Henry Frowde; London: Hodder & Stoughton [1909] 1910), 352pp., col. ills. [by James Durden], 8°, and Do. [rep. edn.] (Oxford: OUP; Humphrey Milford 1926), 352pp., 1 lf. of pls. [col. front. signed J. Durden], 19cm. [author & title gilt on spine; endpapers ill. by Lilian A. Govey]
  • The Rough Way (London: Wells Gardner & Co. [1912]), 342pp.;
  • Naughty Sophia (London: Grant Richards 1912), 247, ill. [100 ills. by Ruby Lind]; and Do. [2nd edn.] (London: The Richards Press 1949), 247pp. [ills. listed pp.9-10; new pref. dated 1949; case binding blue cloth; upper cover has gilt vignette of girl running];
  • The Mighty Army: Lives of the Saints (NY: FA Stokes/London: Wells Gardner & Co. 1912);
  • Christina’s Son (London: Wells Gardner & Co. 1916);
  • Corporal’s Corner (London: Wells Gardner & Co. 1919);
  • What Happened Then? (London: Wells Gardner & Co. [1921]);
  • St Patrick the Travelling Man (London: Ivor Nicholson & Watson Ltd. 1932), 127pp., ill. [3 pls. front., maps; incls. ‘A Note on the Lives of St. Patrick’: p. 126-[128];
  • Pomona and Co. (London: T. Nelson & Sons [1934]), xvii, 301pp., 8°;
  • Pomona’s Island (London: T. Nelson & Sons [1935]), ix, 214pp., ill. [4 lvs. of pls. by Hilda Figorski];
  • The Gentle Mountain (Dublin: Talbot Press [1938]), and Do. [another edn.] (London: RTS [1939]).
Autobiography
  • Knockmaroon (London: John Murray 1933);
Miscellaneous
  • ‘The Company of Saints and Angels’ [story], in Irish Review, 1 (Jan. 1912), pp.537-44;
  • ‘The Challenge’, , in Irish Review, 2 (April 1912) [adapted from her play];
  • ‘The Man Who Burnt His Crucifix’, in Irish Review, 4 (May 1914), pp.143-67 [rep. in Knockmaroon]

Some of her songs were set to music by Sir Charles Villiers Stanford incl. “The Monkey’s Carol” [‘Kind Christian souls who pass me by’] (1921) and A Fire of Turf: poetry by W. M. Letts: A Fire of Turf, Opus 139/1; The Chapel on the Hill, Opus 139/2; Cowslip Time, Opus 139/3; Scared, Opus 139/4; Blackberry time, Opus 139/5; The fair, Opus 139/6; The west wind, Opus 139/7.


Note: Letts wrote an elegy for John Millington Synge:

Synge’s Grave  

My grief! that they have laid you in the town
Within the moidher of its thousand wheels
And busy feet that travel up and down.

They had a right to choose a better bed
Far off among the hills where silence steals
In on the soul with comfort-bringing tread.

The curlew would have keened for you all day,
The wind across the heather cried Ochone
For sorrow of his brother gone away.

In Glenmalure, far off from town-born men,
Why would they not have let you sleep alone
At peace there in the shadow of the glen ?

To tend your grave you should have had the sun,
The fraughan and the moss, the heather brown
And gorse turned gold for joy of Spring begun.

You should have had your brothers, wind and rain,
And in the dark the stars all looking down
To ask, “When will he take the road again?”

The herdsmen of the lone back hills, that drive
The mountain ewes to some far distant Fair,
Would stand and say, “We knew him well alive.

That God may rest his soul!” Then they would pass
Into the silence brooding everywhere,
And leave you to your sleep below the grass.

But now among these alien city graves.
What way are you without the rough wind's breath
You free-born son of mountains and wild waves ?

Ah! God knows better - here you’ve no abode.
So long ago you had the laugh at death.
And rose and took the windswept mountain road.

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Criticism
See John Wilson Foster, Irish Novels 1890-1940: New Bearings in Culture and Fiction (Oxford: OUP 2008.

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References
Stephen Brown, Ireland in Fiction [Pt. I] (Dublin: Maunsel 1919), lists author as Winifrid [sic], grand dg. Alexander Ferrier, Knockmaroon Park, Co. Dublin; lists The Mighty Arm (NY: FA Stokes 1912), stories from lives of the saints, incl. Columba [Colum Cille], and cites Diana Dethroned; Christina’s Son; The Rough Way. IF2 adds Knockmaroon (London: Murray 1933), xiv, 274pp.; Pomona’s Island (London: Nelson 1935) [children’s story]; The Gentle Mountain (Dublin: Talbot 1939), 141pp., ill. Kathleen Verschoyle [Belfast family on holiday at Ben Gullion, the fairy-haunted mountain]. See also Irish Book Lover 3, 4, 8. Also Sophia, St. Patrick, &c.

Anthologies: A. A. Kelly, Pillars of the House, An Anthology of Verse by Irish Women 1690 to the Present (Dublin: Wolfhound 1988); Katie Donovan, A. N. Jeffares & Brendan Kennelly, eds., Ireland’s Women (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1994).

Belfast Central Public Library holds More Songs From Leinster; St. Patrick the Travelling Man; Songs from Leinster (1913, 1923, 1947).

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