Aunt Lil (Le Mesurier) (3) d.1964
Pippa and Wilma say that Aunt Lil was "quite frightening" and that they were in awe of her. She somehow made a position for herself and was respected rather than loved.
Alice writes of her, "I remember Aunt Lil as a terrifying old lady in a black lace mantilla and with a chalk-white face, but this is very unfair to her as in her time she had written some very good verse (much admired by my mother-in-law) and had had heated correspondence with George Bernard Shaw. What I know of her is anecdotal and in some instances funny.
Apparently she was a great one for saying how she never slept (a nuit blanche in family terminology), and on one famous occasion when staying with Gran and Grandad there was a slight earthquake in the night. "How did you sleep, Lil?" asked Grandad the next morning at breakfast. "Oh a terrible nuit blanche,"said Aunt Lil, who had slept through the earthquake and was furious when told. Her husband was Eugene LeMesurier from Alderney, and their son was Roddy - who introduced my parents to each other.
Aunt Lil also ended up in nursing homes, from one at least of which she was expelled for having bottles of martini under her bed."
Wilma and Pippa remember how Aunt Lil came to the Worter See, where the Hesseys had a villa. There was a raft anchored out on the lake, and the 4 girls, having swum out there and seeing Aunt Lil swimming laboriously out there too, sat one on each corner of the raft so that it submerged. Then they all leapt into the water so that the raft leapt into the air.
Aunt Lil's husband, Eugene Le Mesurier, died when their son, Roddy, was only 4 or 5 years old. Aunt Lil was obsessive about Roddy, and obviously he felt suffocated by her love to the point of disliking his mother. In her anthology of poems, "A Book of Verse" published in 1935, there is a poem which tears at the heart strings.
"Hands of a Boy
Oh! sunburnt hands of a boy that hold my heart,
Play your part!
I wish you humble and eager, quick to learn
And slow to spurn.
I wish you wisdom and strength and long to live,
That you may have more to give.
Give largesse to the world of all you find,
Give your heart and your toil and your mind.
You will build perhaps a City of Beautiful Joy,
Oh! hands beloved, oh! clean-cut hands of a boy!
A shrine, or a shop, or a home, as you may choose,
But something for men to use.
And whether you build in lives or stone or song,
If the work that you planned in hope is not built true,
Scrap it and build anew.
Oh! hands of a boy, brown hands that hold my heart,
Worthily play your part."
Wilma and Pippa remember that she tried to do her duty by her nieces and have them to stay in London so that they could Do Things. Roddy and his friends were dragged in to help look after their cousins, and Aunt Betty went walking in The Black Forest with Roddy and some friends.
When one reads her poems Lil comes across as a rather intense person who was desperately searching. This is another one of her poems:
"In the Desert”
All my life my soul has been hungry
Always I have wanted something, nameless and formless,
Wanted it passionately, with tears in my throat,
And desperate longing.
Sometimes I seemed to find it in the early morning,
Or in the half-light quiet time of shadows,
Or in the dead of night
When one can almost feel the rhythm of the world on-rushing,
And the trees and black and mystic under the moon.
Sometimes my heart leaped, and methought I had found it
In a bird's solitary note
Or in the passionate outcry of some poet,
But then I knew it was only me heart responding
Because they sought it too and we were brothers.
Then I thought I found it in Love. And in truth I did find it;
Part of it, heart of it.
I was nearer it then than ever before or since,
But yet not all, since we both of us hungered and thirsted
And sought it together,
Each desiring it for the other
Even more than for himself.
Each consoling each in the desolation,
Hand in hand and breast to breast clinging
Till the shared loss was almost gain.
Then Death took Love from me and I was doubly lonely,
No one to share the emptiness or the seeking,
And for a time I desired nothing any longer
Except ceasing and sleep.
After long numbness my soul awoke again
And the old thirst and hunger,
I sought relief in many ways.
In work, and praise of my work; in men's admiration
Of any gifts I had;
In art and the worship of beauty;
In courage and silence;
In the rites and ceremonies of churches:
In the love of my child.
Only in the last did I seem to come any nearer
To that which I sought.
Perhaps because there I thought more of giving than getting,
And wounds to vanity could not touch me.
But still I never reached it. Always I sought it.
Not knowing what I sought or where to find it,
Only knowing I was incomplete and unhappy.
Now I think I have found it.
Now I think I have the secret!
I cannot say for certain where I found it.
In philosophy or in religion?
(But they are the same thing, surely!)
In mysticism or in the fellowship of service;
Everywhere, anywhere, once I had the clue to guide me
Out of the maze of things
To the Path of Wisdom,
The ultimate meaning and spirit,
The reconciliation of all souls,
The union of all life in the One Life-