Anna Keown's poem "Reported Missing" is addressed to a World War One soldier by a first-person narrator who is desperately hopeful that he isn't dead. Here's the poem in full:

My thought shall never be that you are dead:
Who laughed so lately in this quiet place.
The dear and deep-eyed humour of that face
Held something ever living, in Death’s stead.
Scornful I hear the flat things they have said
And all their piteous platitudes of pain.
I laugh! I laugh! – For you will come again –
This heart would never beat if you were dead.
The world’s adrowse in twilight hushfulness,
There’s purple lilac in your little room,
And somewhere out beyond the evening gloom
Small boys are culling summer watercress.
Of these familiar things I have no dread
Being so very sure you are not dead.

What relation is the soldier to the narrator? A son? A husband? A lover? Something else?

Answers based either on a close reading of the poem itself or on outside information, e.g. about Keown's own life and family, would both be welcome.

1 Answer 1


I have no information about Keown's life, but I can make a guess based on a close reading of the poem. I think this poem is addressed to the narrator's son.

  1. The addressee was clearly loved, and loved dearly, by the narrator.
    This is still, however, very open-ended. There are many kinds of love, and many relationships that can involve intense feelings of the heart.

    This heart would never beat if you were dead.

  2. The flower in the addressee's "little room." Flowers could be for anyone (and I am not familiar, off hand, with any floriographic references related to purple lilacs), but I think it's telling that the room is described with a juvenile, diminutive adjective. One would not describe a lover's room so, I think, nor a husband's (and as far as I know, most married couples share a room).

    There’s purple lilac in your little room,

  3. I don't think this is as strong a proof as the one above it, but I think that the reference to "small boys" of whom the narrator has "no dread" refer to small boys who remind this parent of the days when her son the soldier was young.
    (Of course, this could also be a reference to happy childhood memories, or to children that a couple never had, but I thought that this interpretation is a likely one, and consistent with my analysis in #2.)
  • Please forgive any typographical errors. I believe this is the first time I've written a Literature answer on a phone.
    – Shokhet
    Apr 14, 2017 at 20:13
  • Nice answer! I remember coming to the same conclusion for pretty much the same reasons when I studied this poem for English Lit GCSE :-)
    – Rand al'Thor
    Apr 14, 2017 at 20:59
  • 1
    Purple lilacs are generally the symbol of first love
    – VicAche
    Apr 15, 2017 at 9:51
  • @VicAche Hmm. That throws off my answer a little bit. I'll do some research and consider updating my answer. Thanks for the info :-)
    – Shokhet
    Apr 16, 2017 at 3:10
  • @Shokhet worry not, the question is not tagged "symbolism" ahah :)
    – VicAche
    Apr 16, 2017 at 8:00

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