The State Library of NSW is to digitise Dorothea MacKellar's poems. Photo: Robert Pearce
When was the last time you wrote a poem? For some the answer is primary school, when, at a teacher's instruction they scribbled verse about the seasons or wanting to be a magician, and have never since returned to the art. For others the interest continues into their angst-ridden teenage years, when they produce heartfelt lines such as ''The rain falls on my window pane'', or ''Coming out from class she swoops like a dove/My really, really beautiful love.'' Embarrassment at such efforts shames many into poetic silence for the rest of their days.

The State Library of NSW is to digitise Dorothea MacKellar's poems.But the urge never goes away and often it returns in times of serious strife. Last week, the discovery of a patriotic poem written by Winston Churchill as a young soldier was announced, prior to its sale at auction in April. Written at some point between 1898 and 1900, when he was serving with the 4th Hussars, the poem is a 10-verse tribute to the Empire. It is the only known poem written by the adult Churchill and is expected to fetch between £12,000 ($18,000) and £15,000 at Bonhams.

A few lines give you a good impression: ''The shadow falls along the shore/The search lights twinkle on the sea/The silence of a mighty fleet/Portends the tumult yet to be.'' Not even Winston's most devoted admirers could say this was great poetry: the shadow of Alfred Tennyson hangs heavily over his words. But we should not judge it against a published work. Churchill wrote these lines to bring comfort during a time of anguish and had no intention of making them public. Something inside him felt the need to pour his emotions into a fixed rhythm.

Addressing a dinner of the Authors' Club in 1906, Churchill said he thought writers were the happiest people in the world: ''No one can set himself to the writing of a page of English composition without feeling a real pleasure in the medium in which he works, the flexibility and the profoundness of his noble mother tongue.''
He continued on a personal note: ''I have sometimes fortified myself amid the vexations, vicissitudes and uncertainties of political life by the reflection that I might find a secure line of retreat on the pleasant, peaceful and fertile country of the pen.''
During the Second World War it was Churchill's profound use of his mother tongue that fortified a Britain battling the Nazis.

Modern warfare has also yielded poetry from serving soldiers. The website has a section dedicated to those who have fought in Afghanistan. Alex Cockers, a Royal Marine Commando from 2005 to 2009, served in Helmand Province. In his poem The Brutal Game he tries to express what is almost inexpressible: ''Poverty-stricken people/With medieval ways/Will take your life without a thought/And now we're all the same/Each playing our part in this brutal game.''
In a note to his poems he says that during his tour of duty he had many thoughts he was unable to share. ''Under the stars, in the desert, rhymes would manifest in my head. I would write them down, construct them into poems and somehow I felt better for getting it off my chest.''