Page:Some soldier poets.djvu/20
SOME SOLDIER POETS
in crazy boats and fever-stricken hovels and not in battle.
The intimate delicacy and justness of this marvellous lyric will appear more brilliantly yet if we contrast the aspects which arouse its eloquence with those more commonly selected when the theme is war.
Throughout the poem no hint is given of the nature of the enemy ; he does not proclaim, as so many have done, that he fights for right or against tyranny. He does not himself look forward to tasting the fruits of victory ; he accepts death as the natural necessary reward of taking up arms. Even in peace he had chosen to serve by being ready to fight. Yet he does not cry up devotion to England. You will say his was obvious. That is just it, true poetry does not say what is unnecessary.
That a young man of this gentleness should be glad both to kill and be killed shows that the martyr and the soldier are not opposite types but stand before the deeply moved conscience as equal heroes. Both are finest when each most resembles the other : the martyr, courageous, unflinching, capable of detachment and courtesy to the last : the soldier, conscientious, humane and unaggressive : St Stephen and St George. The quality of emotion in these stanzas will serve as a touchstone to imperialist and pacifist theories. True peace is not signed by governments, but is something never yet achieved on earth. That so-called peace which preceded the war must have created the exultant relief to have done with it which this young man felt. And we know he was right, we know its foul shame, we know how unworthy it was of the name we so fondly gave it. Peace indeed !
The sanity of a true inspiration is miraculous and avoids errors which we all breathe and utter, and yet does not fall into the opposition of that half illumination which, like a bee on a window-pane, angrily buzzes itself to death because it sees but cannot enter the light. Neither is