A treasury of war poetry, British and American poems of the world war, 1914-1919/England

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A treasury of war poetry, ... 1914-1919
Part 1, England

ENGLAND



THE VIGIL

ENGLAND! where the sacred flame
 Burns before the inmost shrine,
Where the lips that love thy name
 Consecrate their hopes and thine,
Where the banners of thy dead
Weave their shadows overhead,
Watch beside thine arms to-night,
Pray that God defend the Right.


Think that when to-morrow comes
 War shall claim command of all,
Thou must hear the roll of drums,
 Thou must hear the trumpet's call.
Now, before they silence ruth,
Commune with the voice of truth;
England! on thy knees to-night
Pray that God defend the Right.


Single-hearted, unafraid,
 Hither all thy heroes came,
On this altar's steps were laid
 Gordon's life and Outram's fame.
England! if thy will be yet
By their great example set,
Here beside thine arms to-night
Pray that God defend the Right.


So shalt thou when morning comes
 Rise to conquer or to fall,
Joyful hear the rolling drums,
 Joyful hear the trumpets call,
Then let Memory tell thy heart:
"England! what thou wert, thou art!"
Gird thee with thine ancient might,
Forth! and God defend the Right!


ENGLAND TO FREE MEN

MEN of my blood, you English men!
From misty hill and misty fen,
From cot, and town, and plough, and moor,
Come in—before I shut the door!
Into my courtyard paved with stones
That keep the names, that keep the bones,
Of none but English men who came
Free of their lives, to guard my fame.


I am your native land who bred
No driven heart, no driven head;
I fly a flag in every sea
Round the old Earth, of Liberty!
I am the Land that boasts a crown;
The sun comes up, the sun goes down—
And never men may say of me,
Mine is a breed that is not free.


I have a wreath! My forehead wears
A hundred leaves—a hundred years
I never knew the words: "You must!"
And shall my wreath return to dust?
Freemen! The door is yet ajar;
From northern star to southern star,
O ye who count and ye who delve,
Come in—before my clock strikes twelve!


EXPEDITIONAL

TROOPS to our England true
 Faring to Flanders,
God be with all of you
 And your commanders.


Clear be the sky o'erhead,
 Light be the landing:
Not till the work is sped
 Be your disbanding.


On the old battle-ground
 Where fought your fathers,
Faithful shall ye be found
 When the storm gathers.


Fending a little friend
 Weak but unshaken—
Quick! there's no time to spend
 Or the fort's taken.


Though he defy his foes,
 He may go under.
Quick! ere the battle close
 Speed with your thunder.


He hath his all at stake:
 More can have no man.
Quick! ere the barrier break,
 On to the foeman.


Troops to this England true
 And your commanders,
God be with all of you
 Fighting in Flanders.


EVENING IN ENGLAND

FROM its blue vase the rose of evening drops.
Upon the streams its petals float away.
The hills all blue with distance hide their tops
In the dim silence falling on the grey.
A little wind said "Hush!" and shook a spray
Heavy with May's white crop of opening bloom,
A silent bat went dipping up the gloom.


Night tells her rosary of stars full soon,
They drop from out her dark hand to her knees.
Upon a silhouette of woods the moon
Leans on one horn as if beseeching ease
From all her changes which have stirred the seas.
Across the ears of Toil Rest throws her veil,
I and a marsh bird only make a wail.


SAINT GEORGE OF ENGLAND

SAINT GEORGE he was a fighting man, as all the tales do tell;
He fought a battle long ago, and fought it wondrous well.
With his helmet, and his hauberk, and his good cross-hilted sword,
Oh, he rode a-slaying dragons to the glory of the Lord.
And when his time on earth was done, he found he could not rest
Where the year is always summer in the Islands of the Blest;
So back he came to earth again, to see what he could do,
And they cradled him in England—
 In England, April England—
Oh, they cradled him in England where the golden willows blew!


Saint George he was a fighting man, and loved a fighting breed,
And whenever England wants him now, he's ready at her need;
From Crecy field to Neuve Chapelle he's there with hand and sword,
And he sailed with Drake from Devon to the glory of the Lord.
His arm is strong to smite the wrong and break the tyrant's pride,
He was there when Nelson triumphed, he was there when Gordon died;
He sees his red-cross ensign float on all the winds that blow,
But ah! his heart's in England—
 In England, April England—
Oh, his heart it turns to England where the golden willows grow.


Saint George he was a fighting man, he's here and fighting still
While any wrong is yet to right or Dragon yet to kill,
And faith! he's finding work this day to suit his war-worn sword,
For he's strafing Huns in Flanders to the glory of the Lord.
Saint George he is a fighting man, but when the fighting's past,
And dead among the trampled fields the fiercest and the last
Of all the Dragons earth has known, beneath his feet lies low,
Oh, his heart will turn to England—
 To England, April England—
He'll come home to rest in England where the golden willows blow!


LINES WRITTEN IN SURREY, 1917

A SUDDEN swirl of song in the bright sky—
 The little lark adoring his lord the sun;
 Across the corn the lazy ripples run;
Under the eaves, conferring drowsily,
Doves droop or amble; the agile waterfly
 Wrinkles the pool; and flowers, gay and dun,
 Rose, bluebell, rhododendron, one by one,
The buccaneering bees prove busily.
Ah, who may trace this tranquil loveliness
 In verse felicitous?—no measure tells;
But gazing on her bosom we can guess
 Why men strike hard for England in red hells,
Falling on dreams, 'mid Death's extreme caress,
 Of English daisies dancing in English dells.


SWEET ENGLAND

I HEARD a boy that climbed up Dover's Hill
Singing Sweet England, sweeter for his song.
The notes crept muffled through the copse, but still
Sharply recalled the things forgotten long,
The music that my own boy's lips had known,
Singing, and old airs on a wild flute blown.


And other hills, more grim and lonely far,
And valleys empty of these orchard trees;
A sheep-pond filled with the moon, a single star
I had watched by night searching the wreckful seas;
And all the streets and streets that childhood knew
In years when London streets were all my view.


And I remembered how that song I heard,
Sweet England, sung by children on May-day,
Nor any song was sweeter of a bird
Than that half-grievous air from children gay—
For then, as now, youth made the sadness bright,
Till the words, Sweet, Sweet England, shone with light.


Now, listening, I forgot how men yet fought
For this same England, till the song was done
And no sound lingered but the lark's, that brought
New music down from fields of cloud and sun,
Or the sad lapwing's over fields of green
Crying beneath the copse, near but unseen.


Then I remembered. All wide England spread
Before me, hill and wood and meadow and stream
And ancient roads and homes of men long dead,
And all the beauty a familiar dream.
On the green hills a cloud of silver grey
Gave gentle light stranger than light of day.


And clear between the hills, past the near crest
And many hills, the hungry cities crept,
Noble and mean, oppressive and oppressed,
Where dreams unrealized of England slept:
And they too England, packed in dusty street
With men that half forgot England was sweet.


—Millions of men that almost had forgot
And now remembered since for her they strove;
But that vexed happiness remembered not,
And pain, in the simplicity of love;
Bright careless courage hiding all that stirred
Within, when that loud solemn call they heard.


Now they were far, but like a living brain
Quick with their thought, the earth, hills, air and light
Were quivering as though a shining rain
Falling all round made ev'n the light more bright;
And trees and water and heath and hedge-flowers fair
With more than natural sweetness washed the air.


From hill to hill a sparkling web it swung,
A snare for happiness, lit with lovely dews.
The very smoke of cities now was hung
But like a grave girl's dress of tranquil hues:
And how (I thought) can England, seen thus bright,
Lifting her clear frank head, but love the light?—


No, not her brain! that bright web was the shadow
Of the high spirit in their spirit shining
Who on scarred foreign hill and trenchèd meadow
Kept the faith yet, unfearful, unrepining;—
Her faith that with the dark world's liberty
Mingles as earth's great rivers with the sea.


O with what gilding ray was the land agleam!
It was not sun and dew, bush, bough and leaf,
But human spirits visible as in a dream
That turns from glad to aching, being too brief:
Courage and beauty shining in such brightness
That the dark thoughtful woods were no more lightless.


But most the hills a splendour had put on
Of golden honour, bright and high and calm
And like old heroes young men dream upon
When midnight stirs with magic sword and palm;—
With the fled mist all meanness put away
And the air clear and keen as salt sea-spray . . .


And yet no dream, no dream! I saw the whole,
The reap'd fields, idle kine and wandering sheep.
A weak wind through the near tall hedge-tree stole,
And died where Dover's Hill rose bare and steep;
I saw yet what I saw an hour ago,
But knew what save by dreams I did not know—


Sweet England!—wild proud heart of things unspoken,
Spirit that men bear shyly and love purely;
That dies to live anew a life unbroken
As spring from every winter rising surely;
Sweet England unto generations sped,
Now bitter-sweetest for her daily dead.

    September, 1916.
 


ENGLAND YET

SHE'S England yet! The nations never knew her;
 Or, if they knew, were ready to forget.
She made new worlds that paid no homage to her,
 Because she called for none as for a debt.
The bullying power who deemed all nations craven,
 And that her star of destiny had set,
Was sure that she would seek a coward's haven—
 And tempted her, and found her England yet!

We learn our England, and we soon forget,
To learn again that she is England yet.


They watched Britannia ever looking forward,
 But could not see the things her children saw.
They watched in Southern seas her boats pull shoreward,
 But only marked the eyeglass, heard the "Haw!"
In tents, and bungalows, and outpost stations,
 Thin white men ruled for her, unseen, unheard,
Till millions of strange races and far nations
 Were ready to obey her at a word.

We learn our England, and in peace forget,
To learn in storm that she is England yet.

She's England yet; and men shall doubt no longer,
 And mourn no longer for what she has been.
She'll be a greater England and a stronger—
 A better England than the world has seen.
Our own, who reck not of a king's regalia,
 Tinsel of crowns, and courts that fume and fret,
Are fighting for her—fighting for Australia—
 And blasphemously hail her "England Yet!"

She's England yet, with little to regret—
Ay, more than ever, she'll be England yet!


"BURN UP THE WORLD"

BURN up the world, and yet the living spark
Which once was England would for ever shine
And be a star. It would be as a sign
Hung in the silent forehead of the dark,
A light for them who listen and cry "Hark!"
Hoping for Hope. And to the holy shrine
Of her dear name, by dying made divine,
Would come the pilgrim ages. Like an ark
Would float her memory upon the flood
Of Cosmic change. Great deeds would enter there:
Deeds of great daring, consecrate with blood,
Immortal fames and grandeurs, words sublime
That like strong eagles soared above despair,
And thoughts beyond the highest reach of Time.


ENGLAND

ENGLAND, the home of poetry; the hearth
Where the world's heart so often warmed its hands;
Whose soul none but her Shakespeare understands;
Whose singing is a silence round the earth;
Cradle of Law, where Freedom had its birth;
The grave of tyrants; winging her commands
Over the oceans; envy of all lands,
Jealous of none, yet worshipful of worth:


England, the acorn, whence to ages sprang
The oak of empire; eagle whose safe wings
Mother her brood of colonies; where rings
No chain of slave; O England, for the clang
And clash of battle, gird thy loins, and wage
War with the Dark for thy rich heritage.


"FOR ALL WE HAVE AND ARE"

FOR all we have and are,
For all our children's fate,
Stand up and meet the war.
The Hun is at the gate!
Our world has passed away
In wantonness o'erthrown.
There is nothing left to-day
But steel and fire and stone.


 Though all we knew depart,
 The old commandments stand:
 "In courage keep your heart,
 In strength lift up your hand."


Once more we hear the word
That sickened earth of old:
"No law except the sword
Unsheathed and uncontrolled,"
Once more it knits mankind,
Once more the nations go
To meet and break and bind
A crazed and driven foe.


Comfort, content, delight—
The ages' slow-bought gain—
They shrivelled in a night,
Only ourselves remain
To face the naked days
In silent fortitude,
Through perils and dismays
Renewed and re-renewed.


 Though all we made depart,
 The old commandments stand:
 "In patience keep your heart,
 In strength lift up your hand."


No easy hopes or lies
Shall bring us to our goal,
But iron sacrifice
Of body, will, and soul.
There is but one task for all—
For each one life to give.
Who stands if Freedom fall?
Who dies if England live?