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

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A treasury of war poetry, ... 1914-1919
Part 24, Women and the War

WOMEN AND THE WAR



THE CALL TO ARMS IN OUR STREET

THERE'S a woman sobs her heart out,
 With her head against the door,
For the man that's called to leave her,
 —God have pity on the poor!
  But it's beat, drums, beat,
  While the lads march down the street,
  And it's blow, trumpets, blow,
  Keep your tears until they go.


There's a crowd of little children
 Who march along and shout,
For it's fine to play at soldiers
 Now their fathers are called out.
  So it's beat, drums, beat;
  But who'll find them food to eat?
  And it's blow, trumpets, blow,
  Ah! the children little know.


There's a mother who stands watching
 For the last look of her son,
A worn poor widow woman,
 And he her only one.
  But its beat, drums, beat,
  Though God knows when we shall meet;
  And it's blow, trumpets, blow:
  We must smile and cheer them so.


There's a young girl who stands laughing,
 For she thinks a war is grand,
And it's fine to see the lads pass,
 And it's fine to hear the band.
 So it's beat, drums, beat,
 To the fall of many feet;
 And it's blow, trumpets, blow,
 God go with you where you go!


THE ENDLESS ARMY

And the fathers of the children go out to that Endless Army, and come not again.

WITH folded hands beside the fire
Silent she muses. Scarlet flames
Leap from the ashes, then, like bloom
Of briefest hour, faint and fade,
While secret, darker, grows the room.

 . . . . . .

Dream-shielded from the changeful world
Upstairs the children lie asleep.
The gliding moonlight enters in,
Unearthly, reminiscent, still,
And touching sleeping brow and chin—


With magic art of light and shade
A strangeness carves upon their youth.
The moonbeans, lighter than a breath
Dream-stirred, have sculptured deep and pale
A less than life, a more than death.


Yet not alone the moonlight there,
For she who watched the ebbing fire
Leans breathlessly above the bed . . .
Her yearning eyes explore each face
To find once more her blessèd dead.


The reverent moonlight lays a veil
On hair grown silver 'neath her ray
And waits . . . Outside, the moaning trees
Are hung like harps in branching night,
Swept by the fingers of the breeze.


The wind, the Moon, and Memory . . .
Slow tears, and grief, and Life and Death . . .
'Mid that great company, asleep
The children lie in marble peace,
Unknowing who the vigil keep.


And always down the quiet road
A soundless tramp of ghostly feet . . .
Remembered, half-dreamt battle cry . . .
While past the house, beneath the trees
Dim regiments of shades march by.


THE MOTHER

HER boys are not shut out. They come
 Homing like pigeons to her door,
Sure of her tender welcome home,
 As many a time before.


Their bed is made so smooth and sweet,
 The fire is lit—the table spread;
She has poured water for their feet,
 That they be comforted.


As with a fluttering of wings
 They are come home, come home to stay;
With all the bitter dreadful things
 Forgot, clean washed away.


They are so glad to stay, so glad
 They nestle to her gown's soft flow,
As in the loving times they had,
 Long ago, long ago.


Oh, not like lonely ghosts in mist
 Her boys come from the night and rain,
But to be clasped, but to be kissed,
 And not go out again.


THE DEVONSHIRE MOTHER

THE king have called the Devon lads and they be answering fine—
But the shadows seem to bide this way, for all the sun do shine,
For there's Squire's son have gone for one, and Parson's son—and mine.


I mind the day mine went from me—the skies was all aglow—
The cows deep in our little lane was comin' home so slow—
"And don't ee never grieve yourself," he said, "because I go."


His arms were strong around me, then. He turned and went away—
I heard the little childer dear a-singin' at their play,
The meanin' of an aching heart is hid from such as they.


And scarce a day goes by but now I set my door ajar,
And watch the road that Jan went up the time he went to war,
That when he'll come again to me I'll see him from afar.


And in my chimney seat o' nights, when quiet grows the farm,
I pray the Lord he be not cold whiles I have fire to warm—
And give the mothers humble hearts whose boys are kept from harm.


And then I take the Book and read before I seek my rest,
Of how that other Son went forth (them parts I like the best),
And left His mother lone for Him she'd cuddled to her breast.


I like to think when nights were dark and Him at prayer maybe,
Upon the gurt dark mountain side, or in His boat at sea,
He worried just a bit for her, who'd learnt Him at her knee.


And maybe when He minds her ways, He will not let Jan fall—
I'm thinkin' He will know my boy, with his dear ways an' all—
With his tanned face, his eyes of blue, and he so strappin' tall.


THE HEART-CRY

SHE turned the page of wounds and death
With trembling fingers. In a breath
The gladness of her life became
Naught but a memory and a name.


Farewell! Farewell! I might not share
The perils it was yours to dare.
Dauntless you fronted death: for me
Rests to face life as fearlessly.


MY SON

HERE is his little cambric frock 
 That I laid by in lavender so sweet,
And here his tiny shoe and sock
 I made with loving care for his dear feet.


I fold the frock across my breast,
 And in imagination, ah, my sweet,
Once more I hush my babe to rest,
 And once again I warm those little feet.


Where do those strong young feet now stand?
 In flooded trench, half numb to cold or pain,
Or marching through the desert sand
 To some dread place that they may never gain.


God guide him and his men to-day!
 Though death may lurk in any tree or hill,
His brave young spirit is their stay,
 Trusting in that they'll follow where he will.


They love him for his tender heart
 When poverty or sorrow asks his aid,
But he must see each do his part—
 Of cowardice alone he is afraid.


I ask no honours on the field,
 That other men have won as brave as he—
I only pray that God may shield
 My son, and bring him safely back to me!


HOMES

THE lamplight's shaded rose
On couch and chair and wall,
The drowsy book let fall,
The children's heads, bent close
In some deep argument,
The kitten, sleepy-curled,
Sure of our good intent,
The hearth-fire's crackling glow:
His step that crisps the snow,
His laughing kiss, wind-cold. . .


Only the very old
Gifts that the night-star brings,
Dear homely evening-things,
Dear things of all the world,
And yet my throat locks tight. . . . .


Somewhere far off I know
Are ashes on red snow
That were a home last night.


SONG

SHE goes all so softly,
 Like a shadow on the hill,
A faint wind at twilight
 That stirs, and is still.


She weaves her thoughts whitely,
 Like doves in the air,
Though a grey mound in Flanders
 Clouds all that was fair.


HARVEST MOON

OVER the twilight field,
Over the glimmering field
And bleeding furrows, with their sodden yield
Of sheaves that still did writhe,
After the scythe;
The teeming field, and darkly overstrewn
With all the garnered fullness of that noon—
Two looked upon each other.
One was a Woman, men had called their mother:
And one the Harvest Moon.


And one the Harvest Moon
Who stood, who gazed
On those unquiet gleanings, where they bled;
Till the lone Woman said:


"But we were crazed . . .
We should laugh now together, I and you;
We two.
You, for your ever dreaming it was worth
A star's while to look on, and light the earth;
And I, for ever telling to my mind
Glory it was and gladness, to give birth
To human kind.
I gave the breath,—and thought it not amiss,
I gave the breath to men,
For men to slay again;
Lording it over anguish, all to give
My life, that men might live,
For this.


"You will be laughing now, remembering
We called you once Dead World, and barren thing.
Yes, so we called you then,
You, far more wise
Than to give life to men."


Over the field that there
Gave back the skies
A scattered upward store
From sightless eyes,
The furrowed field that lay
Striving awhile, through many a bleeding dune
Of throbbing clay,—but dumb and quiet soon,
She looked; and went her way,
The Harvest Moon.


HARVEST MOON: 1916

MOON, slow rising, over the trembling sea-rim,
Moon of the lifted tides and their folded burden
Look, look down. And gather the blinded oceans,
  Moon of compassion.


Come, white Silence, over the one sea pathway:
Pour with hallowing hands on the surge and outcry,
Silver flame; and over the famished blackness,
  Petals of moonlight.


Once again, the formless void of a world-wreck
Gropes its way through the echoing dark of chaos;
Tide on tide, to the calling, lost horizons,—
  One in the darkness.


You that veil the light of the all-beholding,
Shed white tidings down to the dooms of longing,
Down to the timeless dark; and the sunken treasures,
  One in the darkness.


Touch, and hearken,—under that shrouding silver,
Rise and fall, the heart of the sea and its legions,
All and one; one with the breath of the deathless,
  Rising and falling.


Touch and waken so, to a far hereafter,
Ebb and flow, the deep, and the dead in their longing:
Till at last, on the hungering face of the waters,
  There shall be Light.


Light of Light, give us to see, for their sake.
Light of Light, grant them eternal peace;
And let light perpetual shine upon them;
  Light, everlasting.


THE JOURNEY

I WENT upon a journey
To countries far away,
From province unto province
To pass my holiday.


And when I came to Serbia,
In a quiet little town
At an inn with a flower-filled garden
With a soldier I sat down.


Now he lies dead at Belgrade.
You heard the cannon roar!
It boomed from Rome to Stockholm,
It pealed to the far west shore.


And when I came to Russia,
A man with flowing hair
Called me his friend and showed me
A flowing river there.


Now he lies dead at Lemberg,
Beside another stream,
In his dark eyes extinguished
The friendship of his dream.


And then I crossed two countries
Whose names on my lips are sealed . . .
Not yet had they flung their challenge
Nor led upon the field


Sons who lie dead at Liège,
Dead by the Russian lance,
Dead in southern mountains,
Dead through the farms of France.


I stopped in the land of Louvain,
So tranquil, happy, then.
I lived with a good old woman,
With her sons and her grandchildren.


Now they lie dead at Louvain,
Those simple kindly folk.
Some heard, some fled. It must be
Some slept, for they never woke.


I came to France. I was thirsty.
I sat me down to dine.
The host and his young wife served me
With bread and fruit and wine.


Now he lies dead at Cambrai—
He was sent among the first.
In dreams she sees him dying
Of wounds, of heat, of thirst.


At last I passed to Dover
And saw upon the shore
A tall young English captain
And soldiers, many more.


Now they lie dead at Dixmude,
The brave, the strong, the young!
I turn unto my homeland,
All my journey sung!


MOTHER AND MATE

LIGHTLY she slept, that splendid mother mine 
Who faced death, undismayed, two hopeless years. . .
("Think of me sometimes, son, but not with tears
Lest my soul grieve," she writes. Oh, this divine
Unselfishness!). . .
 Her favourite print smiled down—
The stippled Cupid, Bartolozzi-brown—
Upon my sorrow. Fire-gleams, fitful, played
Among her playthings—Toby mugs and jade. . . .


And then I dreamed that—suddenly, strangely clear—
A voice I knew not, faltered at my ear:
"Courage!" . . . Your own dear voice, loved since, and known!


And now that she sleeps well, come times her voice
Whispers in day-dreams: "Courage, son! Rejoice
That, leaving you, I left you not alone."


PIERROT GOES TO WAR

IN the sheltered garden, pale beneath the moon,
(Drenched with swaying fragrance, redolent with June!)
There, among the shadows, some one lingers yet—
Pierrot, the lover, parts from Pierrette.


Bugles, bugles, bugles, blaring down the wind,
Sound the flaming challenge—Leave your dreams behind!
Come away from shadows, turn your back on June—
Pierrot, go forward to face the golden noon!


In the muddy trenches, black and torn and still,
(How the charge swept over, to break against the hill!)
Huddled in the shadows, boyish figures lie—
They whom Death, saluting, called upon to die.


Bugles, ghostly bugles, whispering down the wind—
Dreams too soon are over, gardens left behind.
Only shadows linger, for love does not forget—
Pierrot goes forward—but what of Pierrette?

October, 1917.


GREY KNITTING

SOMETHING sings gently through the din of battle,
Something spreads very softly rim on rim,
And every soldier hears, at times, a murmur
Tender, incessant,—dim.


A tiny click of little wooden needles,
Elfin amid the gianthood of war;
Whispers of women, tireless and patient,
Who weave the web afar.


Whispers of women—tireless and patient,
"This is our heart's love," it would seem to say,
"Wrought with the ancient tools of our vocation,
Weave we the web of love from day to day."


And so each soldier, laughing, fighting,—dying
Under the alien skies, in his great hour,
May listen, in death's prescience all-enfolding,
And hear a fairy sound bloom like a flower—


I like to think that soldiers, gaily dying
For the white Christ on fields with shame sown deep,
May hear the tender song of women's needles,
As they fall fast asleep.


AT PARTING

IT was sad weather when you went away,
Wind, and the rain was raining every day.
 And all night long I heard in lonesome sleep
 The water running under the bows of the ship,
All the dark night and till the dawning grey.


At Salonika it is golden weather.
Go light of heart, O child, light as a feather,
 Valiant and full of laughter, free as air.
 God is at Salonika—here and there
God and my heart are keeping watch together.


But O when you come back, though skies should weep,
The water running under the bows of the ship
 Shall in my dreams make music exquisite
 And my all happy sleep be drenched with it,
And you coming home, home through the hours of sleep.


MISSING

LORD, how can he be dead?
 For he stood there just this morn
  With the live blood in his cheek
And the live light on his head.
 Dost Thou remember, Lord, when he was born,
  And all my heart went forth thy praise to seek,
 (I, a creator even as Thou,)—
To force Thee to confess
The little, young, heart-breaking loveliness,
 Like willow-buds in Spring, upon his brow?
  Newest of unfledged things,
  All perfect but the wings.
Master, I lit my tender candle-light
 Straight at the living fire that rays abroad
 From thy dread altar, God!
How should it end in night?


Lord, in my time of trouble, of tearing strife,
 Even then I loved thy will, even then I knew
That nothing is so beautiful as life! . . .
 Is not the world's great woe thine anguish too?
  It hath not passed, thine hour,
 Again Thou kneelest in the olive-wood.
  The lands are drunk with sharp-set lust of power,
 The kings are thirsting, and they pour thy blood.
But we, the mothers, we that found thy trace
Down terrible ways, that looked upon thy face
And are not dead—how should we doubt thy grace?


How many women in how many lands—
 Almost I weep for them as for mine own—
 That wait beside the desolate hearthstone!
Always before the embattled army stands
 The horde of women like a phantom wall,
Barring the way with desperate, futile hands.
 The first charge tramples them, the first of all!


Dost thou remember, Lord, the hearts that prayed
 As down the shouting village street they swung,
 The beautiful fighting-men? The sunlight flung
His keen young face up like an unfleshed blade . . .
 O God, so young!


   Lord, hast Thou gone away?
    Once more through all the worlds thy touch I seek.
     Lord, how can he be dead?
   For he stood here just this day
    With the live blood in his cheek,
     And the live light in his head.
     Lord, how can he be dead?


SPRING IN WAR-TIME

I FEEL the spring far off, far off,
 The faint, far scent of bud and leaf—
Oh, how can spring take heart to come
 To a world in grief,
 Deep grief?


The sun turns north, the days grow long,
 Later the evening star grows bright—
How can the daylight linger on
 For men to fight,
 Still fight?


The grass is waking in the ground,
 Soon it will rise and blow in waves—
How can it have the heart to sway
 Over the graves,
 New graves?


Under the boughs where lovers walked
 The apple-blooms will shed their breath—
But what of all the lovers now
 Parted by Death,
 Grey Death?