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

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A treasury of war poetry, ... 1914-1919
Part 7, France

FRANCE



FRANCE

BECAUSE for once the sword broke in her hand,
 The words she spoke seemed perished for a space;
All wrong was brazen, and in every land
 The tyrants walked abroad with naked face.


The waters turned to blood, as rose the Star
 Of evil Fate denying all release.
The rulers smote, the feeble crying "War!"
 The usurers robbed, the naked crying "Peace!"


And her own feet were caught in nets of gold,
 And her own soul profaned by sects that squirm,
And little men climbed her high seats and sold
 Her honour to the vulture and the worm.


And she seemed broken and they thought her dead,
 The Overmen, so brave against the weak.
Has your last word of sophistry been said,
 O cult of slaves? Then it is hers to speak.


Clear the slow mists from her half-darkened eyes,
 As slow mists parted over Valmy fell,
As once again her hands in high surprise
 Take hold upon the battlements of Hell.


SEDAN

I, FROM a window where the Meuse is wide,
 Looked Eastward, out to the September night.
The men that in the hopeless battle died
 Rose and re-formed and marshalled for the fight.
A brumal army vague and ordered large
 For mile on mile by one pale General,
I saw them lean by companies to the charge;
 But no man living heard the bugle call.


And fading still, and pointing to their scars,
 They rose in lessening cloud where, grey and high,
Dawn lay along the Heaven in misty bars.
 But, gazing from that Eastern casement, I
 Saw the Republic splendid in the sky,
And round her terrible head the morning stars.


VIVE LA FRANCE!

FRANCELINE rose in the dawning grey,
And her heart would dance though she knelt to pray,
For her man Michel had holiday,
 Fighting for France.


She offered her prayer by the cradle-side,
And with baby palms folded in hers she cried:
"If I have but one prayer, dear, crucified
 Christ—save France!


"But if I have two, then, by Mary's grace,
Carry me safe to the meeting-place,
Let me look once again on my dear love's face,
 Save him for France!"


She crooned to her boy: "Oh, how glad he'll be
Little three-months old, to set eyes on thee!
For, 'Rather than gold, would I give,' wrote he,
 'A son to France.'


"Come, now, be good, little stray sauterelle,
For we're going by-by to thy papa Michel,
But I'll not say where for fear thou wilt tell,
   Little pigeon of France!


"Six days' leave and a year between!
But what would you have? In six days clean,
Heaven was made," said Franceline,
   "Heaven and France."


She came to the town of the nameless name,
To the marching troops in the street she came,
And she held high her boy like a taper flame
   Burning for France.


Fresh from the trenches and grey with grime,
Silent they march like a pantomime;
"But what need of music? My heart beats time—
   Vive la France!"


His regiment comes. Oh, then where is he?
"There is dust in my eyes, for I cannot see,—
Is that my Michel to the right of thee,
   Soldier of France?"


Then out of the ranks a comrade fell,—
"Yesterday—'twas a splinter of shell—
And he whispered thy name, did thy poor Michel,
   Dying for France."


The tread of the troops on the pavement throbbed
Like a woman's heart of its last joy robbed,
As she lifted her boy to the flag, and sobbed:
   "Vive la France!"


TO FRANCE

THOSE who have stood for thy cause when the dark was around thee,
Those who have pierced through the shadows and shining have found thee,
Those who have held to their faith in thy courage and power,
Thy spirit, thy honour, thy strength for a terrible hour,
Now can rejoice that they see thee in light and in glory,
Facing whatever may come as an end to the story
In calm undespairing, with steady eyes fixed on the morrow—
The morn that is pregnant with blood and with death and with sorrow.


And whether the victory crowns thee, O France the eternal,
Or whether the smoke and the dusk of a nightfall infernal
Gather about thee, and us, and the foe; and all treasures
Run with the flooding of war into bottomless measures—
Fall what befalls: in this hour all those who are near thee
And all who have loved thee, they rise and salute and revere thee!


PLACE DE LA CONCORDE

August 14, 1914

[Since the bombardment of Strasburg, August 14, 1870, her statue in Paris, representing Alsace, has been draped in mourning by the French people.]

NEAR where the royal victims fell
In days gone by, caught in the swell
Of a ruthless tide
Of human passion, deep and wide:
There where we two
A Nation's later sorrow knew—
To-day, O friend! I stood
Amid a self-ruled multitude
That by nor sound nor word
Betrayed how mightily its heart was stirred.


A memory Time never could efface—
A memory of Grief—
Like a great silence brooded o'er the place;
And men breathed hard, as seeking for relief
From an emotion strong,
That would not cry, though held in check too long.


One felt that joy drew near—
A joy intense that seemed itself to fear—
Brightening in eyes that had been dull,
As all with feeling gazed
Upon the Strasburg figure, raised
Above us—mourning, beautiful!


Then one stood at the statue's base and spoke—
Men needed not to ask what word;
Each in his breast the message heard,
Writ for him by Despair,
That evermore in moving phrase
Breathes from the Invalides and Père Lachaise—
Vainly it seemed, alas!
But now, France looking on the image there,
Hope gave her back the lost Alsace.


A deeper hush fell on the crowd:
A sound—the lightest—seemed too loud
(Would, friend, you had been there!)
As to that form the speaker rose,
Took from her, fold on fold,
The mournful crape, grey-worn and old,
Her, proudly, to disclose,
And with the touch of tender care
That fond emotion speaks,
'Mid tears that none could quite command,
Placed the Tricolour in her hand,
And kissed her on both cheeks!


THE VALLEYS OF THE BLUE SHROUDS

(Where the valiant poilus were buried in their blue uniforms)

O SHARDS of walls that once held precious life, 
Now scattered, like the bones the Prophet saw
Lying in visioned valley of the slain
Ere One cried: "Son of Man, can these bones live?"


O images of heroes, saints, and Christs,
Pierced, broken, thrust in hurried sepulture
In selfsame tombs with tinsel, dross, and dreg,
And without time for either shrift or shroud!


O smold'ring embers of Love's hearthstone fires,
Quenched by the fiercer fires of hellish hate,
That have not where to kindle flames again
To light succeeding generations on!


O ghost-grey ashes of cathedral towers
That toward the sky once raised appealing hands
To beg the God of all take residence
And hold communion with the kneeling souls!


O silent tongues of bells that once did ring
Matin and Angelus o'er peaceful fields,
Now shapeless slag that will to-morrow serve
To make new engines for still others' woe!


O dust that flowered in finial and foil
And bright in many-petaled windows bloomed,
Now unto dust returned at cannon's breath
To lay thy faded glories on the crypt!


O wounded cities that have been beloved
As Priam's city was by Hecuba,—
Sad Hecuba, who ere in exile borne,
Beheld her Hector's child Astyanax


Spitted on spear (as if a Belgian babe)
And saw the walls in smoke and flame ascend
To hover heav'nward with wide-brooding wings
Above the "vanished thing" that once was Troy!


O shards of sanctuaries and of homes!
O embers, ashes grey, and glinting dust!
Ye who were tile or tower in Laon or Ypres,
A village by the Somme, a church in Roye,
A bit of glass in Reims, a convent bell
In St. Dié, a lycée in Verdun,
A wayside crucifix in Mézières,
Again I hear a cry: "Can these bones live?"


Yes! As the bones, o'er which the Prophet cried
And called the breath from Heav'n's four winds to breathe,
Sprang straightway bone to bone, each to its place,
To frame in flesh the features and the forms
They still remembered and still loved to hold
Once more on earth—so shall ye rise again!


Out of their quarries, cumulus, the clouds
Will furnish back your flame in crystal stone;
The cirrus dawns in Parsee tapestries
With azure broiderings will clothe your walls;
The nimbus noons will shower golden rain
And sunset colours fill each Gothic arch;


For o'er thy stricken vales, O valiant France,
Our love for thee shall prophesy anew,
And Heav'n's Four Winds of Liberty, allied,
Shall breathe unpoisoned in thy streets till they
Shall pulse again with life that laughs and sings,
And yet remembers, singing through its tears
The music of an everlasting song—
Remembers, proudly and undyingly,
The hero dust that lies in shrouds of blue
But rises as thy soul, immortal France!


FLOWER-BEDS IN THE TUILERIES

FRANCE is planting her gardens,
France is preparing her spring;
Seeds in their long rows slumbering,
Bulbs in their ranks outnumbering,
For the brown beds' bordering;
France is planting her gardens,
France is preparing her spring,
France—of the ermined lilies,
France—of the Fleur-de-Lys;
And royal still her will is,
Say the stately Tuileries.


Her crippled and maimed and broken
Walk smiling, in her sun;
These are they who have spoken
Her word by the lips of Verdun;
Their little, gay children go leaping—
Laugh loud from the merry-go-round;
France has sown, for their reaping,
The flowers of France that are sleeping
Near by, in the warm brown ground.


France has planted her Garden,
France has prepared her a Spring,
All mankind for its warden,
Love for its singing bird;
Never the frost shall harden
Earth that has in its keeping
Seed sown there at her word,
Never the birds take wing;
Where the flower of France is sleeping
That earth shall have her spring!


THE NAME OF FRANCE

GIVE us a name to fill the mind
With shining thoughts that lead mankind,
The glory of learning, the joy of art,—
A name that tells of a splendid part
In the long, long toil and the strenuous fight
Of the human race to win its way
From the feudal darkness into the day
Of Freedom, Brotherhood, Equal Right,—
A name like a star, a name of light.
  I give you France!


Give us a name to stir the blood
With a warmer glow and a swifter flood,
At the touch of a courage that knows not fear,—
A name like the sound of a trumpet, clear,
And silver-sweet, and iron-strong,
That calls three million men to their feet,
Ready to march, and steady to meet
The foes who threaten that name with wrong,—
A name that rings like a battle-song.
  I give you France!


Give us a name to move the heart
With the strength that noble griefs impart,
A name that speaks of the blood outpoured
To save mankind from the sway of the sword,—
A name that calls on the world to share
In the burden of sacrificial strife
When the cause at stake is the world's free life
And the rule of the people everywhere,—
A name like a vow, a name like a prayer.
  I give you France!

The Hague, September, 1916.