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

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A treasury of war poetry, ... 1914-1919
Part 17, Incidents and Aspects

INCIDENTS AND ASPECTS



THE VOLUNTEER

SEZ I: My Country calls? Well, let it call.
I grins perlitely and declines with thanks.
Go, let 'em plaster every blighted wall,
'Ere's one they don't stampede into the ranks.
Them politicians with their greasy ways;
Them empire-grabbers fight for 'em? No fear!
I've seen this mess a-comin' from the days
Of Algyserious and Aggydear:
 I've felt me passion rise and swell,
 But . . . wot the 'ell, Bill? Wot the 'ell?


Sez I: My Country? Mine? I likes their cheek.
Me mud-bespattered by the cars they drive,
Wot makes me measly thirty bob a week,
And sweats red blood to keep meself alive!
Fight for the right to slave that they may spend,
Them in their mansions, me 'ere in my slum?
No, let 'em fight wot's something to defend:
But me, I've nothin', let the Kaiser come.
 And so I cusses 'ard and well,
But . . . wot the 'ell, Bill? Wot the 'ell?


Sez I: If they would do the decent thing,
And shield the missis and the little 'uns,
Why, even I might shout God save the King,
And face the chances of them 'ungry guns.
But we've got three, another on the way;
It's that wot makes me snarl and set me jor:
The wife and nippers wot of 'em, I say,
If I gets knocked out in this blasted war?
 Gets proper busted by a shell,
 But . . . wot the 'ell, Bill? Wot the 'ell?


Ay, wot the 'ell's the use of all this talk?
To-day some boys in blue was passin' me,
And some of 'em they 'ad no legs to walk,
And some of 'em they 'ad no eyes to see.
And—well, I couldn't look 'em in the face,
And so I'm goin', goin' to declare
I'm under forty-one and take my place
To face the music with the bunch out there.
A fool, you say! Maybe you're right.
I'll 'ave no peace unless I fight.
I've ceased to think; I only know
I've gotta go, Bill, gotta go.


FLEURETTE

THE wounded Canadian speaks:


My leg? It's off at the knee.
Do I miss it? Well, some. You see
I've had it since I was born;
And lately a devilish corn.
(I rather chuckle with glee
To think how I've fooled that corn.)


But I'll hobble around all right.
It isn't that, it's my face.
Oh, I know I'm a hideous sight,
Hardly a thing in place.
Sort of gargoyle, you'd say.
Nurse won't give me a glass,
But I see the folks as they pass
Shudder and turn away;
Turn away in distress. . . .
Mirror enough, I guess.
I'm gay! You bet I am gay,
But I wasn't a while ago.
If you'd seen me even to-day,
The darnedest picture of woe,
With this Caliban mug of mine,
So ravaged and raw and red,
Turned to the wall—in fine
Wishing that I were dead . . .
What has happened since then,
Since I lay with my face to the wall,
The most despairing of men!
Listen! I'll tell you all.


That poilu across the way,
With the shrapnel wound in his head,
Has a sister: she came to-day
To sit awhile by his bed.
All morning I heard him fret:
"Oh, when will she come, Fleurette?"


Then sudden, a joyous cry;
The tripping of little feet;
The softest, tenderest sigh;
A voice so fresh and sweet;
Clear as a silver bell,
Fresh as the morning dews:
"C'est toi, c'est toi, Marcel!
Mon frere, comme je suis heureuse!"


So over the blanket's rim
I raised my terrible face,
And I saw—how I envied him!
A girl of such delicate grace;
Sixteen, all laughter and love;
As gay as a linnet, and yet
As tenderly sweet as a dove;
Half woman, half child—Fleurette.


Then I turned to the wall again.
(I was awfully blue, you see,)
And I thought with a bitter pain:
"Such visions are not for me."
So there like a log I lay,
All hidden, I thought, from view,
When sudden I heard her say:
"Ah! Who is that malheureux?"
Then briefly I heard him tell
(However he came to know)
How I'd smothered a bomb that fell
Into the trench, and so
None of my men were hit,
Though it busted me up a bit.


Well, I didn't quiver an eye,
And he chattered and there she sat;
And I fancied I heard her sigh—
But I wouldn't just swear to that.
And may be she wasn't so bright,
Though she talked in a merry strain,
And I closed my eyes ever so tight,
Yet I saw her ever so plain:
Her dear little tilted nose,
Her delicate, dimpled chin,
Her mouth like a budding rose,
And the glistening pearls within;
Her eyes like the violet:
Such a rare little queen—Fleurette.


At last, when she rose to go,
The light was a little dim,
And I ventured to peep, and so
I saw her, graceful and slim,
And she kissed him and kissed him, and oh
How I envied and envied him!


So when she was gone I said
In rather a dreary voice
To him of the opposite bed:
"Ah friend, how you must rejoice!
But me, I'm a thing of dread.
For me nevermore the bliss,
The thrill of a woman's kiss."


Then I stopped, for lo! she was there,
And a great light shone in her eyes.
And me! I could only stare,
I was taken so by surprise,
When gently she bent her head:
"May I kiss you, sergeant? " she said.


Then she kissed my burning lips,
With her mouth like a scented flower,
And I thrilled to the finger-tips,
And I hadn't even the power
To say: "God bless you, dear!"
And I felt such a precious tear
Fall on my withered cheek,
And darn it! I couldn't speak.


And so she went sadly away,
And I know that my eyes were wet.
Ah, not to my dying day
Will I forget, forget!
Can you wonder now I am gay?
God bless her, that little Fleurette!


THE RETURN

I HEARD the rumbling guns. I saw the smoke,
 The unintelligible shock of hosts that still,
Far off, unseeing, strove and strove again;
 And Beauty flying naked down the hill


From morn to eve: and the stern night cried Peace!
 And shut the strife in darkness: all was still,
Then slowly crept a triumph on the dark—
 And I heard Beauty singing up the hill.


THE TOY BAND

(A Song of the Great Retreat)

DREARY lay the long road, dreary lay the town,
 Lights out and never a glint o' moon:
Weary lay the stragglers, half a thousand down,
 Sad sighed the weary big Dragoon:
"Oh! if I'd a drum here to make them take the road again,
 Oh! if I'd a fife to wheedle, Come, boys, come!
You that mean to fight it out, wake and take your load again,
 Fall in! Fall in! Follow the fife and drum!


"Hey, but here's a toy shop, here's a drum for me,
 Penny whistles too to play the tune!
Half a thousand dead men soon shall hear and see
 We're a band!" said the weary big Dragoon.
"Rubadub! Rubadub! Wake and take the road again,
 Wheedle-deedle-deedle-dee, Come, boys, come!
You that mean to fight it out, wake and take your load again,
 Fall in! Fall in! Follow the fife and drum!"


Cheerly goes the dark road, cheerly goes the night,
 Cheerly goes the blood to keep the beat:
Half a thousand dead men marching on to fight
 With a little penny drum to lift their feet.
Rubadub! Rubadub! Wake and take the road again,
 Wheedle-deedle-deedle-dee, Come, boys, come!
You that mean to fight it out, wake and take your load again,
 Fall in! Fall in! Follow the fife and drum!


As long as there's an Englishman to ask a tale of me,
 As long as I can tell the tale aright,
We'll not forget the penny whistle's wheedle-deedle-dee
 And the big Dragoon a-beating down the night,
Rubadub! Rubadub! Wake and take the road again,
 Wheedle-deedle-deedle-dee, Come, boys, come!
You that mean to fight it out, wake and take your load again,
 Fall in! Fall in! Follow the fife and drum!


A LETTER FROM THE FRONT

I WAS out early to-day, spying about
From the top of a haystack—such a lovely morning—
And when I mounted again to canter back
I saw across a field in the broad sunlight
A young Gunner Subaltern, stalking along
With a rook-rifle held at the ready, and—would you believe it?—
A domestic cat, soberly marching beside him.


So I laughed, and felt quite well disposed to the youngster,
And shouted out "the top of the morning" to him,
And wished him "Good sport!"—and then I remembered
My rank, and his, and what I ought to be doing:
And I rode nearer, and added, "I can only suppose
You have not seen the Commander-in-Chief's order
Forbidding English officers to annoy their Allies
By hunting and shooting."
  But he stood and saluted
And said earnestly, "I beg your pardon, Sir,
I was only going out to shoot a sparrow
To feed my cat with."
  So there was the whole picture,
The lovely early morning, the occasional shell
Screeching and scattering past us, the empty landscape,—
Empty, except for the young Gunner saluting,
And the cat, anxiously watching his every movement.


I may be wrong, and I may have told it badly,
But it struck me as being extremely ludicrous.


THOMAS OF THE LIGHT HEART

[Reprinted by permission of the Proprietors of Punch.]

FACING the guns, he jokes as well
 As any judge upon the Bench;
Between the crash of shell and shell
 His laughter rings along the trench;
He seems immensely tickled by a
Projectile which he calls a "Black Maria."


He whistles down the day-long road,
 And, when the chilly shadows fall
And heavier hangs the weary load,
 Is he down-hearted? Not at all.
'Tis then he takes a light and airy
View of the tedious route to Tipperary.


His songs are not exactly hymns;
 He never learned them in the choir;
And yet they brace his dragging limbs
 Although they miss the sacred fire;
Although his choice and cherished gems
Do not include "The Watch upon the Thames."


He takes to fighting as a game;
 He does no talking, through his hat,
Of holy missions; all the same
 He has his faith—be sure of that;
He'll not disgrace his sporting breed,
Nor play what isn't cricket. There's his creed.


IN THE TRENCHES

AS I lay in the trenches
Under the Hunter's Moon,
My mind ran to the lenches
Cut in a Wiltshire down.


I saw their long black shadows,
The beeches in the lane,
The grey church in the meadows
And my white cottage—plain.


Thinks I, the down lies dreaming
Under that hot moon's eye,
Which sees the shells fly screaming
And men and horses die.


And what makes she, I wonder,
Of the horror and the blood,
And what's her luck, to sunder
The evil from the good?


'Twas more than I could compass,
For how was I to think
With such infernal rumpus
In such a blasted stink?


But here's a thought to tally
With t'other. That moon sees
A shrouded German valley
With woods and ghostly trees.


And maybe there's a river
As we have got at home
With poplar-trees aquiver
And clots of whirling foam.


And over there some fellow,
A German and a foe,
Whose gills are turning yellow
As sure as mine are so,


Watches that riding glory
Apparel'd in her gold,
And craves to hear the story
Her frozen lips enfold.


And if he sees as clearly
As I do where her shrine
Must fall, he longs as dearly,
With heart as full as mine.


THE GUARDS CAME THROUGH

MEN of the Twenty-first
 Up by the Chalk Pit Wood,
Weak with our wounds and our thirst,
 Wanting our sleep and our food,
After a day and a night—
 God, shall we ever forget!
Beaten and broke in the fight,
 But sticking it—sticking it yet.
Trying to hold the line,
 Fainting and spent and done,
Always the thud and the whine,
 Always the yell of the Hun!
Northumberland, Lancaster, York,
 Durham and Somerset,
Fighting alone, worn to the bone,
 But sticking it—sticking it yet.


Never a message of hope!
 Never a word of cheer!
Fronting Hill 70's shell-swept slope,
 With the dull dead plain in our rear.
Always the whine of the shell,
 Always the roar of its burst,
Always the tortures of hell,
 As waiting and wincing we cursed
Our luck and the guns and the Boche,
When our Corporal shouted, "Stand to!"
And I heard some one cry, "Clear the front for the Guards!"
And the Guards came through.


Our throats they were parched and hot,
But Lord, if you'd heard the cheers!
Irish and Welsh and Scot,
Coldstream and Grenadiers.
Two brigades, if you please,
Dressing as straight as a hem,
We we were down on our knees,
Praying for us and for them!
Praying with tear-wet cheek,
Praying with outstretched hand.
Lord, I could speak for a week,
But how could you understand!
How should your cheeks be wet,
Such feelin's don't come to you.
But when can me or my mates forget,
When the Guards came through?


"Five yards left extend!"
It passed from rank to rank.
Line after line with never a bend,
And a touch of the London swank.
A trifle of swank and dash,
Cool as a home parade,
Twinkle and glitter and flash,
Flinching never a shade,
With the shrapnel right in their face
Doing their Hyde Park stunt,
Keeping their swing at an easy pace,
Arms at the trail, eyes front!
Man, it was great to see!
Man, it was fine to do!
It's a cot and a hospital ward for me,
But I'll tell 'em in Blighty, wherever I be,
How the Guards came through.


THE PASSENGERS OF A RETARDED SUBMERSIBLE

November, 1916

The American People:

WHAT was it kept you so long, brave German submersible?
We have been very anxious lest matters had not gone well
With you and the precious cargo of your country's drugs and dyes.
But here you are at last, and the sight is good for our eyes,
Glad to welcome you up and out of the caves of the sea,
And ready for sale or barter, whatever your will may be.


The Captain of the Submersible:

Oh, do not be impatient, good friends of this neutral land,
That we have been so tardy in reaching your eager strand.
We were stopped by a curious chance just off the Irish coast,
Where the mightiest wreck ever was lay crowded with a host
Of the dead that went down with her; and some prayed us to bring them here
That they might be at home with their brothers and sisters dear.
We Germans have tender hearts, and it grieved us sore to say
We were not a passenger ship, and to most we must answer nay,
But if from among their hundreds they could somehow a halfscore choose
We thought we could manage to bring them, and we would not refuse.
They chose, and the women and children that are greeting you here are those
Ghosts of the women and children that the rest of the hundred chose.


The American People:

What guff are you giving us, Captain? We are able to tell, we hope,
A dozen ghosts, when we see them, apart from a periscope.
Come, come, get down to business! For time is money, you know,
And you must make up in both to us for having been so slow.
Better tell this story of yours to the submarines, for we
Know there was no such wreck, and none of your spookery.


The Ghosts of the Lusitania Women and Children:

Oh, kind kin of our murderers, take us back when you sail away;
Our own kin have forgotten us. O Captain, do not stay!
But hasten, Captain, hasten: The wreck that lies under the sea
Shall be ever the home for us this land can never be.


RETREAT

BROKEN, bewildered by the long retreat
 Across the stifling leagues of southern plain,
 Across the scorching leagues of trampled grain,
Half-stunned, half-blinded, by the trudge of feet
And dusty smother of the August heat,
 He dreamt of flowers in an English lane,
 Of hedgerow flowers glistening after rain—
All-heal and willow-herb and meadow-sweet.


All-heal and willow-herb and meadow-sweet—
 The innocent names kept up a cool refrain—
All-heal and willow-herb and meadow-sweet,
 Chiming and tinkling in his aching brain,
 Until he babbled like a child again—
"All-heal and willow-herb and meadow-sweet."


RESURRECTION

HE looked back down the long lane of the years—
A fleeting, over-shoulder, furtive glance
Of eyes askance,
Eyes of a fugitive from doubts and fears
Clouding the vision. Yet for self-esteem
The world would offer scaffold and roof-beam,
House of two tiers,
A habitation meet for the elect.
For they were sober levels that he trod
With genial nod
For fellow-journey men; he never wrecked
Laughter and banter breaking from a lip
With chill and frost of reticence; the grip,
Free and unchecked,
Of friendliness had ever met the hand
Outstretched to his; and in no woman's heart
The sting and dart
Of shame for rifled innocence had banned
Him from the fold and fellowship of the clean.
Sane and serene,
He'd passed the milestones of the beaten track
Leaving remorse few memories to rack;
With ordered rhythm and unjostled pace
For forty years he'd run an even race.
And yet—and yet—he shunned the retrospect;
Though it was decked
With the accomplishments of a career,
No sign was there
Nor echo of the battle where strong men
Fight the fierce fight and feel the jarring steel,
Burst through the battlements, and rock and reel
In the red pen
Of blood and dust and rage and victory,
He'd lit no beacon on a storm-tossed sea,
Called no deep music from a great machine;
He'd never seen
The steel hull shearing sea-cliffs at his will,
Felt no long silence follow his "Be still!"


Squarely he turned about and saw laid bare
The record where
The tale of his long years was plainly writ:
The schooldays shaped by narrow pedagogues,
The ruddy flares of crackling Christmas logs,
Moments of grit
When he had rounded rocks and raced the tide
Shoreward again; had felt the hot sand slide
Beneath his feet where lucent shallows broke
And stayed his stroke.
Transcendent moments when an artist sang
A song of rapture welling from the heart,
A song of bitterness when no tears start;
When rafters rang
To trumpet-calls; when a great organ filled
The nave and mellowed dome and flute-tones thrilled
The sanctuary;
When a great orator ruffled the sea
Of human passion; when the morning flood
Stirred his young blood
And the great Alpine peaks seemed like to pierce
The fragile curtains of his eyes, so fierce
The instancy
Of their white mantle 'gainst the azure sky.


The light of revelation lit the page,
Yet with dull rage
He heard the bitter verdict of his soul:
Down the long gamut of occasions great,
Through lack of valour or edict of fate,
To him the rôle
Of onlooker had fall'n. The years had flown
And left the lonely critic to bemoan
The hollow halls of ease and competence,
The barrier-fence
Raised high against the arena and the fray.
His cheek burned as the vision of the day
When he had lost the woman newly-won
Blurred the bright sun,
And in the fog he was again marooned,
Felt the throb start again within the wound,
The mortal thrust that shattered his day-dream.


Then a cold gleam
Lit the high arch of intellectual days
Whence solace came, borne on the thin clear rays
Of truth discovered. The unfurrowed field
To him did yield
A harvest of essentials, winnowings
Which only went to plenish his wide store
And soon were dead-sea fruit, withered and hoar,
The phantom things
That unto reverie a tribute brought,
Yet like a miser's treasures were not wrought
Into a leaven for the heart and mind
Of poor and blind.


"Self, Self the centre and circumference!"
The judgment ran; he cursed the impotence
That like a palsy held him fast enthralled—
Then England called!
From every arch adown the cloistered years
The echo rang reverberate from the tiers
That seemed to rise exultant at the cry:
"England or die!"
He broke the barrier and found the road,
Imperious impulse spurred him like a goad,
A youth was at his side, but both were dumb,
They heard the drum!
It tuned the tread of his responsive feet,
Within his heart responsive echoes beat,
To left, to right, behind, before, the cry
"England or die!"
Rose on the night. They marched now four abreast,
A full score deep, and ever forward pressed;
The rain streamed from above, splashed from below,
But all aglow,
Linked by one purpose, forged by one intent,
The phalanx marched, their goal the battlement.


They left him lean,
Those strenuous days, but oh! they left him clean
And tingling with the glow of primal joys:
Rough jests of boys,
The taste of bread, the shelter of the tent,
The marching song, the couch beneath the stars,
The laugh triumphant over shocks and jars.
Rent after rent
Gaped in the cloak of shibboleths effete,
Blasts of strong passion through the tatters beat,
Till the last remnant to the wind was borne,
And one grey morn
He rose in fibred panoply. At noon
They numbered off the men of his platoon;
And when they rose to drink to him that night,
The toast "The fight!"
He drained his glass, then lifted it on high:
"England or die!"


Oh! see them now as they swing billetwards,
Out of the dusk into the growing light,
At the grey end of a long Flanders night;
Each face accords
In colour with the dawn, but the tired eyes
Are eyes of veterans; rhythmic beat
Braces the loins, lightens the weary feet;
Song-snatches rise
And fall down the loose files; one lifts his head
To meet the morn but communes with the dead—
His comrade dead, filling a shallow grave
Beneath the nave
Of low grey skies—curses the shrapnel death,
Catches the chorus with his shuddering breath,
Swings to the march again. There in the rear,
Last to appear
The leader comes, a stripling at his side;
The alchemy of night has decked his age
With a strange garb of youth; but to assuage
Time's hungry tide
The stripling's face carries the mask of years;
He only hears
The haunting cadence of his leader's words
That touch the chords
Of memory: Perdita's daffodils;
Juliet's lark that she so fain would dress
In notes of nightingale; the wistfulness
Of Devon hills;
The sob of misty seas; the fringe of foam
Caressing all the contours of a bay;
The soft green radiance at the close of day;
The lights of home—
Strange children of the murky Flanders dawn!
A motor horn
Rends the frail gossamer of reverie:
The platoon stiffens, his voice calls a halt,
The car purrs motionless: "Any assault?"
"None!" the reply;
The car glides on, the tramp of the platoon
Beats out again beneath the morning moon.


He looked down on his dead: the sacrifice
Of gallant hearts stricken before the shrine
Of England and of home; saw the red wine,
Wine beyond price,
The blood of England's sons so freely given;
Counted his living comrades, nine in all—
Twenty had answered death's high bugle-call—
And three shot-riven;
Swore he would hold the rampart until day—
The sun had set on their resplendent hour—
Read grim resolve, determination dour,
Lust for the fray
In every eye, in every countenance.
The radiance
Of a clear moonlit summer sky came down
To bless their fortitude, and all night long
The mantle lay upon the sleeping throng;
Clenched fist and frown,
Arrested gesture—every lineament
Of horror pent
Within the frozen statuary of death,
Was softened by that radiant 'whelming flood.
Alert and silent the thin outpost stood;
The deep-drawn breath
Told how the tide of memory ebbed and flowed,
And each heart glowed
Whene'er they heard him pass from post to post,
A word of home and England on his lip,
The seal and guerdon of their comradeship,
And fear was lost
In the assurance speaking in his eyes:
"He lives who dies!"


Just before dawn a cloud-bank drew the moon
Behind her ramparts; the black pall of night
Fell on the slope; hope vanished with the light;
They listened; soon
A stone dislodged the climbing feet betrayed,
They searched the darkness with a fusillade;
Then to the stripling: "You will keep guard here;
I'll wait them there,"
The leader whispered, pointing with his sword
Out where a furrow folded in its dead,
Where a long furrow drank the stains of red—
And disappeared
Over the looming parapet. A breeze
Ruffled the silence and died down again.
Would he assail dark destiny in vain?

. . . . . .

The nine hearts freeze
At a low gurgling sob of agony,
But flutter free
As one—two—three revolver shots ring out—
A stifled shout,
A scuffle and a groan—and lo! the light
Returns as at the call of destiny:
Down the white slope the stumbling foemen flee
In piteous plight—
Nine rifles rattle forth, nine voices cheer,
And from the rear
A distant echo comes—they turn to see
A khaki company stream through the dawn—
Relief and victory with day new-born!
But where is he?
They call—he comes; across the open space
He dashes; ere he gains the rampart's face
A volley breaks—he totters through the gap—
The stripling lays him riddled 'gainst the sap.

. . . . . .

"The dawn's on Devon hills!" the dry lips sighed,
"The hills of home!" . . .


THE CALL

HARK! 'Tis the rush of the horses, 
 The crash of the galloping gun!
The stars are out of their courses;
 The hour of Doom has begun.
Leap from thy scabbard, O sword!
This is the Day of the Lord!


Prate not of peace any longer,
 Laughter and idlesse and ease!
Up, every man that is stronger!
 Leave but the priest on his knees!
Quick, every hand to the hilt!
Who striketh not—his the guilt!


Call not each man on his brother!
 Cry not to Heaven to save!
Thou art the man—not another—
 Thou, to off glove and out glaive!
Fight ye who ne'er fought before!
Fight ye old fighters the more!


Oh, but the thrill and the splendour,
 The sudden new knowledge—I can!
To fawn on no hireling defender,
 But fight one's own fight as a man!
On woman's love won we set store;
To win one's own manhood is more.


Who hath a soul that will glow not,
 Set face to face with the foe?
"Is life worth living?"—I know not:
 Death is worth dying, I know.
Aye, I would gamble with Hell,
And—losing such stakes—say, 'Tis well!


FRONT LINE

STANDING on the fire-step,
 Harking into the dark,
The black was filled with figures
 His comrade could not mark.
Because it was softly snowing,
 Because it was Christmastide,
He saw three figures passing,
 Glittering in their pride.


One rode a cream-white camel,
 One was a blackamoor,
One a bearded Persian;
 They all rode up to the door.
They all rode up to the stable-door,
 Dismounted, and bent the knee.
The door flamed open like a rose,
 But more he could not see.


Standing on the fire-step
 In softly falling snow,
It came to him—the carol—
 Out of the long ago.
He heard the glorious organ
 Fill transept, loft, and nave.
He faintly heard the pulpit words:
 "Himself He could not save."


And all the wires in No-man's-land
 Seemed thrummed by ghostly thumbs;
There woke then such a harping
 As when a hero comes,
As when a hero homeward comes—
 And then his thought was back:
He leaned against the parapet
 And peered into the black.


IN GALLIPOLI

THERE is a fold of lion-coloured earth,
With stony feet in the Ægean blue,
Whereon of old dwelt loneliness and dearth
Sun-scorched and desolate; and when there flew
The winds of winter in these dreary aisles
Of crag and cliff, a whirling snow-wreath bound
The foreheads of the mountains, and their miles
Of frowning precipice and scarp were wound
With stilly white, that peered through brooding mist profound.


But now the myrtle and the rosemary,
The mastic and the rue, the scented thyme
With fragrant fingers gladdening the grey,
Shall kindle on a desert grown sublime,
Henceforth that haggard land doth guard and hold
The treasure of a sovereign nation's womb—
Her fame, her worth, her pride, her purest gold.
Oh, call ye not the sleeping place a tomb
That lifts to heaven's light such everlasting bloom.


They stretch, now high, now low the little scars
Upon the rugged pelt of herb and stone;
Above them sparkle bells and buds and stars
Young spring hath from her emerald kirtle thrown.
Asphodel, crocus and anemone
With silver, azure, crimson once again
Ray all that earth, and from the murmuring sea
Come winds to flash the leaves on shore and plain
Where evermore our dead—our radiant dead shall reign.


Imperishable as the mountain height
That marks their place afar, their numbers shine,
Who, with the first-fruits of a joyful might,
To human liberty another shrine
Here sanctified; nor vainly have they sped
That made this desert dearer far than home,
And left one sanctuary more to tread
For England, whose memorial pathways roam
Beside her hero sons, beneath the field and foam.

[From Plain Song, 1914-1916. Reprinted by permission of William Heinemann, London; and The Macmillan Company, New York.]


THE LAST RALLY

(Under England's supplementary Conscription Act, the last of the married men joined her colours on June 24, 1916.)

IN the midnight, in the rain,
That drenches every sooty roof and licks each window-pane,
The bugles blow for the last rally
Once again.


Through the horror of the night,
Where glimmers yet northwestward one ghostly strip of white,
Squelching with heavy boots through the untrodden ploughlands,
The troops set out. Eyes right!


These are the last who go because they must,
Who toiled for years at something levelled now in dust;
Men of thirty, married, settled, who had built up walls of comfort
That crumbled at a thrust.


Now they have naked steel,
And the heavy, sopping rain that the clammy skin can feel,
And the leaden weight of rifle and the pack that grinds the entrails,
Wrestling with a half-cooked meal.


And there are oaths and blows,
The mud that sticks and flows,
The bad and smoky billet, and the aching legs at morning,
And the frost that numbs the toes;


And the senseless, changeless grind,
And the pettifogging mass of orders muddling every mind,
And the dull-red smudge of mutiny half rising up and burning,
Till they choke and stagger blind.


But for them no bugle flares;
No bright flags leap, no gay horizon glares;
They are conscripts, middle-aged, rheumatic, cautious, weary,
With slowly thinning hairs;


Only for one to-night
A woman weeps and moans and tries to smite
Her head against a table, and another rocks a cradle,
And another laughs with flashing eyes, sitting bolt upright.


CHANNEL SUNSET

OVER the shallow, angry English Channel,
Clouds like cavalry masses
Gallop at a charge, dark tawny horsemen,
Towards the coast of Flanders.


The sun strikes out amid them
A shower of golden arrows;
They waver suddenly in mid-flight,
Break their ranks, stumble and fall,
And cover with scarlet eddies
The shallows of the sea.


But over their heads new masses yet come charging
Towards the coast of Flanders;
Towards the battle that is shaping,
The struggle of burning spears in the cold twilight.


RICHMOND PARK

THE thorns were blooming red and white, 
The blue air throbbed with May's delight;
To live was joy. Loud sang the lark
Of peace and love in Richmond Park.


Our crippled soldiers took the sun,
Glad that their bloody work was done;
Being free to feel the morning's charm,
They grudged no loss of leg or arm.


The yaffles dipped from glade to glade—
Quick gleams of gold and green. I made
A song in my heart. Each hour inspires
Lit by the rhododendron fires.


The cuckoo called: his ancient note
Stirred the world's soul; and mine it smote
With pain. He quested in sad trees
Whose dead limbs shewed their tragedies.


Yet something of a happier time—
When oaks could flourish in the prime
Of spring—came back to all who heard
The morning voiceful in that bird.


Suddenly boomed a gun. Less bright
The landscape grew: a droning flight
Of man-birds scared a singing lark,
And a yaffle laughed in Richmond Park.


INFANTRY

[Reprinted by permission of the Proprietors of Punch.]

IN Paris Town, in Paris Town—'twas 'neath an April sky—
I saw a regiment of the line go marching to Versailles;
When white along the Bois there shone the chestnut's waxen cells,
And the sun was winking on the long Lebels,
 Flic flac, flic flac, on all the long Lebels!


The flowers were out along the Bois, the leaves were overhead,
And I saw a regiment of the line that swung in blue and red;
The youth of things, the joy of things, they made my heart to beat,
And the quick-step lilting and the tramp of feet!
 Flic flac, flic flac, the tramping of the feet!


The spikèd nuts have fallen and the leaf is dull and dry
Since last I saw a regiment go marching to Versailles;
And what's become of all of those that heard the music play?
They trained them for the Frontier upon an August day;
 Flic flac, flic flac, all on an August day!


And some of them they stumbled on the slippery summer grass,
And there they've left them lying with their faces to Alsace;
The others—so they'd tell you—ere the chestnut's decked for spring,
Shall march beneath some linden trees to call upon a King;
 Flic flac, flic flac, to call upon a King.


THE BALLAD OF ST. BARBARA[1]

[St. Barbara is the patroness of artillery, and of those who are in fear of sudden death.]

WHEN the long grey lines came flooding upon Paris in the plain, 
We stood and drank of the last free air we never could love again;
They had led us back from a lost battle, to halt we knew not where,
And stilled us; and our gaping guns were dumb with our despair.
The grey tribes flowed for ever from the infinite lifeless lands,
And a Norman to a Breton spoke, his chin upon his hands:


"There was an end to Ilium; and an end came to Rome;
And a man plays on a painted stage in the land that he calls home.
Arch after arch of triumph, but floor beyond falling floor,
That lead to a low door at last: and beyond there is no door."


The Breton to the Norman spoke, like a little child spake he,
But his sea-blue eyes were empty as his home beside the sea:
"There are more windows in one house than there are eyes to see;
There are more doors in a man's house, but God has hid the key;
Ruin is a builder of windows; her legend witnesseth
Barbara, the saint of gunners, and a stay in sudden death."


 It seemed the wheel of the worlds stood still an instant in its turning,
  More than the kings of the earth that turned with the turning of Valmy mill,
 While trickled the idle tale and the sea-blue eyes were burning,
  Still as the heart of a whirlwind, the heart of the world stood still.


"Barbara the beautiful had praise of lute and pen,
Her hair was like a summer night, dark and desired of men,
Her feet like birds from far away that linger and light in doubt,
And her face was like a window where a man's first love looked out.


"Her sire was master of many slaves, a hard man of his hands;
They built a tower about her in the desolate golden lands,
Sealed as the tyrants sealed their tombs, planned with an ancient plan,
And set two windows in the tower, like the two eyes of a man."


 Our guns were set toward the foe; we had no word for firing;
  Grey in the gateways of St. Gond the Guard of the tyrant shone;
 Dark with the fate of a falling star, retiring and retiring,
  The Breton line went backwards and the Breton tale went on.


"Her father had sailed across the sea from the harbour of Africa,
When all the slaves took up their tools for the bidding of Barbara;
She smote the bare wall with her hand, and bade them smite again,
She poured them wealth of wine and meat to stay them in their pain,
And cried through the lifted thunder of thronging hammer and hod:
'Throw open the third window in the third name of God!'
Then the hearts failed and the tools fell; and far towards the foam
Men saw a shadow on the sands; and her father coming home."


 Speak low and low, along the line the whispered word is flying,
  Before the touch, before the time, we may not lose a breath.
 Their guns must mash us to the mire and there be no replying
  Till the hand is raised to fling us for the final dice to Death.


" 'There were two windows in your tower, Barbara, Barbara,
For all between the sun and moon in the lands of Africa
Hath a man three eyes, Barbara, a bird three wings,
That you have riven roof and wall to look upon vain things?'
Her voice was like a wandering thing that falters, yet is free,
Whose soul has drunk in a distant land of the rivers of liberty.
'There are more wings than the wind knows, or eyes than see the sun,
In the light of the lost window and the wind of the doors undone;
For out of the first lattice are the red lands that break,
And out of the second lattice, sea like a green snake,
But out of the third lattice, under low eaves like wings
Is a new corner of the sky and the other side of things.' "


 It opened in the inmost place an instant beyond uttering,
  A casement and a chasm and a thunder of doors undone,
 A seraph's strong wing shaken out the shock of its unshuttering
  That split the shattered sunlight from a light behind the sun.


"Then he drew sword and drave her where the judges sat and said:
'Cæsar sits above the Gods, Barbara the maid,
Cæsar hath made a treaty with the moon and with the sun,
All the gods that men can praise, praise him every one.
There is peace with the anointed of the scarlet oils of Bel,
With the Fish God, where the whirlpool is a winding stair to hell,
With the pathless pyramids of slime, where the mitred negro lifts
To his black cherub in the cloud abominable gifts,
With the leprous silver cities where the dumb priests dance and nod,
But not with the three windows and the last name of God.' "


 They are firing, we are falling, and the red skies rend and shiver us. . .
  Barbara, Barbara, we may not loose a breath—
 Be at the bursting doors of doom, and in the dark deliver us,
  Who loosen the last window on the sun of sudden death.


"Barbara the beautiful stood up as a queen set free,
Whose mouth is set to a terrible cup and the trumpet of liberty:
'I have looked forth from a window that no man now shall bar,
Cæsar's toppling battle-towers shall never stretch so far;
The slaves are dancing in their chains, the child laughs at the rod,
Because of the bird of the three wings, and the third face of God.'
The sword upon his shoulder shifted and shone and fell,
And Barbara lay very small and crumpled like a shell."


 What wall upon what hinges turned stands open like a door?
  Too simple for the sight of faith, too huge for human eyes,
 What light upon what ancient way shines to a far-off floor,
  The line of the lost land of France or the plains of Paradise?


"Cæsar smiled above the gods, his lip of stone was curled,
His iron armies wound like chains round and round the world,
And the strong slayer of his own that cut down flesh for grass,
Smiled too, and went to his own tower like a walking tower of brass,
And the songs ceased and the slaves were dumb; and far towards the foam
Men saw a shadow on the sands; and her father coming home. . . .


"Blood of his blood upon the sword stood red but never dry,
He wiped it slowly, till the blade was blue as the blue sky:
But the blue sky split with a thunder-crack, spat down a blinding brand,
And all of him lay back and flat as his shadow on the sand."


 The touch and the tornado; all our guns give tongue together,
  St. Barbara for the gunnery and God defend the right—
 They are stopped and gapped and battered as we blast away the weather,
  Building window upon window to our lady of the light;
 For the light is come on Liberty, her foes are falling, falling,
  They are reeling, they are running, as the shameful years have run,
 She is risen for all the humble, she has heard the conquered calling,
  St. Barbara of the Gunners, with her hand upon the gun.


 They are burst asunder in the midst that eat of their own flatteries,
  Whose lip is curled to order as its barbered hair is curled . . .
 —Blast of the beauty of sudden death, St. Barbara of the batteries
  That blow the new white window in the wall of all the world.


For the hand is raised behind us, and the bolt smites hard,
Through the rending of the doorways, through the death-gap of the Guard,
For the shout of the Three Colours is in Condé and beyond,
And the Guard is flung for carrion in the graveyard of St. Gond;
Through Mondemont and out of it, through Morin marsh and on,
With earthquake of salutation the impossible thing is gone;
Gaul, charioted and charging, great Gaul upon a gun,
Tiptoe on all her thousand years, and trumpeting to the sun,
As day returns, as death returns, swung backward for a span,
Back on the barbarous reign returns the battering-ram of Man.


While that the east held hard and hot like pincers in a forge,
Came like the west wind roaring up the Cannon of St. George,
Where the hunt is up and racing over stream and swamp and tarn,
And their batteries, black with battle, hold the bridge-heads of the Marne;
And across the carnage of the Guard by Paris in the plain
The Normans to the Bretons cried; and the Bretons cheered again;
But he that told the tale went home to his house beside the sea
And burned before St. Barbara, the light of the windows three.
Three candles for an unknown thing, never to come again,
That opened like the eye of God on Paris in the plain.


FROM A TRENCH

OUT here the dogs of war run loose,
 Their whipper-in is Death;
Across the spoilt and battered fields
 We hear their sobbing breath.
The fields where grew the living corn
 Are heavy with our dead;
Yet still the fields at home are green
 And I have heard it said:


 That—
There are crocuses at Nottingham!
Wild crocuses at Nottingham!
Blue crocuses at Nottingham!
Though here the grass is red.


There are little girls at Nottingham
 Who do not dread the Boche,
Young girls at school at Nottingham
 (Lord! how I need a wash!).
There are little boys at Nottingham
 Who never heard a gun;
There are silly fools at Nottingham
 Who think we're here for fun.


 When—
There are crocuses at Nottingham!
Young crocus buds at Nottingham!
Thousands of buds at Nottingham
Ungathered by the Hun.


But here we trample down the grass
 Into a purple slime;
There lives no tree to give the birds
 House room in pairing-time.
We live in holes, like cellar rats,
 But through the noise and smell
I often see those crocuses
 Of which the people tell.


 Why!
There are crocuses at Nottingham!
Bright crocuses at Nottingham!
Real crocuses at Nottingham!
Because we're here in Hell.


MOPSUS

A September Idyll

Quoniam convenimus ambo . . . Incipe, Mopse, prior.Virgil.

HE was lounging over the stubble on a slope of St. Catherine's Hill, 
While the old swine grubbed contented, and the young pigs took their fill
Of the sweet corn grains that had fallen, and he found me under the hedge,
Looking up to the tower-crowned summit and down far over the ledge
Of the Downs to the vale of Medina and the reedy bed of the Yar,
And the mainland, a shadow; and one white gleam of the Solent afar;
Mopsus, whose name was Marvin ("Joe Marvin," I think he said),
An urchin just turned fourteen, with a round and hard-looking head,
But a not unintelligent face, for he certainly was no fool,
And they'd taught him a thing or two at a Spartan village-school
Where force was not out of fashion: "They clouted ma sisterr—she's slow
To pick up 'er learrning—on th' 'ead with a book—the teacherrs, ye know."—
Mopsus, the name just suits him, an ungainly brand of boy,
With a cheerful grin that marked him to grow up a hobble-de-hoy,
If it weren't for a certain humour, a something quaint in his talk,
A familiar twinkle, a manner of ease, a deliberate walk.
And he leaned on a broken pitch-fork ("To clout them," I told him in chaff,
"Now you're on top!") as Eumaeus of old might have leant on his staff.
"And what do you think of, Mopsus?" the conventional poet must ask;
"Is it some of the songs they taught you—the pleasant part of your task
In that school where they clout the backward—of the noon-day bee that hums
So drowsy——" "Aw noa," quoth Mopsus, "a'm mostly thinkin' o' sums."
"What, just arithmetic? Stuff that you learned in the standards?" "Aw yuss,
An' a' arst ma dad fur a cycle—three poun', an' 'e make no fuss,
No more nor as if I arst 'im fur a five-shillun pair of shoes,
An'—parrdon, but, sirr, have ye read the paper?—'s ther any noos
O' the Dardanelles? Ma brotherr the Isle o' Wight Rifles 'e joined,
An' there's lots of 'em killed a'ready, that last big landing, you moind,
Wi' the 'Stralians an' Noo Zealan's; but ma brotherr 'e's not killed yet."—
(Mopsus, lightest of heart, unfeelingest!)"—Maister, ut's wet,
That bit o' long grass whur ye're sittun', an' yesterday, would ye believe,
A' sat wi' ma coat aside me, an' a' hearrd just under ma sleeve
A kind o' a noise o' whustlun, an' a' reached out after ut so,
An' 'twas thurr in ma pocket—a' drew out quick—'twas an adderr, ye know."
(I rose rather hastily.) "Mopsus, there's always an adder," I thought,
"In all the pleasantest hedges, so the tedious wise have taught,"
But I said, "Good-bye, Joe Marvin," and stooped to pick up my hat.
"But say, do you never feel lonely and just inclined for a chat?"
"Aw noa," he grinned, "a'm talkun wi' myself most parrt o' the day."
"What, the same old pounds and shillings?"—"Well, ye know, sirr, it's just this way:
Ma father 'e give me ma wages, six shillun'—enough, says he,
Fur a boy just done wi' schoolun'—an' thur's lots to buy, ye see:
Thur's cigarrettes for ma brotherr—anythink but Turrkish 'e like—
An' a bugle—the one a'm learrnun' ain't mine—an' a tyre fur ma bike—
As a' rode up the lane the firrst time, three punctures a' had an' a burrst,
So ye'd best walk down—but a'll show ye the way to the hilltop firrst."
And he pointed over the stubble to a way he'd lately found
That led to the steeper Down-crest by a sheep-track coiling round.
And I saw the lonely ocean with but one destroyer in sight
All round from Ventnor town to the Needles glimmering white,
A squat black beetle-body, sole witness in that wide scene
Of the silent, incredible war with the vanishing submarine;
And was wrapt in the air divine that is unto the body as wings,
And unto the soul quintessence of glad, unspeakable things.
I think that, whenever I breathe it, 'twill bring back a thought of that day—
Of Mopsus flicking the bushes in his slouching, leisurely way,
And the brother of whom he told me, as only fourteen tells,
Whole among thousands mangled at the deathly Dardanelles.
Perhaps on a Turkish hillside he is gazing up at the sky,
As he thinks of the far home-coming and the things that money 'll buy;
And a Spartan school has taught him some other, harder sums,
Which he calculates, like Mopsus, till a day of reckoning comes.

April, 1915.


THE HELL-GATE OF SOISSONS

MY name is Darino, the poet. You have heard? Oui, Comédie Française.
Perchance it has happened, mon ami, you know of my unworthy lays.
Ah, then you must guess how my fingers are itching to talk to a pen;
For I was at Soissons, and saw it, the death of the twelve Englishmen.


My leg, malheureusement, I left it behind on the banks of the Aisne.
Regret? I would pay with the other to witness their valour again.
A trifle, indeed, I assure you, to give for the honour to tell
How that handful of British, undaunted, went into the Gateway of Hell.


Let me draw you a plan of the battle. Here we French and your Engineers stood;
Over there a detachment of German sharpshooters lay hid in a wood.
A mitrailleuse battery planted on top of this well-chosen ridge
Held the road for the Prussians and covered the direct approach to the bridge.


It was madness to dare the dense murder that spewed from those ghastly machines.
(Only those who have danced to its music can know what the mitrailleuse means.)
But the bridge on the Aisne was a menace; our safety demanded its fall:
"Engineers,—volunteers!" In a body, the Royals stood out at the call.


Death at best was the fate of that mission—to their glory not one was dismayed.
A party was chosen—and seven survived till the powder was laid.
And they died with their fuses unlighted. Another detachment! Again
A sortie is made—all too vainly. The bridge still commanded the Aisne.


We were fighting two foes—Time and Prussia—the moments were worth more than troops.
We must blow up the bridge. A lone soldier darts out from the Royals and swoops
For the fuse! Fate seems with us. We cheer him; he answers—our hopes are reborn!
A ball rips his visor—his khaki shows red where another has torn.


Will he live—will he last—will he make it? Helas! And so near to the goal!
A second, he dies! then a third one! A fourth! Still the Germans take toll!
A fifth, magnifique! It is magic! How does he escape them? He may . . .
Yes, he does! See, the match flares! A rifle rings out from the wood and says "Nay!"


Six, seven, eight, nine take their places, six, seven, eight, nine brave their hail;
Six, seven, eight, nine—how we count them! But the sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth fail!
A tenth! Sacré nom! But these English are soldiers—they know how to try;
(He fumbles the place where his jaw was)—they show, too, how heroes can die.


Ten we count—ten who ventured unquailing—ten there were—and ten are no more!
Yet another salutes and superbly essays where the ten failed before.
God of Battles, look down and protect him! Lord, his heart is as Thine—let him live!
But the mitrailleuse splutters and stutters, and riddles him into a sieve.


Then I thought of my sins, and sat waiting the charge that we could not withstand.
And I thought of my beautiful Paris, and gave a last look at the land,
At France, my belle France, in her glory of blue sky and green field and wood.
Death with honour, but never surrender. And to die with such men—it was good.


They are forming—the bugles are blaring—they will cross in a moment and then . . .
When out of the line of the Royals (your island, mon ami, breeds men)
Burst a private, a tawny-haired giant—it was hopeless, but ciel! how he ran!
Bon Dieu please remember the pattern, and make many more on his plan!


No cheers from our ranks, and the Germans, they halted in wonderment too;
See, he reaches the bridge; ah! he lights it! I am dreaming, it cannot be true.
Screams of rage! Fusillade! They have killed him! Too late though, the good work is done.
By the valour of twelve English martyrs, the Hell-Gate of Soissons is won!


HENRI

TO-NIGHT I drifted to the restaurant
We scribblers fancy, finding it unchanged
Save that I saw no more my dapper friend,
The waiter Henri. When I asked for him,
"Gone to the War," another waiter said. . . .


"Gone to the War!" That man, so mild a part
Of peace and its traditions! Debonair,
Childlike, alert, and none too strong, we'd thought.
He who had served so deftly, and, secure,
Had walked the beaten path and sheltered ways—
He now was with the cannon and the kings!
Gentle he was, and ever with a smile.
Ah! wears he still a smile? For now his soul
Has taken iron, and stood forth austere,
Made suddenly acquainted with despair,
And pain, and horror, and the timeless things.
I called him once, and he unhurried came;
And now he hurries at Another's beck—
Ancient, enormous, immemorial War—
And, past the trampled valley of the Meuse,
Finds a red service in the day's vast hall
Of thunders and in night's domain of death
Attends, unless he too be of the dead.
And I sit here beneath the harmless lights!


O simple soul War's hands laid hold upon
And led to devastations, and the shock
Of legions, and the rumble of huge guns,
And crash and lightning of the rended shells,
Above a region veined and pooled with blood!
You now have part with all intrepid youth
That took, in ages past, the battle-line,
And in a mighty Cause had faith and love.
You are the hero now, and I the sheep!
And quietly beneath the pleasant lamps
I sit, and wonder how you fare to-night.
It's midnight now in France. Perhaps you find
Uneasy slumber; or perhaps, entrenched,
You wait the night attack across the rain.
Perhaps, my friend, they've made your bed with spades!
And I sit moody here, remembering,
As careless men and women rise and go,
I never asked you if you had a wife.


ROMANCE

OLD orchard crofts of Picardy, 
 In the high warm winds of May,
Tossed into blossomed billowings,
 And spattered the roads with spray.
Over the earth the scudding cloud,
 And the laverock whistling high,
Lifted the drooping heart of the lad
 At one bound to the sky.
France! France! and the old romance
 Came over him like a spell;
Homesickness and his weariness
 Shook from him then and fell;
   For he was again with d'Artagnan;
    With Alan Breck and d'Artagnan;
   And the pipes before him gleefully
    Were playing airs of Pan.


Through dust that in a mist uprose
 From under the trampling feet,
He saw old storied places, dim
 In the haze of the summer heat.
Menace and ambush, wounds and death,
 Lurked in the ditch and wood,
But he, high-breasted, walked in joy
 With a glorious multitude;
Great hearts that never perish,
 Nor grow old with the aches of Time,
Marched through the morning with him,
 All in a magic clime;
   But loved of all was d'Artagnan,
    And Alan the kith of kings,
   Fond comrades of his childhood's days,
    Still on their wanderings.


From miry clefts of the wintry plain
 He leapt with his platoon,
The morion on his forehead,
 And the soul of him at noon;
With head high to the hurricane
 He walked, and in his breast
He knew himself immortal,
 And that death was but a jest
A smile was on his visage
 When they found him where he fell,
The gallant old companions,
 In an amaranthine dell.
   "Lad o' my heart!" cried Alan Breck,
    "Well done thy first campaign!"
   "Sleep thou till morn," said d'Artagnan,
    "When we three march again!"


THE MOBILIZATION IN BRITTANY

I

IT was silent in the street.
I did not know until a woman told me,
Sobbing over the muslin she sold me.
Then I went out and walked to the square
And saw a few dazed people standing there.


And then the drums beat, the drums beat!
O then the drums beat!
And hurrying, stumbling through the street
Came the hurrying stumbling feet.
O I have heard the drums beat
For war!
I have heard the townsfolk come,
I have heard the roll and thunder of the nearest drum
As the drummer stopped and cried, "Hear!
Be strong! The summons comes! Prepare!"
Closing, he prayed us to be calm . . .


And there was calm in my heart of the desert, of the dead sea,
Of vast plains of the West before the coming storm,
And there was calm in their eyes like the last calm that shall be.


And then the drum beat,
The fatal drum beat,
And the drummer marched through the street
And down to another square,
And the drummer above took up the beat
And sent it onward where,
Huddled, we stood and heard the drums roll,
And then a bell began to toll.


O I have heard the thunder of drums
Crashing into simple poor homes.
I have heard the drums roll "Farewell!"
I have heard the tolling cathedral bell
Will it ever peal again?
Shall I ever smile or feel again?
What was joy? What was pain?


For I have heard the drums beat,
I have seen the drummer striding from street to street,
Crying, "Be strong! Hear what I must tell!"
While the drums roared and rolled and beat
For war!

II

Last night the men of this region were leaving. Now they are far.
Rough and strong they are, proud and gay they are.
So this is the way of war . . .


The train was full and we all shouted as it pulled away.
They sang an old war-song, they were true to themselves, they were gay!
We might have thought they were going for a holiday—


Except for something in the air,
Except for the weeping of the ruddy old women of Finistère.
The younger women do not weep. They dream and stare.


They seem to be walking in dreams. They seem not to know
It is their homes, their happiness, vanishing so.
(Every strong man between twenty and forty must go.)


They sang an old war-song. I have heard it often in other-days,
But never before when War was walking the world's highways.
They sang, they shouted, the Marseillaise!


The train went and another has gone, but none, coming, has brought word.
Though you may know, you, out in the world, we have not heard,
We are not sure that the great battalions have stirred—


Except for something, something in the air,
Except for the weeping of the wild old women of Finistère.
How long will the others dream and stare?


The train went. The strong men of this region are all away, afar.
Rough and strong they are, proud and gay they are.
So this is the way of war . . .


THE RECRUIT

HIS mother bids him go without a tear;
 His sweetheart walks beside him, proudly gay,
 "No coward have I loved," her clear eyes say—
The band blares out and all the townsfolk cheer.


Yet in his heart he thinks: "I am afraid!
 I am afraid of Fear—how can I tell
 If in the ordeal 'twill go ill or well?
How can man tell how bravely man is made?"


Steady he waits, obeying brisk command,
 Head up, chin firm, and every muscle steeled,—
 Thinking: "I shot a rabbit in a field
And sickened at its blood upon my hand."


The sky is blue and little winds blow free,
 He catches up his comrades' marching-song;
 Their bayonets glitter as they sweep along—
("How ghastly a red bayonet must be!")


How the folk stare! His comrade on the right
 Whispers a joke—is gay and debonair,
 Sure of himself and quite at odds with care;—
But does he, too, turn restlessly at night?


From each familiar scene his inner eye
 Turns to far fields by Titans rent and torn;
 For in that struggle must his soul be born,
To look upon itself and live—or die!


PIERROT AT WAR

A YEAR ago in Carnival
We danced till break of day;
A year ago in Carnival
The boulevards were gay;
And roses shook the whispering air,
Like a great sibilant soft fanfare.


In Carnival, in Carnival,
A prince of Magic comes,
To the sound of fifes, and the sound of horns,
And the sound of little drums.


A year ago in Carnival,
The lamps along the quays
Lay softer on the misty night
Than stars in leafy trees,
And down the ribboned sparkling street
Pierrot ran on twinkling feet.


Ah year! There is no Carnival:
The north burns dusky red,
And on the white of Pierrot's brow
Is a long scar instead;
While ever the muttering runs
From the bleeding lips of the guns.


This year, this year at Carnival
A Prince of Magic comes,
With blood-red crest against the sky
And a snarl of angry drums.


HIGH SUMMER

PINKS and syringa in the garden closes,
And the sweet privet hedge and golden roses,
The pines hot in the sun, the drone of the bee,
They die in Flanders to keep these for me.


The long sunny days and the still weather,
The cuckoo and blackbird shouting together,
The lambs calling their mothers out on the lea,
They die in Flanders to keep these for me.


All doors and windows open: the South wind blowing
Warm through the clean sweet rooms on tiptoe going,
Where many sanctities, dear and delightsome, be,
They die in Flanders to keep these for me.


Daisies leaping in foam on the green grasses,
The dappled sky and the stream that sings as it passes;
These are bought with a price, a bitter fee,
They die in Flanders to keep these for me.


RHEIMS CATHEDRAL—1914

A WINGÈD death has smitten dumb thy bells,
 And poured them molten from thy tragic towers:
 Now are the windows dust that were thy flowers,
Patterned like frost, petalled like asphodels.
Gone are the angels and the archangels,
 The saints, the little lamb above thy door,
 The shepherd Christ! They are not, any more,
Save in the soul where exiled beauty dwells.


But who has heard within thy vaulted gloom
 That old divine insistence of the sea,
 When music flows along the sculptured stone
In tides of prayer, for him thy windows bloom
 Like faithful sunset, warm immortally!
 Thy bells live on, and Heaven is in their tone!


TO MY DAUGHTER BETTY, THE GIFT OF GOD

(Elizabeth Dorothy)

IN wiser days, my darling rosebud, blown
To beauty proud as was your mother's prime,
In that desired, delayed, incredible time,
You'll ask why I abandoned you, my own,
And the dear heart that was your baby throne,
To dice with death. And oh! they'll give you rhyme
And reason: some will call the thing sublime,
And some decry it in a knowing tone.
So here, while the mad guns curse overhead,
And tired men sigh with mud for couch and floor,
Know that we fools, now with the foolish dead,
Died not for flag, nor King, nor Emperor,
But for a dream, born in a herdsman's shed,
And for the secret Scripture of the poor.

The Field, before
 Guillemont, Somme,
  September 4, 1916.


THE RAINBOW

"And it shall come to pass, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow shall be seen in the cloud."—Genesis, Chap. ix. 14.

 I WATCH the white dawn gleam,
 To the thunder of hidden guns.
 I hear the hot shells scream
 Through skies as sweet as a dream
  Where the silver dawnbreak runs,
 And stabbing of light
 Scorches the virginal white.
But I feel in my being the old, high, sanctified thrill,
And I thank the gods that the dawn is beautiful still.


 From death that hurtles by
  I crouch in the trench day-long,
 But up in the cloudless sky
 From the ground where our dead men lie
  A brown lark soars in song.
 Through the tortured air
 Rent by the shrapnel's flare,
Over the troubleless dead he carols his fill,
And I thank the gods that the birds are beautiful still.


 Where the parapet is low
  And level with the eye
 Poppies and cornflowers glow
 And the corn sways to and fro
  In a pattern against the sky.
 The gold stalks hide
 Bodies of men who died
Charging at dawn through the dew to be killed or to kill,
I thank the gods that the flowers are beautiful still.


 When night falls dark we creep
  In silence to our dead.
 We dig a few feet deep
 And leave them there to sleep—
  But blood at night is red,
 Yea, even at night,
 And a dead man's face is white.
And I dry my hands, that are also trained to kill,
And I look at the stars—for the stars are beautiful still.


BACK TO REST

(Composed while marching to Rest Camp after severe fighting at Loos.)

A leaping wind from England, 
 The skies without a stain,
Clean cut against the morning
 Slim poplars after rain,
The foolish noise of sparrows
 And starlings in a wood—
After the grime of battle
 We know that these are good.


Death whining down from Heaven,
 Death roaring from the ground,
Death stinking in the nostril,
 Death shrill in every sound,
Doubting, we charged and conquered—
 Hopeless we struck and stood.
Now when the fight is ended
 We know that it was good.


We that have seen the strongest
 Cry like a beaten child,
The sanest eye unholy,
 The cleanest hands defiled,
We that have known the heart blood
 Less then the lees of wine,
We that have seen men broken,
 We know man is divine.


PRAYER OF A SOLDIER IN FRANCE

MY shoulders ache beneath my pack
(Lie easier, Cross, upon His back).


I march with feet that burn and smart
(Tread, Holy Feet, upon my heart).


Men shout at me who may not speak
(They scourged Thy back and smote Thy cheek).


I may not lift a hand to clear
My eyes of salty drops that sear.


(When shall my fickle soul forget
The Agony of Bloody Sweat!)


My rifle hand is stiff and numb
(From Thy pierced palms red rivers come).


Lord, Thou didst suffer more for me
Than all the hosts of land and sea.


So let me render back again
This millionth of Thy gift. Amen.


SOLOMON IN ALL HIS GLORY

STILL I see them coming, coming,
 In their ragged broken line,
Walking wounded in the sunlight,
 Clothed in majesty divine.


For the fairest of the lilies,
 That God's summer ever sees,
Ne'er was clothed in royal beauty
 Such as decks the least of these.


Tattered, torn, and bloody khaki,
 Gleams of white flesh in the sun,
Raiments worthy of their beauty,
 And the great things they have done.


Purple robes and snowy linen
 Have for earthly kings sufficed,
But these bloody sweaty tatters
 Were the robes of Jesus Christ.


WAR

THERE'S a soul in the Eternal,
Standing stiff before the King,
There's a little English maiden
 Sorrowing.
There's a proud and tearless woman,
Seeing pictures in the fire.
There's a broken battered body
 On the wire.

  1. Written on the anniversary of the Battle of the Marne.