More songs by the fighting men. Soldiers poets: second series/R. Howard Spring

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R. HOWARD SPRING

Corporal, A.S.C., France

 

Hic Jacet

UNRECORDED and unsung,
Lay his body in the clay;
Buckler broken, sword unslung,
Done the friendly light of day,
Done the song of birds in May,
Praising life with flame-touched tongue.


Lay his body in the clay;
Sing no song of joy or sorrow;
Fled the dream of yesterday,
Dead the dawning of to-morrow.
He no more will give or borrow
'Mid the dwellers of the day.


Those who knew him may forget him,
Those who never knew remember;
Woman, thou who didst beget him,
And with tenderness beset him,
See him lie amid the clay.
O let him who will, remember!

 

Knowledge

TALK not to me of knowledge, I would fain
Wander along life's dewy marge again,
Plucking the flowers a-drip with morning rain.


Within a drop of dew is sphered the world;
All mystery within a rose lies furled;
Tempests within a murmuring shell up-curled.


I sought for knowledge, and the shell is shattered.
I sought for knowledge, and the things that mattered—
The rose leaves and the dew—abroad are scattered.


Talk not to me of knowledge; she would tear
The lily-chalice and let out the rare
Communion wine that God has gathered there.

 

At Sunset: September, 1917

O LIVING beauty of the dying day!
All the ungathered splendour of the hours
Is folded in your heart, as all the wealth
Of June lies perfect in a crimson rose,
We who, unheeding, watched the little pools
Of rippling light that underlay the trees,
And saw the clear young arrows shoot the gloom
Of chambers darkly curtain'd with no surprise,
Kneel to the regal miracle which lends
To death the august mystery life forbade.


And now upon these fields are gathered up
In one great blood-red rose of sacrifice
All unremembered buds of love and faith
That shy young lives erst offered Freedom's crowns
And to this fierce consuming altar fire,
That speaks a God-ward world in tongues of flame,
Each spark of heart's devotion lends its strength,
Each candle-point of truth its warmth and light.

 

The Bells

[In Germany church bells are being melted down for war purposes.]

The Bells:

WHAT have we done
That sacrilegious hands should tear us down
From the high belfry above the little town,
Whence now for fifty years to King and clown
We speak of life and death? What have we done?


First Bell:

We rang for the coming of souls to earth,
We rang the joy of children's birth;
We rocked and carolled the young life in,
A holy carol to ward off sin.
Our notes flew over the grey old town
In a helter-skelter, by the wind blown
Higher and higher, and mingled at last
With the songs of souls whose purging is past;
And then together we and they
To the great Maker of Life would pray
That the life might be blessed that was born that day.


Second Bell:

Sadly we tolled the old life out
That was done with laughter and tears and doubt.
Silverly clear, when the moon sailed by
And the tides of life throbbed stormy and high.
We sang of faith and nerve and thew
To meet the devil and wrestle through.


Third Bell:

We rang of peace and we rang good-will
On the Christ-child's day, so ghostly-still;
When, dumbed with snow, the village street
No answer made to passing feet.
Earth stopped her breathing, knowing then
The seed of God sown among men.
We rocked the steeple on Easter day
When Christ the Spirit broke the clay
In glory of yellow daffodils
And holy laughter of dancing rills.


The Bells:

O men who tear us from our place on high
To make us messengers of hate and death,
Thus you uproot the holy lily-flower
And hug a dry and tinkling husk that holds
No spirit essential and no soul of grace.
Thus you tear out the heart from Sharon's rose,
And only thorns remain to make a crown
To lacerate afresh the brow of Christ.
The tower remains, the shell that th' outward eye
May see and reverence as a God's abode.
But O ye happy ones whose inward eye
Not unillumined is, pass by and say:
Here lies the clay inanimate by fire;
Here stands the empty stall that has no choir;
Here die the lives from which the God has fled.
Behold! The Christ steals by with bleeding head.