More songs by the fighting men. Soldiers poets: second series/John Eugene Crombie
JOHN EUGENE CROMBIE
Captain, Gordon Highlanders
(Killed in Action, St. George's Day, 1917)
WALKING my dream-paved road on the Hill of Desire
I saw beneath me the City of Quiet Delight;
The warming rays from each home-welcoming fire
Wove a pattern of gold on the velvet curtain of night.
The scent from the hill's rank grass put desire in my soul
To attain to the City below in the Valley of Hope,
But my grey path led beyond the horizon's roll,
Binding my feet in the web of a dream-made rope.
Reluctant, I followed the path, where I knew was Pain,
The distance glared with a furnace glow in the sky,
And the voice of the sea and the splashing of tropic rain
Were the hiss of the steam from untaught Machinery.
My dream-path led through the Furnace, and Pain, and Fire—
I could not stay nor turn from the road in flight—
But I knew it would lead me back past the Hill of Desire
To the warm hearth-stones in the City of Quiet Delight.
THERE'S a broken, lame old pedlar a-limping down the street,
Cold sorrow at his heart, a hard road beneath his feet,
Lifeless walls around him and a leaden sky above
As he searches through the city for the face of his lost Love.
Red and blue and golden leaps the flame of his desire;
Red, for glowing embers of a vagabond's night fire,
Blue, to seek the deep unf athomed glory of the sea,
And gold for Northern sunsets, wealth of beggars such as he.
The fire and sea and sunset are the face of his lost Love,
His heart is plucked by stronger chords than ever cities wove,
But, buried 'twixt the pavement grey, grey walls and smoke-hid skies
In a closely leaded coffin the old pedlar's lost love lies.
MUSING alone beside my midnight fire
On some old tale of bygone chivalry,
I heard upon the wind's unending sigh
The muffled feet of many thousand years.
I saw them pass, grey-cloaked and travel-stained,
Toward a crystal gate beyond the stars.
He that is called the Builder came to me
And took me by the hand, and then he spake:
"This is the Gate through which the years must pass
To be absolved from the Eternal Curse
And lay aside their shabby cloak of sin.
Brave men have brought their strength and gentleness,
Children have brought their laughter, women tears
For stones to build the Crystal Gate—and thou?"
OVER the bare, blank line of the ridge,
Over the stump of Sentinel Tree,
The moon slowly crosses the unseen bridge
That is set in the sky from the hills to the sea.
The sun's pale sister, moving yet dead,
The scars show dark on her weary face:
Is it strife of a million years that have bled
Her heart's life, and set Death's frosty sheen in her place?
Is she watching our strife, the tired moon? Can she see
How the earth's face is scarred, her life ebbing fast?
And only the shorn stump of Sentinel Tree
Prays in silence, "How long will her agony last?"
Trenches, December, 1916.
ALWAYS the rolling mist,
Wrapping the scene in wet and fleecy fold,
Moved as a curtain by the sluggish wind,
Lifting and swaying, falling damp and cold,
It sweeps, yet passes never, soft and blind.
Have sunbeams never kissed
These dreary hills and life-forsaken slopes—
Hidden like women's shoulders in a gown
That mars their beauty? Only shattered hopes
And ghostly fears people the shadowed down.
These sunless wreaths are curling round my heart:
The deadening fingers of the passing years
Are closing, and I cannot thrust apart
Their tightening grip. . . . No ray of sun appears,
Only the rolling mist.
Huts, France, December, 1916.
THE first bright spears have pierced the armoured brown,
Broadened and drooped, and snowdrops speck the field:
The lengthening gaze of daylight looking down
Is shocked to see the hedge-row winter sealed
Sleeping in nakedness, and stirs her frame
And with the hawthorn bids her hide her shame.
Returning through the fields at evening hour
I lay before Thy shrine my offering,
My candle-flame a yellow crocus flower,
Its life but newly lit to Thee I bring
In thanks that I can see Thy guiding hand
In every flower that decorates the land.
Billets, France, March, 1917.
Easter Day, 1917—The Eve of the Battle
I ROSE and watched the eternal giant of fire
Renew his struggle with the grey monk Dawn,
Slowly supreme, though broadening streaks of blood
Besmirch the threadbare cloak, and pour his flood
Of life and strength on our yet sleeping choir,
As I went out to church on Easter morn.
Returning with the song of birds and men
Acclaiming victory of throbbing life,
I saw the fairies of the morning shower
Giving to drink each waking blade and flower,
I saw the new world take Communion then—
And now 'tis night and we return to strife.
Huts, France, April, 1917.