The Muse in Arms/Loving and Living

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Loving and Living


CIV

To Mother

CAN I make my feeble art
Show the burning of my heart?
Five-and-twenty years of schooling
Since you bore me, weak and puling,
Every day and every hour
I have battened on your power,
While you taught of life the whole;
You my Best Beloved and nighest,
You who ever claimed the highest
Was the one and only goal.
Often weary, often ailing,
Never for a moment failing,
Always cheering, always propping,
Often checking, sometimes stopping,
When the sands of life seemed sliding
You were helping, you were guiding—
Claimed for me the glorious rôle:
You my loved one and no other,
You my only lovely Mother,
You the pilot of my soul.


CV

Mother's Birthday

IT was good to be alive on mother's Birthday,
It was good to shake off sleepiness and rise,
It was good to throw the legs across my pony
And to drink the morning sunlight with the eyes.


It was good to take the road on mother's Birthday
As old "Bob" kicked up his heels and ran away,
It was good to trot him back into his stable
And to play with "Ginger" till he got his hay.


It was good to have my bath on mother's Birthday
And to swill the water cold all down the back,
It was good to shave and wash and put on khaki
And kneel and ask that mother has no lack.


It was good to up and out on mother's Birthday,
And to join the merry fellows in the mess.
It was good to toast the bread for early breakfast
And enjoy myself a little none the less!


It was good to see the works on mother's Birthday
And to have a look how things were going on,
It was good to see the carpenters and sawyers
And the engines and the horses pulling strong.


It was good to see the shops on mother's Birthday,
And the blacksmiths at the anvil and the forge,
And the fitters and the masons and the plumbers,
Busy tradesmen, trusty soldiers of King George.


It was good to see the field on mother's Birthday,
It was good to feel the sunshine and the breeze,
It was good to see the water in the river,
And the flowers and the sparrows and the trees.


It was good to think of men on mother's Birthday,
Just the men you have to govern and to serve,
And to say that this must not be done or must be,
So that every man may offer every nerve.


It was good to walk the line on mother's Birthday
To the Hospital—along and back again,
It was good to see the nurses and the doctors
And to breathe a silent prayer for dying men.


It was good to drill the men on mother's Birthday,
All the company in column in the field.
It was good to see their arms were clean and steady,
And to see them marching firmly as they wheeled.


It was good to pay the men on mother's Birthday,
And to give them but an earnest of their due,
And to see them playing Footer in the evening,
Just to keep their bodies manly, strong, and true.


It was good to have a rest on mother's Birthday,
In the evening when the daytime's work was done.
It was good to sit and look across to mother,
And to contemplate the rest when it is won.


It was good to go to sleep on mother's Birthday,
And to let the tired body take its ease,
And to dream of dreamy, long-forgotten spring days
When a little body lay on mother's knees.


Only every man has not a mother's Birthday,
No one ever had a mother just like mine!
It was good to be alive on mother's Birthday,
Son of Mary—Mother, gentle and divine.


CVI

The Bonny, Bonny Braes

I

LONELY I linger'd when you went,
Recalling how the days had fled
Each with its mingled treasure pent
Of shine and shade rememberèd . . .
Oh, how I crush'd the grapes divine,
Blending a flood of wakeful wine.


Next look'd I on the well-lov'd scene,
Eager its ready wealth to glean:
And forg'd therefrom a cup of gold—
Red hills, blue loch, and islands green—
(Rare alchemy!). So could it hold
That vintage of our joy, and I
Drink deep the draught of memory.


II

Love, be not sad but listen
To the laughter of the wave,
Sweeping ever madly after
His desire above yon cave:
See the leaping shingle glisten
With the fire his kisses gave—
Oh mingle, love, your laughter
With the laughter of the wave.


CVII

Suvla Bay

OLD rose and black and indigo,
Saffron streaks in a spume-tipped grey,
Purple, laved in the dawn's wan glow—
God, how fair you are, Suvla Bay!


Spitting shrapnel and shrieking steel,
Brave men dead in their youth's noonday,
All the anguish their loved ones feel
Is your ambrose, fair Suvla Bay!


Stabbing sun from a brazen sky,
Choking dust from the corpse-strewn way,
Each one treads as he marches by,—
God, how I loathe you, Suvla Bay!


Tanned men delving with laboured breath,
Stinking lighters discharging hay,
Grey-hulled battleships belching death,
God, there's work on at Suvla Bay!


Pale, pale moon and the cold north star,
You who watch while I kneel and pray,
Take to her in the northland far
One sobbing prayer from Suvla Bay!


One sobbing prayer that the dull heart-pain
God in heav'n Thou alone canst stay,
For her be stilled till I come again
Back to her side from Suvla Bay!


CVIII

I Love

I LOVE thee as I love the holiest things,
Like perfect poetry and angels' wings,
And cleanliness, and sacred motherhood,
And all things simple, sweetly pure, and good.
I love thee as I love a little child,
And calves and kittens, and all things soft and mild:
Things that I want to cuddle and to kiss,
And stroke and play with: dear, I love like this.
And, best of all, I love thee as a friend,
O fellow seeker of a mutual end!


CIX

To his Maid

SINCE above Time, upon Eternity
The lovely essence of true loving's set,
Time shall not triumph over you and me,
Nor—though we pay his debt—
Shall Death hold mastery.


Your eyes are bright for ever. Your dark hair
Holds an eternal shade. Like a bright sword
Shall flame the vision of your strange sweet ways,
Cleaving the years: and even your smallest word
Lying forgotten with the things that were,
Shall glow and kindle, burning up the days.


CX

The Barrier

A WALL and gulf for ever lie between,
Not all that we may do through love or wit
Can quite avail to pull away the screen,
Nor yet succeed in bridging o'er the pit.
He knows the reason, He that ordered it,
Who bade us love but never understand.
He fixed the barrier as He saw fit,
And bade us yearn and still stretch forth the hand
Across the very sea He'd said should ne'er be spanned.
But sure this great and aching love of mine,
That ever yearns to know and to be known,
Can tear the veil that sometimes seems so fine
As though 'twere cobweb waiting but the blow
To fall asunder and for ever go.
E'en as I rise to strike, it is too late,
The cobwebs billow, thicken, seem to grow
To a thick wall with buttress tall and great. . . .
I stand alone, a stranger at a city gate.


CXI

Rainbow

GOD built a bridge
Across the sky
From ridge to ridge,
And arched it high;
And made it bright
Against the storm,
And wrought with light
Its rounded form.


So leapt your love
Across the sky
That loured above
So hopelessly;
And at its end
Of trembling light
You stand, O friend,
Beyond my sight.


CXII

Fulfilment

WAS there love once? I have forgotten her.
Was there grief once? Grief still is mine.
Other loves I have; men rough, but men who stir
More joy, more grief than love of thee and thine.


Faces cheerful, full of whimsical mirth,
Lined by the wind, burned by the sun;
Bodies enraptured by the abounding earth,
As whose children, brothers we are and one.


And any moment may descend hot death
To shatter limbs! pulp, tear, and blast
Belovèd soldiers who love rude life and breath
Not less for dying faithful to the last.


O the fading eyes, the grimèd face turned bony,
Oped, black, gushing mouth, fallen head,
Failing pressure of a held hand shrunk and stony,
O sudden spasm, release of the dead!


Was there love once? I have forgotten her.
Was there grief once? Grief still is mine.
O loved, living, dying, heroic soldier,
All, all my joy, my grief, my love are thine!


CXIII

The Spirit of Womanhood

1. Sending

WHEN as of old the Spartan mother sent
Her best beloved to the perilous field,
One charge she laid upon him ere he went:
"Return, my son, or with or on thy shield."
Even so we, with anguish unrevealed
By eyes o'er-bright and lips to laughter lent,
Sent forth our men to battle, nor would yield
To tears by pride's fierce barriers hardly pent.


So when they fight and all the world goes red,
No memories athwart their souls shall come
That might unman them in the hour of need,
But such brave glances veiling hearts that bleed
As those old mothers turned upon their dead
On comrades' shoulders borne triumphant home.


2. Rebellion

Was it for this, dear God, that they were born,
These sons of ours, the beautiful and brave,
To fall far from us, leaving us forlorn,
Scarce knowing even if they found a grave?
It comforts not that cheerfully they gave
Their lives for England; nay, to us, outworn
With grief, it skills but that they could not save
Themselves in saving her from shame and scorn.


Cometh no answer from the pitiless skies
To us in darkness for our lost ones weeping;
Their place is empty, empty as our hearts,
Or as our prayers unheeded, nor departs
The instant anguish: we but hush our cries
Lest they should trouble our belovèd sleeping.


3. Peace

Surely the bitterness of death is past,
Drained to the dregs the waters of despair,
Yea, pride on our belovèd shall outlast
All poor desiring for the things that were.
The men we wedded and the sons we bare
Died valiantly and for the right stood fast:
Yet 'twas our blood that made them strong to dare,
Our hearts that in the battle-scale were cast.


Light of our eyes for all the years to be,
Fruit of our dreams, our dearest selves fulfilled,
These have we laid as gifts on Freedom's altar
With blinding tears, yet all ungrudgingly;
Henceforth our high hearts shall not fail nor falter,
Though in them gladness be for ever stilled.


CXIV

Any Soldier's Wife

I

LISTEN: going up the street
The echo of my soldier's feet.
A sound already growing dim
Is all I now can hold of him.
In this wide world that thinning sound—
First threat of lengthening miles of ground—
Is all the wealth I still possess,
My dwindling store of loveliness;
An ebbing tide, a fading ghost,
Poor wraith of all I cherish most.


The crowned heart of love's delight
Is hunted out into the night:
A golden pinnacle of flame
Is turned to smoke—a sigh—a name:
The song of angels' dancing feet
Become an echo in the street. . . .
O dying sound, O scarce-drawn breath,
You whisper, fail; and then comes death.
Darkness: and no footstep more.
Turn, go in, and shut the door.


II

The lark springs up from sleepy earth
To dance and soar on wings of mirth,
Dull clouds are cleft, a crystal spire
Shoots up, the air is flaked with fire
As on he sweeps in radiant rings,
Wild music scattering from his wings.


O lark, I know you—lovely life
Unsapped by dual inward strife,
Whose perfect joy is speeding whole
In conscious rapture to your goal,
Who does not plan with downward eye
How far 'tis safe to sing and fly,
Nor heed fear's whisper bidding stoop:
"What now if hawk or kite should swoop?"


There is a time for ground and nest,
For voiceless joy and folded rest;
Only when song and flight are spent
Utterly, will you drop, content,
Your heart and love's heart wholly one
Because you did not fear to run
Across the unknown fields of space,
And take life's challenge face to face.


When I give all I have to give
I'll make no bargain that he live
To lie again upon this breast.
There is a time for ground and nest.
He'll come when he has flamed in flight
Across these heavy mists of night,
And, singing like the skylark, run
To greet a newly risen sun.


And I who watch and bless him forth,
Though he go south and I go north,
Would take with him the skyward way
And clamber up the stairs of day:
Pour life in careless jewelled flow,
Nor pause, nor plan, nor look below.


O small brave lark, O brother dear,
Sing to us through the next long year;
For life's adventurers are we,
And life calls you, and him, and me.



  1. When the author told the "Padre" that this piece seemed only doggerel, he said it didn't matter if it was.