The Muse in Arms/School and College
School and College
The Field of Honour
MUD-STAINED and rain-sodden, a sport for flies and lice,
Out of this vilest life into vile death he goes;
His grave will soon be ready, where the grey rat knows
There is fresh meat slain for her;—our mortal bodies rise,
In those foul scampering bellies, quick—and yet, those eyes
That stare on life still out of death, and will not close,
Seeing in a flash the Crown of Honour, and the Rose
Of Glory wreathed about the Cross of Sacrifice,
Died radiant. May some English traveller to-day
Leaving his city cares behind him, journeying west
To the brief solace of a sporting holiday,
Quicken again with boyish ardour, as he sees,
For a moment, Windsor Castle towering on the crest
And Eton still enshrined among remembering trees.
"Let as now praise famous men"
A WEARY time, a dreary time, a time of hopes and fears,
The weeks that pass, the months that pass and lengthen into years.
My heart goes back to Harrow, to Harrow far away,
And Harrow sends a message to cheer me on my way.
"For good come, bad come, they came the same before,
So heigh ho, follow the game, and show the way to more."
Mourn not for those whose names are writ in gold,
They fought for England, gladly gave their all.
Kept Harrow's honour spotless as of old,
Nor feared to answer to the last great call.
They showed the way to more, their names will ring
Through all succeeding years of Harrow's fame,
Whatever changes after years may bring
Their sons will follow up and play the game.
O Mother Herga, all our thanks we give
For all your care of us, your watchful eye:
You made us men, you taught us how to live,
And in your wisdom taught us how to die.
The strongest bond of all, the bond of friends
Made in our youth, a bond that naught can break,
Binds us to you until our journey ends,
We live, we fight, we die for Harrow's sake.
Friedberg in Hessen,
June 20th, 1916.
A Letter from the Trenches to a School Friend
I HAVE not brought my Odyssey
With me here across the sea;
But you'll remember, when I say
How, when they went down Sparta way,
To sandy Sparta, long ere dawn
Horses were harnessed, rations drawn,
Equipment polished sparkling bright,
And breakfasts swallowed (as the white
Of eastern heavens turned to gold)—
The dogs barked, swift farewells were told.
The sun springs up, the horses neigh,
Crackles the whip thrice—then away!
From sun-go-up to sun-go-down
All day across the sandy down
The gallant horses galloped, till
The wind across the downs more chill
Blew, the sun sank and all the road
Was darkened, that it only showed
Right at the end the town's red light
And twilight glimmering into night.
The horses never slackened till
They reached the doorway and stood still.
Then came the knock, the unlading; then
The honey-sweet converse of men,
The splendid bath, the change of dress,
Then—oh the grandeur of their Mess,
The henchmen, the prim stewardess!
And oh the breaking of old ground,
The tales, after the port went round!
(The wondrous wiles of old Odysseus,
Old Agamemnon and his misuse
Of his command, and that young chit
Paris—who didn't care a bit
For Helen—only to annoy her
He did it really, κ.τ.λ.)
But soon they led amidst the din
The honey-sweet ἀοιδός in,
Whose eyes were blind, whose soul had sight,
Who knew the fame of men in fight—
Bard of white hair and trembling foot,
Who sang whatever God might put
Into his heart.
And there he sung,
Those war-worn veterans among,
Tales of great war and strong hearts wrung,
Of clash of arms, of council's brawl,
Of beauty that must early fall,
Of battle hate and battle joy
By the old windy walls of Troy.
They felt that they were unreal then,
Visions and shadow-forms, not men.
But those the Bard did sing and say
(Some were their comrades, some were they)
Took shape and loomed and strengthened more
Greatly than they had guessed of yore.
And now the fight begins again,
The old war-joy, the old war-pain.
Sons of one school across the sea
We have no fear to fight—
And soon, oh soon, I do not doubt it,
With the body or without it,
We shall all come tumbling down
To our old wrinkled red-capped town.
Perhaps the road up Ilsley way,
The old ridge-track, will be my way.
High up among the sheep and sky,
Look down on Wantage, passing by,
And see the smoke from Swindon town;
And then full left at Liddington,
Where the four winds of heaven meet
The earth-blest traveller to greet.
And then my face is toward the south,
There is a singing on my mouth:
Away to rightward I descry
My Barbury ensconced in sky,
Far underneath the Ogbourne twins,
And at my feet the thyme and whins,
The grasses with their little crowns
Of gold, the lovely Aldbourne downs,
And that old signpost (well I knew
That crazy signpost, arms askew,
Old mother of the four grass ways).
And then my mouth is dumb with praise,
For, past the wood and chalkpit tiny,
A glimpse of Marlborough !
So I descend beneath the rail
To warmth and welcome and wassail.
This from the battered trenches—rough,
Jingling and tedious enough.
And so I sign myself to you:
One, who some crooked pathways knew
Round Bedwyn: who could scarcely leave
The Downs on a December eve:
Was at his happiest in shorts,
And got—not many good reports!
Small skill of rhyming in his hand—
But you'll forgive—you'll understand.
THE green and grey and purple day is barred with clouds of dun,
From Ypres city smouldering before the setting sun;
Another hour will see it flower, lamentable sight,
A bush of burning roses underneath the night.
Who's to fight for Flanders, who will set them free,
The war-worn lowlands by the English sea?
Who, my young companions, will choose a way to war,
That Marlborough, Wellington, have trodden out before?
Are these mere names? Then hear a solemn sound:
The blood of our brothers is crying from the ground:
"What we dared and died for, what the rest may do,
Little sons of Wykeham, is it naught to you?
"Father and Founder, our feet may never more
Tread the stones of Flint-Court or Gunner's green shore,
But wherever they assemble, we are pressing near,
Calling and calling:—could our brothers hear!"
What was it you fought for, whose profit that you died?
Here is Ypres burning and twenty towns beside,
Where is the gain in all our pain when he we loved but now
Is lying still on Sixty Hill, a bullet through his brow?
"He died one thing regarding that is better worth
Than the golden cities of all the kings on earth.
Were right and wrong to choose among, he had seen the right,
Had found the thing appointed and done it with his might."
Thus I muse, regarding, with a pensive eye,
Towered Ypres blazing, beneath the night sky . . .
This way may lie failure, but Towers there are that stand,
Hence, it may be, guarded, in our own green land.
Ave, Mater—atque Vale
THE deathless mother, grey and battle-scarred,
Lies in the sanctuary of stately trees,
Where the deep Northern night is saffron starred
Above her head, and thro' the dusk she sees
God's shadowy fortress keep unsleeping guard.
From her full breast we drank of joy and mirth
And gave to her a boy's unreasoned heart,
Wherein Time's fulness was to bring to birth
Such passionate allegiance that to part
Seemed like the passing of all light on earth.
Now on the threshold of a man's estate,
With a new depth of love akin to pain
I ask thy blessing, while I dedicate
My life and sword, with promise to maintain
Thine ancient honour yet inviolate.
Last night dream-hearted in the Abbey's spell
We stood to sing old Simeon's passing hymn,
When sudden splendour of the sunset fell
Full on my eyes, and passed and left all dim—
At once a summons and a deep farewell.
I am content—our life is but a trust
From the great hand of God, and if I keep
The immortal Treasure clean of mortal rust
Against His claim, 'tis well and let me sleep
Among the not dishonourable dust.
OH! Time hath loaded thee with memories
Processional. What could these piles unfold
Of war's lost travail, and the wearied cries
Of vexèd warriors, struggling to hold
Their hearth secure against proud Norman arms?
—And yet the while thy quest was not forgot;
'Mid war and waste and perilous alarms
Ever thy purpose stood, and yielded not.
Noble in faith, gallant in chivalry,
Thou flung'st a radiant word to all the land,—
Pluck'd from the wealth of thy philosophy,
And to the world upon the breezes strewn;—
When, great with loyalty, thou didst withstand
The kingly perjurer in battle brave:
While England's Lady by the Winter's boon
Fled from thy peril o'er the frozen wave.
What need to tell of all thy generous sons?—
The priestly Theobald, and in his train
Master Vacarius, mighty in old law,
And the great multitudes that now remain
But shadows flitting in dim pageantry
Across the low-lit stage. In life they saw
Service of toil and striving for thy gain:
The Muse's pensioners in death they lie.
They cherish'd thee through bitter strife and strain,
Faithful. They fought the zealous heretic,
Rapt Wyclif, zealously to guard their Truth. . . .
Nor worthy less were they who serv'd the sick
'Mid hopeless plague, and rifled Nature's store
To bless mankind: nor who for creed or king
Chang'd learning's mantle for the arms of war,
Their lives and treasuries surrendering.
Martyrs and saints have dower'd thee: one in Truth,
Old Faith, new Hope, have died to save or mar
The idols of flown ages; for Truth's sun
Shines glad alike upon all enterprise
That in the Father's eyes
Flatters the fledgling soul till the pure heights be won.
These golden memories sit round thy throne—
They are all thine; and thou art all my own.
An Oxford Retrospect: May 1915
(To R. W. L.)
MAY!—and I am no more among your spires,
Dear Mother-city of my soul.
May!—and my heart hath new desires,
My spirit seeks another goal.
The lilac purples in the meadows green,
The avenues of elms I walked between
Cast over Christ Church walk their welcome shade.
Now in the College garden tulips tall
Nod to the gnarled wistaria on the wall,
And bright laburnum clusters gild the glade.
Now livid snakesheads bloom in Iffley mead,
And golden king-cups and pale cuckoo-weed,
That children gather against market-day.
O'er the cloud-dappled Cumnor hills the shade
Chases the sunlight—there I oft have strayed
And watched dun milch-cows munch the hours away.
The river flows as ever 'neath the trees,
But I no longer take thereon my ease
Where a pink hawthorn overhangs the stream.
Ah! lazy, languid idlings on the Cher,
Sweet lotus-eatings, while my soul ranged far,
In empty musing, through a vain day-dream.
Ah! days of yester-year, whose hours flew by,
As winds blow past the tent wherein I lie,
Heedless I let you go nor knew your span.
And yet—I would not have you back again,
Even amid the misery and pain
That now is making of the boy a man.
Next May!—And if I lie in some cold grave
Dear Mother-city of my soul,
I am content to yield the life you gave
If but I nobly reach the goal.
A Dream of New College: to a College Comrade
IN dream I saw the men whom once I knew,
Whom in the by-gone year the Teuton slew,
Or Turk or Bulgar—those who sacrificed
Their lives and all for which their lives they prized—
And they were met as in the happier time
Before the first act of imperial crime,
Within a College garden in the shade
Of what was once a rampart undecayed.
They saw me not: and all were silent; each
Seemed lost in pondering too deep for speech,
As if, though undisdainful, they had nought
To utter for the modes of human thought,
And yet perchance they thought as one would fain
Imagine that they thought, returned again
To find the sacredness of quiet hours
And beauty, time-unravaged, near these towers.
Into the still quadrangle, as one is fain
To bear a cherished poem in the brain,
And music and great phrases that are dear.
Or one might pause—though 'twere not wise—to hear
The old clock's tireless ticking (I have known
Into a terror grow that monotone
Incessant, threatening, like the unchanging tune,
Learnt long ago, an idiot will croon,
Or, to a murderer, dazed, the judge's slow
Announcing of his near and ultimate woe):
The soul would wake to sadness and the moan
(As of a wind when woods are overthrown)
Of our great lamentation; and the mind
Remember those who nevermore may find
This quietude, or, borne upon the blast
Of death, the frontiers of the world have passed.
So the unopened door, the empty chair,
The half-filled ledger, and the table bare
Of books and paper, sad and strange would seem
To one thus hearkening in the sunlight's gleam,
As to the priests of Rome both strange and sad
Would seem the unsought temple, when the glad
Tidings of joy found welcome and men turned
To those whom beasts had torn or flames had burned.
In truth, they seem contented to have died
In combat against Power deified,
Glad that the men of future days might see
Inviolate this beauty's sanctity.
As if this College with the gardens old
An emblem of all beauty they did hold,
Created or to be, if but the soul
Of England shall escape a cursed control.
But at the waking hour I knew that all
Was but the mind's creation at the call
Of pent-up longings: yet I saw for long
That vision sweet as hymn of evensong.
I knew they sought not that, their duty done,
We should have sorrow beyond guerison,
And yet I felt an anguish of regret
To have imagined only that they met.