A treasury of war poetry, British and American poems of the world war, 1914-1919/Reflections
"MEN WHO MARCH AWAY"
(Song of the Soldiers)
WHAT of the faith and fire within us
Men who march away
Ere the barn-cocks say
Night is growing grey,
To hazards whence no tears can win us;
What of the faith and fire within us
Men who march away!
Is it a purblind prank, O think you,
Friend with the musing eye
Who watch us stepping by,
With doubt and dolorous sigh?
Can much pondering so hoodwink you?
Is it a purblind prank, O think you,
Friend with the musing eye?
Nay. We see well what we are doing.
Though some may not see—
Dalliers as they be—
England's need are we;
Her distress would leave us rueing:
Nay. We well see what we are doing!
Though some may not see!
In our heart of hearts believing
Victory crowns the just,
And that braggarts must
Surely bite the dust,
Press we to the field ungrieving,
In our heart of hearts believing
Victory crowns the just.
Hence the faith and fire within us
Men who march away
Ere the barn-cocks say
Night is growing grey,
To hazards whence no tears can win us;
Hence the faith and fire within us
Men who march away.
September 5, 1914.
IN TIME OF "THE BREAKING OF NATIONS"
ONLY a man harrowing clods
In a slow silent walk
With an old horse that stumbles and nods
Half asleep as they stalk.
Only thin smoke without flame
From the heaps of couch-grass;
Yet this will go onward the same
Though Dynasties pass.
Yonder a maid and her wight
Come whispering by:
War's annals will fade into night
Ere their story die.
THEN AND NOW
WHEN battles were fought
With a chivalrous sense of should and ought
In spirit men said,
"End we quick or dead,
Honour is some reward!
Let us fight fair—for our own best or worst;
So, gentlemen of the Guard,
In the open they stood,
Man to man in his knightlihood:
They would not deign
To profit by a stain
On the honourable rules,
Knowing that practise perfidy no man durst
Who in the heroic schools
But now, behold, what
Is war with those where honour is not!
Its dead innocents;
Herod howls: "Sly slaughter
Rules now! Let us, by modes once called accurst,
Overhead, under water,
THE Kings go by with jewelled crowns;
Their horses gleam, their banners shake, their spears are many.
The sack of many-peopled towns
Is all their dream:
The way they take
Leaves but a ruin in the brake,
And, in the furrow that the ploughmen make,
A stampless penny; a tale, a dream.
The Merchants reckon up their gold,
Their letters come, their ships arrive, their freights are glories:
The profits of their treasures sold
They tell and sum;
Their foremen drive
Their servants, starved to half-alive,
Whose labours do but make the earth a hive
Of stinking glories; a tale, a dream.
The Priests are singing in their stalls,
Their singing lifts, their incense burns, their praying clamours;
Yet God is as the sparrow falls,
The ivy drifts;
The votive urns
Are all left void when Fortune turns,
The god is but a marble for the kerns
To break with hammers; a tale, a dream.
O Beauty, let me know again
The green earth cold, the April rain, the quiet waters figuring sky,
The one star risen.
So shall I pass into the feast
Not touched by King, Merchant, or Priest;
Know the red spirit of the beast,
Be the green grain;
Escape from prison.
[Political morality differs from individual morality, because there is no power above the State.—General Von Bernhardi.]
SHADOW by shadow, stripped for fight,
The lean black cruisers search the sea.
Night-long their level shafts of light
Revolve, and find no enemy.
Only they know each leaping wave
May hide the lightning, and their grave.
And in the land they guard so well
Is there no silent watch to keep?
An age is dying, and the bell
Rings midnight on a vaster deep.
But over all its waves, once more
The searchlights move, from shore to shore.
And captains that we thought were dead,
And dreamers that we thought were dumb,
And voices that we thought were fled,
Arise, and call us, and we come;
And "Search in thine own soul," they cry;
"For there, too, lurks thine enemy."
Search for the foe in thine own soul,
The sloth, the intellectual pride;
The trivial jest that veils the goal
For which our fathers lived and died;
The lawless dreams, the cynic Art,
That rend thy nobler self apart.
Not far, not far into the night,
These level swords of light can pierce;
Yet for her faith does England fight,
Her faith in this our universe,
Believing Truth and Justice draw
From founts of everlasting law;
The law that rules the stars, our stay,
Our compass through the world's wide sea,
The one sure light, the one sure way,
The one firm base of Liberty;
The one firm road that men have trod
Through Chaos to the throne of God.
Therefore a Power above the State,
The unconquerable Power, returns,
The fire, the fire that made her great
Once more upon her altar burns,
Once more, redeemed and healed and whole,
She moves to the Eternal Goal.
THE SOLDIER SPEAKS
IF courage thrives on reeking slaughter,
And he who kills is lord
Of beauty and of loving laughter—
Gird on me a sword!
If death be dearest comrade proven,
If life be coward's mate,
If Nazareth of dreams be woven—
Give me fighter's fate!
If God be thrilled by a battle cry,
If He can bless the moaning fight,
If when the trampling charge goes by
God himself is the leading Knight;
If God laughs when the gun thunders,
If He yells when the bullet sings—
Then my stoic soul but wonders
How great God can do such things!
The white gulls wheeling over the plough,
The sun, the reddening trees—
We being enemies, I and thou,
There is no meaning to these.
There is no flight on the wings of Spring,
No scent in the summer rose;
The roundelays that the blackbirds sing—
There is no meaning in those!
If you must kill me—why the lark,
The hawthorn bud, and the corn?
Why do the stars bedew the dark?
Why is the blossom born?
If I must kill you—why the kiss
Which made you? There is no why!
If it be true we were born for this—
Pitiful Love, Good-bye!
Not for the God of battles!
For Honour, Freedom and Right.
And saving of Gentle Beauty,
We have gone down to fight!
THE RAGGED STONE
AS I was walking with my dear, my dear come back at last,
The shadow of the Ragged Stone fell on us as we passed:
And if the tale be true they tell about the Ragged Stone
I'll not be walking with my dear next year, nor yet alone.
And we're to wed come Michaelmas, my lovely dear and I;
And we're to have a little house, and do not want to die.
But all the folk are fighting in the lands across the sea,
Because the King and Counsellors went mad in Germany.
Because the King and counsellors went mad, my love and I
May never have a little house before we come to die.
And if the tale be true they tell about the Ragged Stone
I'll not be walking with my dear next year, nor yet alone.
THE WAR FILMS
O LIVING pictures of the dead,
O songs without a sound,
O fellowship whose phantom tread
Hallows a phantom ground—
How in a gleam have these revealed
The faith we had not found.
We have sought God in a cloudy Heaven,
We have passed by God on earth:
His seven sins and his sorrows seven,
His wayworn mood and mirth,
Like a ragged cloak have hid from us
The secret of his birth.
Brother of men, when now I see
The lads go forth in line,
Thou knowest my heart is hungry in me
As for thy bread and wine;
Thou knowest my heart is bowed in me
To take their death for mine.
GODS OF WAR
FATE wafts us from the pygmies' shore:
We swim beneath the epic skies:
A Rome and Carthage war once more,
And wider empires are the prize;
Where the beaked galleys clashed, lo, these
Our iron dragons of the seas!
High o'er the cloudy battle sweep
The wingèd chariots in their flight.
The steely creatures of the deep
Cleave the dark waters' ancient night.
Below, above, in wave, in air
New worlds for conquest everywhere.
More terrible than spear or sword
Those stars that burst with fiery breath:
More loud the battle cries are poured
Along a hundred leagues of death.
So do they fight. How have ye warred,
Defeated Armies of the Lord?
This is the Dark Immortal's hour;
His victory, whoever fail;
His prophets have not lost their power;
Cæsar and Attila prevail.
These are your legions still, proud ghosts,
These myriad embattled hosts.
How wanes Thine empire, Prince of Peace!
With the fleet circling of the suns
The ancient gods their power increase.
Lo, how Thine own anointed ones
Do pour upon the warring bands
The devil's blessings from their hands.
Who dreamed a dream 'mid outcasts born
Could overbrow the pride of kings?
They pour on Christ the ancient scorn.
His Dove its gold and silver wings
Has spread. Perhaps it nests in flame
In outcasts who abjure His name.
Choose ye your rightful gods, nor pay
Lip reverence that the heart denies,
O Nations! Is not Zeus to-day,
The thunderer from the epic skies,
More than the Prince of Peace? Is Thor
Not nobler for a world at war?
They fit the dreams of power we hold,
Those gods whose names are with us still.
Men in their image made of old
The high companions of their will.
Who seek an airy empire's pride,
Would they pray to the Crucified?
O outcast Christ, it was too soon
For flags of battle to be furled
While life was yet at the hot noon.
Come in the twilight of the world:
Its kings may greet Thee without scorn
And crown Thee then without a thorn.
SHADOWS AND LIGHTS
WHAT gods have met in battle to arouse
This whirling shadow of invisible things,
These hosts that writhe amid the shattered sods?
O Father, and O Mother of the gods,
Is there some trouble in the heavenly house?
We who are captained by its unseen kings
Wonder what thrones are shaken in the skies,
What powers who held dominion o'er our will
Let fall the sceptre, and what destinies
The younger gods may drive us to fulfil.
Have they not swayed us, earth's invisible lords,
With whispers and with breathings from the dark?
The very border stones of nations mark
Where silence swallowed some wild prophet's words
That rang but for an instant and were still,
Yet were so burthened with eternity,
They maddened all who heard to work their will,
To raise the lofty temple on the hill,
And many a glittering thicket of keen swords
Flashed out to make one law for land and sea,
That earth might move with heaven in company.
The cities that to myriad beauty grew
Were altars raised unto old gods who died,
And they were sacrificed in ruins to
The younger gods who took their place of pride;
They have no brotherhood, the deified,
No high companionship of throne by throne,
But will their beauty still to be alone.
What is a nation but a multitude
United by some god-begotten mood,
Some hope of liberty or dream of power
That have not with each other brotherhood
But warred in spirit from their natal hour,
Their hatred god-begotten as their love,
Reverberations of eternal strife?
For all that fury breathed in human life,
Are ye not guilty, ye above?
Ah, no, the circle of the heavenly ones,
That ring of burning, grave, inflexible powers,
Array in harmony amid the deep
The shining legionaries of the suns,
That through their day from dawn to twilight keep
The peace of heaven, and have no feuds like ours.
The Morning Stars their labours of the dawn
Close at the advent of the Solar Kings,
And these with joy their sceptres yield, withdrawn
When the still Evening Stars begin their reign,
And twilight time is thrilled with homing wings
To the All-Father being turned again.
No, not on high begin divergent ways,
The galaxies of interlinkèd lights
Rejoicing on each other's beauty gaze,
'Tis we who do make errant all the rays
That stream upon us from the astral heights.
Love in our thickened air too redly burns;
And unto vanity our beauty turns;
Widsom, that softly whispers us to part
From evil, swells to hatred in the heart.
Dark is the shadow of invisible things
On us who look not up, whose vision fails.
The glorious shining of the heavenly kings
To mould us to their image naught avails,
They weave a robe of many-coloured fire
To garb the spirits moving in the deep,
And in the upper air its splendours keep
Pure and unsullied, but below it trails
Darkling and glimmering in our earthly mire.
Our eyes are ever earthwards. We are swayed
But by the shadows of invisible light,
And shadow against shadow is arrayed
So that one dark may dominate the night.
Though kinsmen are the lights that cast the shade,
We look not up, nor see how, side by side,
The high originals of all our pride
In crowned and sceptred brotherhood are throned,
Compassionate of our blindness and our hate
That own the godship but the love disowned.
Ah, let us for a little while abate
The outward roving eye, and seek within
Where spirit unto spirit is allied;
There, in our inmost being, we may win
The joyful vision of the heavenly wise
To see the beauty in each other's eyes.
SONNETS WRITTEN IN THE AUTUMN OF 1914
AWAKE, ye nations, slumbering supine,
Who round enring the European fray!
Heard ye the trumpet sound? "The Day! the Day!
The last that shall on England's Empire shine!
The Parliament that broke the Right Divine
Shall see her realm of reason swept away,
And lesser nations shall the sword obey—
The sword o'er all carve the great world's design!"
So on the English Channel boasts the foe
On whose imperial brow death's helmet nods.
Look where his hosts o'er bloody Belgium go,
And mix a nation's past with blazing sods!
A kingdom's waste! a people's homeless woe!
Man's broken Word, and violated gods!
Far fall the day when England's realm shall see
The sunset of dominion! Her increase
Abolishes the man-dividing seas,
And frames the brotherhood on earth to be!
She, in free peoples planting sovereignty,
Orbs half the civil world in British peace;
And though time dispossess her, and she cease,
Rome-like she greatens in man's memory.
Oh, many a crown shall sink in war's turmoil,
And many a new republic light the sky,
Fleets sweep the ocean, nations till the soil,
Genius be born and generations die,
Orient and Occident together toil,
Ere such a mighty work man rears on high!
Hearken, the feet of the Destroyer tread
The wine-press of the nations; fast the blood
Pours from the side of Europe; in the flood
On the septentrional watershed
The rivers of fair France are running red!
England, the mother-aerie of our brood,
That on the summit of dominion stood,
Shakes in the blast: heaven battles overhead!
Lift up thy head, O Rheims, of ages heir
That treasured up in thee their glorious sum;
Upon whose brow, prophetically fair,
Flamed the great morrow of the world to come;
Haunt with thy beauty this volcanic air
Ere yet thou close, O Flower of Christendom!
As when the shadow of the sun's eclipse
Sweeps on the earth, and spreads a spectral air,
As if the universe were dying there,
On continent and isle the darkness dips
Unwonted gloom, and on the Atlantic slips;
So in the night the Belgian cities flare
Horizon-wide; the wandering people fare
Along the roads, and load the fleeing ships.
And westward borne that planetary sweep
Darkening o'er England and her times to be,
Already steps upon the ocean-deep!
Watch well, my country, that unearthly sea,
Lest when thou thinkest not, and in thy sleep,
Unapt for war, that gloom enshadow thee.
I pray for peace; yet peace is but a prayer.
How many wars have been in my brief years!
All races and all faiths, both hemispheres,
My eyes have seen embattled everywhere
The wide earth through; yet I do not despair
Of peace, that slowly through far ages nears;
Though not to me the golden morn appears,
My faith is perfect in time's issue fair.
For man doth build on an eternal scale,
And his ideals are framed of hope deferred;
The millennium came not; yet Christ did not fail,
Though ever unaccomplished is His word;
Him Prince of Peace, though unenthroned, we hail,
Supreme when in all bosoms He be heard.
This is my faith, and my mind's heritage,
Wherein I toil, though in a lonely place,
Who yet world-wide survey the human race
Unequal from wild nature disengage
Body and soul, and life's old strife assuage;
Still must abide, till heaven perfect its grace,
And love grown wisdom sweeten in man's face,
Alike the Christian and the heathen rage.
The tutelary genius of mankind
Ripens by slow degrees the final State,
That in the soul shall its foundations find
And only in victorious love grow great;
Patient the heart must be, humble the mind,
That doth the greater births of time await!
Whence not unmoved I see the nations form
From Dover to the fountains of the Rhine,
A hundred leagues, the scarlet battle-line,
And by the Vistula great armies swarm,
A vaster flood; rather my breast grows warm,
Seeing all peoples of the earth combine
Under one standard, with one countersign,
Grown brothers in the universal storm.
And never through the wide world yet there rang
A mightier summons! O Thou who from the side
Of Athens and the loins of Cæsar sprang,
Strike, Europe, with half the coming world allied
For those ideals for which, since Homer sang,
The hosts of thirty centuries have died.
WE WILLED IT NOT
WE willed it not. We have not lived in hate,
Loving too well the shires of England thrown
From sea to sea to covet your estate,
Or wish one flight of fortune from your throne.
We had grown proud because the nations stood
Hoping together against the calumny
That, tortured of its old barbarian blood,
Barbarian still the heart of man should be.
Builders there are who name you overlord,
Building with us the citadels of light,
Who hold as we this chartered sin abhorred,
And cry you risen Cæsar of the Night.
Beethoven speaks with Milton on this day,
And Shakespeare's word with Goethe's beats the sky,
In witness of the birthright you betray,
In witness of the vision you deny.
We love the hearth, the quiet hills, the song,
The friendly gossip come from every land;
And very peace were now a nameless wrong—
You thrust this bitter quarrel to our hand.
For this your pride the tragic armies go,
And the grim navies watch along the seas;
You trade in death, you mock at life, you throw
To God the tumult of your blasphemies.
You rob us of our love-right. It is said.
In treason to the world you are enthroned.
We rise, and, by the yet ungathered dead,
Not lightly shall the treason be atoned.
(To those who live there)
FOR peace, than knowledge more desirable,
Into your Sussex quietness I came,
When summer's green and gold and azure fell
Over the world in flame.
And peace upon your pasture-lands I found,
Where grazing flocks drift on continually,
As little clouds that travel with no sound
Across a windless sky.
Out of your oaks the birds call to their mates
That brood among the pines, where hidden deep
From curious eyes a world's adventure waits
In columned choirs of sleep.
Under the calm ascension of the night
We heard the mellow lapsing and return
Of night-owls purring in their groundling flight
Through lanes of darkling fern.
Unbroken peace, when all the stars were drawn
Back to their lairs of light, and ranked along
From shire to shire the downs out of the dawn
Were risen in golden song.
I sing of peace who have known the large unrest
Of men bewildered in their travelling,
And I have known the bridal earth unblest
By the brigades of spring.
I have known that loss. And now the broken thought
Of nations marketing in death I know,
The very winds to threnodies are wrought
That on your downlands blow.
I sing of peace. Was it but yesterday
I came among your roses and your corn?
Then momently amid this wrath I pray
For yesterday reborn.
NOW is the midnight of the nations: dark
Even as death, beside her blood-dark seas,
Earth, like a mother in birth agonies,
Screams in her travail, and the planets hark
Her million-throated terror. Naked, stark,
Her torso writhes enormous, and her knees
Shudder against the shadowed Pleiades,
Wrenching the night's imponderable arc.
Christ! What shall be delivered to the morn
Out of these pangs, if ever indeed another
Morn shall succeed this night, or this vast mother
Survive to know the blood-spent offspring, torn
From her racked flesh?—What splendour from the smother?
What new-wing'd world, or mangled god still-born?
THE PEACEFUL WARRIOR
THERE is no joy in strife,
Peace is my great desire;
Yet God forbid I lose my life
Through fear to face the fire.
A peaceful man must fight
For that which peace demands,—
Freedom and faith, honour and right,
Defend with heart and hands.
Farewell, my friendly books;
Farewell, ye woods and streams;
The fate that calls me forward looks
To a duty beyond dreams.
Oh, better to be dead
With a face turned to the sky,
Than live beneath a slavish dread
And serve a giant lie.
Stand up, my heart, and strive
For the things most dear to thee!
Why should we care to be alive
Unless the world is free?
April 20, 1918.
[Reprinted by permission of Charles Scribner's Sons.]
THE DEATH OF PEACE
NOW slowly sinks the day-long labouring Sun
Behind the tranquil trees and old church-tower;
And we who watch him know our day is done;
For us too comes the evening—and the hour.
The sunbeams slanting through those ancient trees,
The sunlit lichens burning on the byre,
The lark descending, and the homing bees,
Proclaim the sweet relief all things desire.
Golden the river brims beneath the west,
And holy peace to all the world is given;
The songless stockdove preens her ruddied breast;
The blue smoke windeth like a prayer to heaven.
O old, old England, land of golden peace,
Thy fields are spun with gossameres of gold,
And golden garners gather thy increase,
And plenty crowns thy loveliness untold.
By sunlight or by starlight ever thou
Art excellent in beauty manifold;
The still star victory ever gems thy brow;
Age cannot age thee, ages make thee old.
Thy beauty brightens with the evening sun
Across the long-lit meads and distant spire:
So sleep thou well—like his thy labour done;
Rest in thy glory as he rests in fire.
But even in this hour of soft repose
A gentle sadness chides us like a friend—
The sorrow of the joy that overflows,
The burden of the beauty that must end.
And from the fading sunset comes a cry,
And in the twilight voices wailing past,
Like wild-swans calling, "When we rest we die,
And woe to them that linger and are last";
And as the Sun sinks, sudden in heav'n new born
There shines an armèd Angel like a Star,
Who cries above the darkling world in scorn,
"God comes to Judgment. Learn ye what ye are."
From fire to umber fades the sunset-gold,
From umber into silver and twilight;
The infant flowers their orisons have told
And turn together folded for the night;
The garden urns are black against the eve;
The white moth flitters through the fragrant glooms;
How beautiful the heav'ns!—But yet we grieve
And wander restless from the lighted rooms.
For through the world to-night a murmur thrills
As at some new-born prodigy of time—
Peace dies like twilight bleeding on the hills,
And Darkness creeps to hide the hateful crime.
The Death of Peace
Art thou no more, O Maiden Heaven-born,
O Peace, bright Angel of the windless morn?
Who comest down to bless our furrow'd fields,
Or stand like Beauty smiling 'mid the corn:
Mistress of mirth and ease and summer dreams,
Who lingerest among the woods and streams
To help us heap the harvest 'neath the moon,
And homeward laughing lead the lumb'ring teams:
Who teachest to our children thy wise lore;
Who keepest full the goodman's golden store;
Who crownest Life with plenty, Death with flow'rs;
Peace, Queen of Kindness—but of earth, no more.
Not thine but ours the fault, thy care was vain;
For this that we have done be ours the pain;
Thou gavest much, as He who gave us all,
And as we slew Him for it thou art slain.
Heav'n left to men the moulding of their fate:
To live as wolves or pile the pillar'd State—
Like boars and bears to grunt and growl in mire,
Or dwell aloft, effulgent gods, elate.
Thou liftedst us: we slew and with thee fell—
From golden thrones of wisdom weeping fell.
Fate rends the chaplets from our feeble brows;
The spires of Heaven fade in fogs of hell.
She faints, she falls; her dying eyes are dim;
Her fingers play with those bright buds she bore
To please us, but that she can bring no more;
And dying yet she smiles—as Christ on him
Who slew Him slain. Her eyes so beauteous
Are lit with tears shed—not for herself but us.
The gentle Beings of the hearth and home;
The lovely Dryads of her aislèd woods;
The Angels that do dwell in solitudes
Where she dwelleth; and joyous Spirits that roam
To bless her bleating flocks and fruitful lands;
Are gather'd there to weep, and kiss her dying hands.
"Look, look," they cry, "she is not dead, she breathes!
And we have staunched the damnèd wound and deep,
The cavern-carven wound. She doth but sleep
And will awake. Bring wine, and new-wound wreaths
Wherewith to crown awaking her dear head,
And make her Queen again."—But no, for Peace was dead.
And then there came black Lords; and Dwarfs obscene
With lavish tongues; and Trolls; and treacherous Things
Like loose-lipp'd Councillors and cruel Kings
Who sharpen lies and daggers subterrene:
And flashed their evil eyes and weeping cried,
"We ruled the world for Peace. By her own hand she died."
In secret he made sharp the bitter blade,
And poison'd it with bane of lies and drew,
And stabb'd—O God! the Cruel Cripple slew;
And cowards fled or lent him trembling aid.
She fell and died—in all the tale of time
The direst deed e'er done, the most accursèd crime.
THE visions of the soul, more strange than dreams,
Out-mystery sleep. For them, no day redeems,
And the thing is, but is not as it seems.
I thought I saw (although I did not sleep)
A Raft that clomb the surges black and steep
With One who cursed the dumb God-blinded Deep.
Red as the eye of anger the Sun set;
And giant Thunders round him black as jet,
Gazed down into those black Deeps they beset;
And under them and mirroring them, a scud
Of glassy mountains moved athwart the flood,
Laced by that last gleam with a foam of blood.
Then he who lived upon that desperate craft,
Crown'd and a King, stood forth and kinglike quaff'd
Red wine, and raised his voice aloud, and laugh'd:
"Roll on and rot for all thy corpses, Sea,
That with thy moonsuck'd surges wouldest be
Lord of the halcyon Earth, thine enemy—
With altercations of great waves and air,
And sobs and cries of anger, wouldest tear
Piecemeal her patient fields and all things there.
Ungovernable god, thee I defy,
Weak man. Canst thou for all thy rage reply?" . . .
Then from beneath there came the answer, Aye.
He heard, but deem'd his thought replied to thought
And cried again aloud (the red ray caught
His crown of gold with flaming rubies wrought):
"Improvident, furious, idle, hot to hate
Laborious Earth—her unlaborious mate,
Strong but in anger, in destruction great:
Her fields and floods, where flow'rs are grown and glass'd;
Thine, where thy mad waves run like things outcast,
And scarce the staggering petrel braves the blast,
And no flowers blow but capering crests of spray:
Confess thyself a god who can but slay." . . .
But from the deeps the deep Voice answer'd, Nay.
Half startled, still in reverie unaware,
He cried again as one who mocks despair;
And still the surges roll'd and rock'd him there;
"Then rumble in all thy depths, Leviathan,
And learn my scorn—thy master and a man.
So answer me if thou art more and can." . . .
There came a thrill, a spasm, as when the blow
Of earthquake runs before the crash, and lo
The dreadful Voice cried Silence from below.
He heard, he rose, he laugh'd as if in jest,
And drank red wine. (The red ray came to rest
Within the blood-red ruby on his breast):
"Art thou then there, down there, O damnèd dumb
Bold braggard, born to threaten yet succumb—
For ever overcoming e'er o'ercome?
What though thou roarest, still I will not bow
To thee, all-mighty, my God-gifted brow;
A mortal; yet, immortal, more than thou."
So said. Night fell. But from the deep below
A giant Hand emerged, enormous, slow:
And drew him down. And the Voice answer'd, So.
THE FOOL RINGS HIS BELLS
COME, Death, I'd have a word with thee;
And thou, poor Innocency;
And Love—a lad with broken wing;
And Pity, too:
The Fool shall sing to you,
As Fools will sing.
Ay, music hath small sense,
And a tune's soon told,
And Earth is old,
And my poor wits are dense;
Yet have I secrets,—dark, my dear,
To breathe you all. Come near.
And lest some hideous listener tells,
I'll ring my bells.
They're all at war!
Yes, yes, their bodies go
'Neath burning sun and icy star
To chaunted songs of woe,
Dragging cold cannon through a mud
Of rain and blood;
The new moon glinting hard on eyes
Wide with insanities!
Hush! . . . I use words
I hardly know the meaning of;
And the mute birds
Are glancing at Love!
From out their shade of leaf and flower,
Trembling at treacheries
Which even in noonday cower.
Heed, heed not what I said
Of frenzied hosts of men,
More fools than I,
On envy, hatred fed,
Who kill, and die—
Spake I not plainly, then?
Yet Pity whispered, "Why?"
Thou silly thing, off to thy daisies go.
Mine was not news for child to know,
And Death—no ears hath. He hath supped where creep
Eyeless worms in hush of sleep;
Yet, when he smiles, the hand he draws
Athwart his grinning jaws
Faintly their thin bones rattle, and . . . There, there;
Hearken how my bells in the air
Drive away care! . . .
Nay, but a dream I had
Of a world all mad.
Not a simple happy mad like me,
Who am mad like an empty scene
Of water and willow tree,
Where the wind hath been
But that foul Satan-mad,
Who rots in his own head,
And counts the dead,
Not honest one—and two—
But for the ghosts they were,
Brave, faithful, true,
When head in air,
In Earth's clear green and blue
Heaven they did share
With Beauty who bade them there. . . .
There, now! he goes—
Old Bones; I've wearied him.
Ay, and the light doth dim,
And asleep's the rose,
And tired Innocence
In dreams is hence. . . .
Come, Love, my lad,
Nodding that drowsy head,
'Tis time thy prayers were said.
THE KAISER AND GOD
["I rejoice with you in Wilhelm's first victory. How magnificently God supported him!"—Telegram from the Kaiser to the Crown Princess.]
LED by Wilhelm, as you tell,
God has done extremely well;
You with patronizing nod
Show that you approve of God.
Kaiser, face a question new—
This—Does God approve of you?
Broken pledges, treaties torn,
Your first page of war adorn;
We on fouler things must look
Who read further in that book,
Where you did in time of war
All that you in peace forswore,
Where you, barbarously wise,
Bade your soldiers terrorize,
Where you made—the deed was fine—
Women screen your firing line,
Villages burned down to dust,
Torture, murder, bestial lust,
Filth too foul for printer's ink,
Crime from which the apes would shrink—
Strange the offerings that you press
On the God of Righteousness!
Kaiser, when you'd decorate
Sons or friends who serve your State,
Not that Iron Cross bestow,
But a cross of wood, and so—
So remind the world that you
Have made Calvary anew.
Kaiser, when you'd kneel in prayer
Look upon your hands, and there
Let that deep and awful stain
From the blood of children slain
Burn your very soul with shame,
Till you dare not breathe that Name
That now you glibly advertise—
God as one of your allies.
Impious braggart, you forget;
God is not your conscript yet;
You shall learn in dumb amaze
That His ways are not your ways,
That the mire through which you trod
Is not the high white road of God.
To Whom, whichever way the combat rolls,
We, fighting to the end, commend our souls.
THE GUNS IN SUSSEX
LIGHT green of grass and richer green of bush
Slope upwards to the darkest green of fir;
How still! How deathly still! And yet the hush
Shivers and trembles with some subtle stir,
Some far-off throbbing, like a muffled drum,
Beaten in broken rhythm over sea,
To play the last funereal march of some
Who die to-day that Europe may be free.
The deep-blue heaven, curving from the green,
Spans with its shimmering arch the flowery zone;
In all God's earth there is no gentler scene,
And yet I hear that awesome monotone;
Above the circling midge's piping shrill,
And the long droning of the questing bee,
Above all sultry summer sounds, it still
Mutters its ceaseless menaces to me.
And as I listen all the garden fair
Darkens to plains of misery and death,
And looking past the roses I see there
Those sordid furrows, with the rising breath
Of all things foul and black. My heart is hot
Within me as I view it, and I cry,
"Better the misery of these men's lot
Than all the peace that comes to such as I!"
And strange that in the pauses of the sound
I hear the children's laughter as they roam,
And then their mother calls, and all around
Rise up the gentle murmurs of a home.
But still I gaze afar, and at the sight
My whole soul softens to its heartfelt prayer,
"Spirit of Justice, Thou for whom they fight,
Ah, turn, in mercy, to our lads out there!
"The froward peoples have deserved Thy wrath,
And on them is the Judgment as of old.
But if they wandered from the hallowed path,
Yet is their retribution manifold.
Behold all Europe writhing on the rack,
The sins of fathers grinding down the sons,
How long, O Lord!" He sends no answer back,
But still I hear the mutter of the guns.
A LOST LAND
[Reprinted by permission of the Proprietors of Punch.]
A CHILDHOOD land of mountain ways,
Where earthly gnomes and forest fays,
Kind foolish giants, gentle bears
Sport with the peasant as he fares
Affrighted through the forest glades,
And lead sweet wistful little maids
Lost in the woods, forlorn, alone,
To princely lovers and a throne.
Dear haunted land of gorge and glen,
Ah me! the dreams, the dreams of men!
A learned land of wise old books
And men with meditative looks,
Who move in quaint red-gabled towns
And sit in gravely-folded gowns,
Divining in deep-laden speech
The world's supreme arcana—each
A homely god to listening Youth
Eager to tear the veil of Truth;
Mild votaries of book and pen—
Alas, the dreams, the dreams of men!
A music land, whose life is wrought
In movements of melodious thought;
In symphony, great wave on wave—
Or fugue, elusive, swift, and grave;
A singing land, whose lyric rhymes
Float on the air like village chimes:
Music and Verse—the deepest part
Of a whole nation's thinking heart!
Oh land of Now, oh land of Then!
Dear God! the dreams, the dreams of men!
Slave nation in a land of hate,
Where are the things that made you great?
Child-hearted once—oh, deep defiled,
Dare you look now upon a child?
Your lore—a hideous mask wherein
Self-worship hides its monstrous sin:—
Music and Verse, divinely wed—
How can these live where love is dead?
Oh depths beneath sweet human ken,
God help the dreams, the dreams of men!
"IT WILL BE A HARD WINTER"
THEY say the blue king jays have flown
From woods of Westchester:
So I am off for Luthany,
But I shall make no stir;
For who fair Luthany would see,
Must set him forth alone.
In screwing winds last night the snow
Creaked like an angry jinn;
And two old men from up the State
Said, "Bears went early in,"—
Half pausing by my ice-locked gate,—
"March will be late to blow."
So I for Luthany am bound,
And I shall take no pack;
You cannot find the way, you know,
With feet that make a track,
But light as blowing leaf must go,
And you must hear a sound
That's like a singing strange and high
Of birds you've never seen;
Then two ghosts come; as doves they move,
While you must walk between;
And one is Youth and one is Love,
Who say, "We did not die."
The harp-built walls of Luthany
Are builded high and strong,
To shelter singer, fool and seer;
And glad they live, and long.
All others die who enter there,
But they are safe, these three.
The seer can warm his body through
By some far fire he sees;
The fool can naked dance in snow;
The singer—as he please!
And which I be of these, oho,
That is a guess for you!
Once in a thousand years, they say,
The walls are beaten down;
And then they find a singer dead;
But swift they set a crown
Upon his lowly, careless head,
And sing his song for aye!
So I to Luthany will flee,
While here the winter raves.
God send I go not as one blind
A-dancing upon graves!
God save a madman if I find
War's heel on Luthany!
[Reprinted by permission of the Proprietors of Punch.]
THERE'S mist in the hollows,
There's gold on the tree,
And South go the swallows
Away over sea.
They home in our steeple
That climbs in the wind,
And, parson and people,
We welcome them kind.
The steeple was set here
If William could get here
He'd burn it to sticks.
He'd burn it for ever,
Bells, belfry and vane,
That swallows would never
Come back there again.
He'd bang down their perches
With cannon and gun,
For churches are churches,
And William's a Hun.
So—mist in the hollow
And leaf falling brown—
Ere home comes the swallow
May William be down!
And high stand the steeples
From Lincoln to Wells
For parsons and peoples,
For birds and for bells!
CHRIST IN FLANDERS
WE had forgotten You, or very nearly—
You did not seem to touch us very nearly—
Of course we thought about You now and then;
Especially in any time of trouble—
We knew that You were good in time of trouble—
But we are very ordinary men.
And there were always other things to think of—
There's lots of things a man has got to think of—
His work, his home, his pleasure, and his wife;
And so we only thought of You on Sunday—
Sometimes, perhaps, not even on a Sunday—
Because there's always lots to fill one's life.
And, all the while, in street or lane or byway—
In country lane, in city street, or byway—
You walked among us, and we did not see.
Your feet were bleeding as You walked our pavements
How did we miss Your Footprints on our pavements?—
Can there be other folk as blind as we?
Now we remember: over here in Flanders—
(It isn't strange to think of You in Flanders)—
This hideous warfare seems to make things clear.
We never thought about You much in England—
But now that we are far away from England—
We have no doubts, we know that You are here.
You helped us pass the jest along the trenches—
Where, in cold blood, we waited in the trenches—
You touched its ribaldry and made it fine.
You stood beside us in our pain and weakness—
We're glad to think You understand our weakness—
Somehow it seems to help us not to whine.
We think about You kneeling in the Garden—
Ah! God! the agony of that dread Garden—
We know You prayed for us upon the Cross.
If anything could make us glad to bear it—
'Twould be the knowledge that You willed to bear it—
Pain—death—the uttermost of human loss.
Though we forgot You—You will not forget us—
We feel so sure that You will not forget us—
But stay with us until this dream is past.
And so we ask for courage, strength, and pardon—
Especially, I think, we ask for pardon—
And that You'll stand beside us to the last.
SOMEWHERE, O sun, some corner there must be
Thou visitest, where down the strand
Quietly, still, the waves go out to sea
From the green fringes of a pastoral land.
Deep in the orchard-bloom the roof-trees stand,
The brown sheep graze along the bay,
And through the apple-boughs above the sand
The bees' hum sounds no fainter than the spray.
There through uncounted hours declines the day
To the low arch of twilight's close,
And, just as night about the moon grows gray,
One sail leans westward to the fading rose.
Giver of dreams, O thou with scatheless wing
Forever moving through the fiery hail,
To flame-seared lids the cooling vision bring,
And let some soul go seaward with that sail!
[Reprinted by permission of the Editor of the Century Magazine, and of Charles Scribner's Sons.]
THE ROAD TO DIEPPE
[Concerning the experiences of a journey on foot through the night of August 4, 1914 (the night after the formal declaration of war between England and Germany), from a town near Amiens, in France, to Dieppe, a distance of somewhat more than forty miles.]
BEFORE I knew, the Dawn was on the road,
Close at my side, so silently he came
Nor gave a sign of salutation, save
To touch with light my sleeve and make the way
Appear as if a shining countenance
Had looked on it. Strange was this radiant Youth
As I, to these fair, fertile parts of France,
Where Cæsar with his legions once had passed,
And where the Kaiser's Uhlans yet would pass
Or e'er another moon should cope with clouds
For mastery of these same fields.—To-night
(And but a month has gone since I walked there)
Well might the Kaiser write, as Cæsar wrote,
In his new Commentaries on a Gallic war,
"Fortissimi Belgæ." A moon ago!
Who would have then divined that dead would lie
Like swaths of grain beneath the harvest moon
Upon these lands the ancient Belgæ held,
From Normandy beyond renowned Liège!
But it was out of that dread August night
From which all Europe woke to war, that we,
This beautiful Dawn-Youth, and I, had come,
He from afar. Beyond grim Petrograd
He'd waked the moujik from his peaceful dreams,
Bid the muezzin call to morning prayer
Where minarets rise o'er the Golden Horn,
And driven shadows from the Prussian march
To lie beneath the lindens of the stadt.
Softly he'd stirred the bells to ring at Rheims,
He'd knocked at high Montmartre, hardly asleep,
Heard the sweet carillon of doomed Louvain,
Boylike, had tarried for a moment's play
Amid the traceries of Amiens,
And then was hast'ning on the road to Dieppe,
When he o'ertook me drowsy from the hours
Through which I'd walked, with no companions else
Than ghostly kilometre posts that stood
As sentinels of space along the way.—
Often, in doubt, I'd paused to question one,
With nervous hands, as they who read Moon-type;
And more than once I'd caught a moment's sleep
Beside the highway, in the dripping grass,
While one of these white sentinels stood guard,
Knowing me for a friend, who loves the road,
And best of all by night, when wheels do sleep,
And stars alone do walk abroad.—But once
Three watchful shadows, deeper than the dark,
Laid hands on me and searched me for the marks
Of traitor or of spy, only to find
Over my heart the badge of loyalty.—
With wish for bon voyage they gave me o'er
To the white guards who led me on again.
Thus Dawn o'ertook me and with magic speech
Made me forget the night as we strode on.
Where'er he looked a miracle was wrought:
A tree grew from the darkness at a glance;
A hut was thatched; a new château was reared
Of stone, as weathered as the church at Cæn;
Grey blooms were coloured suddenly in red;
A flag was flung across the eastern sky.—
Nearer at hand, he made me then aware
Of peasant women bending in the fields,
Cradling and gleaning by the first scant light,
Their sons and husbands somewhere o'er the edge
Of these green-golden fields which they had sowed,
But will not reap,—out somewhere on the march,
God but knows where and if they come again.
One fallow field he pointed out to me
Where but the day before a peasant ploughed,
Dreaming of next year's fruit, and there his plough
Stood now mid-field, his horses commandeered,
A monstrous sable crow perched on the beam.
Before I knew, the Dawn was on the road,
Far from my side, so silently he went,
Catching his golden helmet as he ran,
And hast'ning on along the dun straight way,
Where old men's sabots now began to clack
And withered women, knitting, led their cows,
On, on to call the men of Kitchener
Down to their coasts,—I shouting after him:
"O Dawn, would you had let the world sleep on
Till all its armament were turned to rust,
Nor waked it to this day of hideous hate,
Of man's red murder and of woman's woe!"
Famished and lame, I came at last to Dieppe,
But Dawn had made his way across the sea,
And, as I climbed with heavy feet the cliff,
Was even then upon the sky-built towers
Of that great capital where nations all,
Teuton, Italian, Gallic, English, Slav,
Forget long hates in one consummate faith.
TO FELLOW TRAVELLERS IN GREECE
'TWAS in the piping time of peace
We trod the sacred soil of Greece,
Nor thought, where the Ilissus runs,
Of Teuton craft or Teuton guns;
Nor dreamt that, ere the year was spent,
Their iron challenge insolent
Would round the world's horizons pour,
From Europe to the Australian shore.
The tides of war had ebb'd away
From Trachis and Thermopylæ,
Long centuries had come and gone
Since that fierce day at Marathon;
Freedom was firmly based, and we
Wall'd by our own encircling sea;
The ancient passions dead, and men
Battl'd with ledger and with pen.
So seem'd it, but to them alone
The wisdom of the gods is known;
Lest freedom's price decline, from far
Zeus hurl'd the thunderbolt of war.
And so once more the Persian steel
The armies of the Greeks must feel,
And once again a Xerxes know
The virtue of a Spartan foe.
Thus may the cloudy fates unroll'd
Retrace the starry circles old,
And the recurrent heavens decree
A Periclean dynasty.
THE STARS IN THEIR COURSES
AND now, while the dark vast earth shakes and rocks
In this wild dream-like snare of mortal shocks,
How look (I muse) those cold and solitary stars
On these magnificent, cruel wars?—
Venus, that brushes with her shining lips
(Surely!) the wakeful edge of the world and mocks
With hers its all ungentle wantonness?—
Or the large moon (pricked by the spars of ships
Creeping and creeping in their restlessness),
The moon pouring strange light on things more strange,
Looks she unheedfully on seas and lands
Trembling with change and fear of counterchange?
O, not earth trembles, but the stars, the stars!
The sky is shaken and the cool air is quivering.
I cannot look up to the crowded height
And see the fair stars trembling in their light,
For thinking of the starlike spirits of men
Crowding the earth and with great passion quivering:—
Stars quenched in anger and hate, stars sick with pity.
I cannot look up to the naked skies
Because a sorrow on dark midnight lies,
Death, on the living world of sense;
Because on my own land a shadow lies
That may not rise;
Because from bare grey hillside and rich city
Streams of uncomprehending sadness pour,
Thwarting the eager spirit's pure intelligence . . .
How look (I muse) those cold and solitary stars
On these magnificent, cruel wars?
Stars trembled in broad heaven, faint with pity.
An hour to dawn I looked. Beside the trees
Wet mist shaped other trees that branching rose,
Covering the woods and putting out the stars.
There was no murmur on the seas,
No wind blew—only the wandering air that grows
With dawn, then murmurs, sighs,
The mist climbed slowly, putting out the stars,
And the earth trembled when the stars were gone;
And moving strangely everywhere upon
The trembling earth, thickened the watery mist.
And for a time the holy things are veiled.
England's wise thoughts are swords: her quiet hours
Are trodden underfoot like wayside flowers,
And every English heart is England's wholly.
In starless night
A serious passion streams the heaven with light.
A common beating is in the air—
The heart of England throbbing everywhere.
And all her roads are nerves of noble thought,
And all her people's brain is but her brain;
And all her history, less her shame,
Is part of her requickened consciousness.
Her courage rises clean again.
Even in victory there hides defeat;
The spirit's murdered though the body survives,
Except the cause for which a people strives
Burn with no covetous, foul heat.
Fights she against herself who infamously draws
The sword against man's secret spiritual laws.
But thou, England, because a bitter heel
Hath sought to bruise the brain, the sensitive will,
The conscience of the world,
For this, England, art risen, and shalt fight
Purely through long profoundest night,
Making their quarrel thine who are grieved like thee;
And (if to thee the stars yield victory)
Tempering their hate of the great foe that hurled
Vainly her strength against the conscience of the world.
I looked again, or dreamed I looked, and saw
The stars again and all their peace again.
The moving mist had gone, and shining still
The moon went high and pale above the hill.
Not now those lights were trembling in the vast
Ways of the nervy heaven, nor trembled earth:
Profound and calm they gazed as the soft-shod hours passed.
And with less fear (not with less awe,
Remembering, England, all the blood and pain),
How look, I cried, you stern and solitary stars
On these disastrous wars!
FOR France and liberty he set apart
His soul at first in aspiration high.
But pure thoughts wither and ideals die.
And self, fed richly from ambition's mart,
Swelled, triumphed with insinuating art,
The hideous, monstrous, all-engrossing I,
Which strangled love and France and liberty
And laid its eager clutch on Europe's heart.
Then Spain assailed it like an autumn gust,
And England netted it with her sea-might,
And Russia opened all her icy graves.
The huge colossus crumbled into dust
And sank forever out of human sight
On a lone island 'mid the Atlantic waves.
THROUGH the great doors, where Paris flowed incessant,
Fell certain dimness, as of some poised hour,
Caught from the ashes of the Infinite
And prisoned there in solemn purple state,
To make illusion for dead majesty!
A dusk of greatness, such as well might brood
Beneath the wings of Destiny's proud day;
A calm, immortal twilight mantling up
To the great dome, where painted triumph rides
High o'er the dust that once bestrode it all—
Nor ever fame had fairer firmament!
It was as though Ambition still should live
In marble over him; as though his dream—
From whose high tower and coloured casements round
He, with a royal thievery in his eye,
Did look upon the apple of a world—
Should take this shape, and being clothed with walls,
Stand, in such permanence as matter gives
To house his glory through the centuries.
Then I went in, with Paris pressing slow,
And saw the long blue shadows folding down
Upon the casket of the Emperor.
A soldier in a faded uniform
Stood close beside me. He was one of those
Who die and leave no lament on the wind. . . .
And straightway gazing on him I beheld
Not death's magnificence; not fame's hushed tomb—
But grim Oblivion, and the fields of France!
And on some nameless hillside, where the night
Sets out wild flaming candles for the dead,
Innumerable corpses palely sprawled
Beneath the silent, cold, anonymous stars.
[Copyright, 1918, by the New York Evening Sun.
Copyright, 1918, by Dana Burnet.]
THE horror-haunted Belgian plains riven by shot and shell
Are strewn with her undaunted sons who stayed the jaws of hell.
In every sunny vale of France death is the countersign.
The purest blood in Britain's veins is being poured like wine.
Far, far across the crimsoned map the impassioned armies sweep,
Destruction flashes down the sky and penetrates the deep.
The Dreadnought knows the silent dread, and seas incarnadine
Attest the carnival of strife, the madman's battle scene.
Relentless, savage, hot, and grim the infuriate columns press
Where terror simulates disdain and danger is largess,
Where greedy youth claims death for bride and agony seems bliss.
It is the cause, the cause, my soul! which sanctifies all this.
Ride, Cossacks, ride! Charge, Turcos, charge! The fateful hour has come.
Let all the guns of Britain roar or be forever dumb.
The Superman has burst his bonds. With Kultur-flag unfurled
And prayer on lip he runs amuck, imperilling the world.
The impious creed that might is right in him personified
Bids all creation bend before the insatiate Teuton pride,
Which, nourished on Valhalla dreams of empire unconfined,
Would make the cannon and the sword the despots of mankind.
Efficient, thorough, strong, and brave—his vision is to kill.
Force is the hearthstone of his might, the pole-star of his will.
His forges glow malevolent: their minions never tire
To deck the goddess of his lust whose twins are blood and fire.
O world grown sick with butchery and manifold distress!
O broken Belgium robbed of all save grief and ghastliness!
Should Prussian power enslave the world and arrogance prevail,
Let chaos come, let Moloch rule, and Christ give place to Baal.
THE VISION OF SPRING, 1916
ALL night in a cottage far
Death and I had waged our war
Where, at such a bitter cost,
Death had won and I had lost;
And as I climbed up once more
From that poor, tear-darkened door,
From the valley seemed to rise,
In one cry, all human cries—
Yea, from such a mortal woe
Earth seemed at its overthrow,
And the very deeps unlocked
Of all anguished ages, mocked
In that they beheld at last
This their self-sown holocaust,
And their latest, loveliest sons
Shattered by ten thousand guns.
Then the friend who said to me,
Naught's so brief as agony,
Seemed to stand revealed and blind,
And a foe to humankind,
And I cried, Why very Spring
Shudders at this fearful thing,
And withholds her kindling sun,
Seeing Life and Grief are one.
Nay, said he, but in all earth
There's one power, and that is Birth,
And the starkest human pain
Is but joy being born again,
And all night, had you but heard,
There's no depth that has not stirred
That to-morrow men may see
God in every bursting tree—
Yea, he said, the Very God
In each blade that bends the sod,
In each sod that feeds the blade,
In each hushed, far-hidden glade,
In each prairie, running free
O'er some long fast-frozen sea,
In each jungle, fierce and lush
From its glutting thunder-gush,
In each mammoth mountain-side,
Thrust from a womb of earth in pride,
Climbing till creation dies
From its crude, star-stricken eyes—
Yea, and in all eyes that see
That frustrate immensity,
And the larger life that wings
In the least of creeping things;
In the swift invisible rain
Poured into the human brain,
In all gods that men made first
When earth's glories on them burst,
Gods of serpents, stars, and trees,
And the gods that fashioned these,
Great Gautama, propped afar
Where no tears or laughter are,
And the greater God Who died
That men might, uncrucified
From the cross of pride and priest,
Be as brothers at life's feast,
God the Father, God the Son,
God the Love in everyone—
And I saw then fall away
Veils from that gun-shattered clay
And, beneath each scalding tear,
Sink to death some human fear,
And, behind each springing blade,
Move the slow, divine brigade
Of all brave, up-rendered life
To the last supremest strife—
Yea, I saw from upper air
God in ambush everywhere;
And at that triumphant sight
Lo, the dawn out-topped the night.
WITHIN the town of Buffalo
Are prosy men with leaden eyes.
Like ants they worry to and fro,
(Important men, in Buffalo.)
But only twenty miles away
A deathless glory is at play:
The women buy their lace and cry:—
"O such a delicate design,"
And over ostrich feathers sigh,
By counters there, in Buffalo.
The children haunt the trinket shops,
They buy false-faces, bells, and tops,
Forgetting great Niagara.
Within the town of Buffalo
Are stores with garnets, sapphires, pearls,
Rubies, emeralds aglow,—
Opal chains in Buffalo,
Cherished symbols of success.
They value not your rainbow dress—
The shaggy meaning of her name,
This Buffalo, this recreant town,
Sharps and lawyers prune and tame:
Few pioneers in Buffalo;
Except young lovers flushed and fleet
And winds, hallooing down the street:
The journalists are sick of ink:
Boy prodigals are lost in wine,
By night where white and red lights blink,
The eyes of Death, in Buffalo.
And only twenty miles away
Are starlit rocks and healing spray:—
Above the town a tiny bird,
A shining speck at sleepy dawn,
Forgets the ant-hill so absurd,
This self-important Buffalo.
Descending twenty miles away
He bathes his wings at break of day—
What marching men of Buffalo
Flood the streets in rash crusade?
Fools-to-free-the-world, they go,
Primeval hearts from Buffalo.
Red cataracts of France to-day
Awake, three thousand miles away,
An echo of Niagara,
The cataract Niagara.
THERE is a hill in England,
Green fields and a school I know,
Where the balls fly fast in summer,
And the whispering elm-trees grow,
A little hill, a dear hill,
And the playing fields below.
There is a hill in Flanders,
Heaped with a thousand slain,
Where the shells fly night and noontide
And the ghosts that died in vain,—
A little hill, a hard hill
To the souls that died in pain.
There is a hill in Jewry,
Three crosses pierce the sky,
On the midmost He is dying
To save all those who die,—
A little hill, a kind hill
To souls in jeopardy.
Harrow, December, 1915.
YPRES TOWER, RYE
TOWER of Ypres that watchest, gravely smiling,
Green marsh-meadows stretching far away,
With long thoughts of famous deeds beguiling
March unceasing of the ages grey,
Once beneath thee
Swayed the seaweed, churned and foamed the sea.
Fleet of Frenchman, fleet of Spaniard thundered,
Victor, vanquished, 'neath your little hill,
Gaily fearless if they fled or plundered,
You, who faced our foemen, face them still—
Now the reeds sigh,
Young lambs frolic where tall ships sailed by.
Tower of Ypres, a little slept your glory,
Lips again are busy with your name,
Ypres again is famous in our story,
Ypres of Flanders, wrapt in blood and flame—
Here the spring song,
There black ruin, hate and death and wrong.
Dear grey Sussex town, your childlike beauty,
Passing price and more desired than gold,
Speaks to English souls of love, and duty
Faithful in the little wars of old—
In our hearts still
Live your dreaming fens, your bastioned hill.
A SUMMER MORNING
THE summer meads are fair with daisy-snow,
White as the dove's wing, flawless as the foam
On the brown beaches where the breakers comb
When the long Trades their morning bugles blow;
And over all there is a golden glow,
For the sun sits ascendant in the dome;
And smoke-wreaths rise from many a cottage home
Where there is peace, and joy's full overflow.
This is our heritage, but what of those
Who crouch where Yser's sad, ensanguined tide
Winds with its sluggish crescents, toward the sea;
Where Termonde bells are silent, and the wide
And stricken leagues of Flemish land disclose
The ruthless wrong, the piteous agony!
"When all the mysteries of life had been fulfilled in them . . ."
WHEN wars are done,
And when the splendour of the setting sun
Goes down serenely on a quiet shore,
Whose faithful tides for evermore
Bring in the memory
Of those who died that life might be:
When we are grown so tender and so brave,
That on a bitter grave
We lay forgiveness, garlanded
With love and pity, for the alien dead,
Grieving, that they were cruel once and blind,
Praying that in Thy Light their eyes may find
The vision of a world that still can be,
A kinship such as neither they nor we
Dreamed in the old unshriven days.
Yea, when divided ways
A grander world begun:
When love and tears and laughter are grown deep
As sacraments, and Mercies never sleep
But watch and mourn the dead
Where they lie comforted:
And when the heart's warm rain
Falls on the blessed grain
Of Brotherhood, when eager sowers fling
It lavishly and far, that it may spring
In harvests sweet and wide
Whose thrilling sheaves are tied
By hands once enemied:
When all of this shall be,
Then, then a second Calvary
Shall rise; the Mount whereon the price
Of deathless peace is laid, Man's love and sacrifice,
A Hill immense, resplendent, high,
Whence all the ruined earth, the darkened sky
Shall kindle, and shall burn with phoenix-fire,
The flame of purged desire.
TO MY PUPILS, GONE BEFORE THEIR DAY
YOU seemed so young, to know
So little, those few months or years ago,
Who may by now have disentwined
The inmost secrets of the Eternal Mind.
Yours seemed an easy part,
To construe, learn some trivial lines by heart:
Yet to your hands has God assigned
The burden of the sorrows of mankind.
You passed the brief school year
In expectation of some long career,
Then yielded up all years to find
That long career that none can leave behind.
If you had lived, some day
You would have passed my room, and chanced to say,
"I wonder if it's worth the grind
Of all those blunders he has underlined."
Perhaps! if at the end
You in your turn shall teach me how to mend
The many errors whose effect
Eternity awaits us to correct.
"THESE SHALL PREVAIL"
WAR laid bugle to his lips, blew one blast—and then
The seas answered him with ships, the earth with men.
Straight, Death caught his sickle up, called his reapers grim,
Famine with his empty cup came after him.
Down the stairs of Paradise hastened angels three,
Pity, and Self-Sacrifice, and Charity.
Where the curved, black sickles sweep, where pale Famine clings,
Where gaunt women watch and weep, come these of wings.
When the red wrath perisheth, when the dulled swords fail,
These three who have walked with Death—these shall prevail.
Hell bade all its millions rise; Paradise sends three;
Pity, and Self-Sacrifice, and Charity.
KAISER AND COUNCILLOR
THROUGH what dark pass to what place in the sun
Dost thou, misguided Moses, lead this folk?
What rest remains when wayfaring is done?
What clearer skies beyond the cannon-smoke?
Say not he triumphs, though his trampling host,
That knows above his nation's lust no law,
From inland village to the fearful coast
Still treads the peaceful peoples red and raw.
Nay, pity him the banded friends abhor,
Who sees—the tragic fool and slave of state—
Behind him stretch the sterile wastes of war,
Before, a widening wilderness of hate,
While all the world lifts up one wrathful cry
To give this Prussian Machiavel the lie.
White mouths that clamour for the unreaped wheat,
Frail hands that clasp the unresponsive dead,
Brave Belgian hearts, unconquered in defeat,
Dispeopled, exiled King: be comforted.
Though we close not the assaulted gates of sense
To shrieking towns, the gurgle of great ships
In drowning agonies, the fields immense
Horrid with shuddering limbs and writhen lips,
Yet since your woe has wrought this lift and swell
Of worldwide pity, love and chivalry,
We say the awful sacrifice is well.
The old law holds; on this new Calvary
Humanity, uplifted, crucified,
Still draws all hearts unto its wounded side.
THE HIDDEN WEAVER
THERE where he sits in the cold, in the gloom,
Of his far-away place by his thundering loom,
He weaves on the shuttles of day and of night
The shades of our sorrow and shapes of delight.
He has wrought him a glimmering garment to fling
Over the sweet swift limbs of the Spring,
He has woven a fabric of wonder to be
For a blue and a billowy robe to the sea,
He has fashioned in sombre funereal dyes
A tissue of gold for the midnight skies.
But sudden the woof turns all to red.
Has he lost his craft? Has he snapped his thread?
Sudden the web all sanguine runs.
Does he hear the yell of the thirsting guns?
While the scarlet crimes and the crimson sins
Grow from the dizzying outs and ins
Of the shuttle that spins, does he see it and feel?
Or is he the slave of a tyrannous wheel?
Inscrutable faces, mysterious eyes,
Are watching him out of the drifting skies;
Exiles of chaos crowd through the gloom
Of the uttermost cold to that thundering room
And whisper and peer through the dusk to mark
What thing he is weaving there in the dark.
Will he leave the loom that he won from them
And rend his fabric from hem to hem?
Is he weaving with daring and skill sublime
A wonderful winding-sheet for time?
Ah, but he sits in a darkling place,
Hiding his hands, hiding his face,
Hiding his art behind the shine
Of the web that he weaves so long and fine.
Loudly the great wheel hums and rings
And we hear not even the song that he sings.
Over the whirr of the shuttles and all
The roar and the rush, does he hear when we call?
Only the colours that grow and glow
Swift as the hurrying shuttles go,
Only the figures vivid or dim
That flow from the hastening hands of him,
Only the fugitive shapes are we,
Wrought in the web of eternity.
NEVER of us be said
That we reluctant stood
As sullen children, and refused to dance
To the keen pipe that sounds across the fields of France.
Though shrill the note and wild,
Though hard the steps and slow,
The dancing floor defiled,
The measure full of woe,
The solemn figure that the dancers tread,
We faltered not. Of us, this word shall not be said.
Never of us be said
We had no war to wage,
Because our womanhood,
Because the weight of age,
Held us in servitude.
None sees us fight,
Yet we in the long night
Battle to give release
To all whom we must send to seek and die for peace.
When they have gone, we in a twilit place
Meet Terror face to face,
With him, that we may save our fortitude alive.
Theirs be the hard, but ours the lonely bed.
Nought were we spared—of us, this word shall not be said.
Never of us be said
We failed to give God-speed to our adventurous dead.
Not in self-pitying mood
We saw them go,
When they set forth on those spread wings of pain:
So glad, so young,
As birds whose fairest lays are yet unsung
Dart to the height
And thence pour down their passion of delight,
Their passing into melody was turned.
So were our hearts uplifted from the low,
Our griefs to rapture burned;
And, mounting with the music of that throng,
Cutting a path athwart infinity,
Our puzzled eyes
Achieved the healing skies
To find again
Each wingèd spirit as a speck of song
Embosomed in Thy deep eternity.
Though from our homely fields that feathered joy has fled
We murmur not. Of us, this word shall not be said.
THE RED CHRISTMAS
"In these days even our wedding bells ring with sombre and muffled sound."—Mr. Asquith, in the Speaker's Library, November 25, 1915.
O TAKE away the mistletoe
And bring the holly berry,
For all the lads are gone away
And all the girls look sad to-day,
There's no one left with them to play,
And only birds and babes and things unknowing
Dare be merry.
Then take away the mistletoe
And bring the holly berry.
But oh its leaves are fresh and green,
Why bring the holly berry?
Because it wears the red, red hue,
The colour to the season true,
When war must have his tribute due,
And only birds and babes and things unknowing
Can be merry.
So take away the mistletoe,
Yet keep the holly berry.
And shall we never see again
Aught but the holly berry?
Yes, after sacrifice sublime,
When rings some later Christmas chime,
When dawns the new and better time,
Not only birds and babes and things unknowing
Shall be merry,
But you shall see the mistletoe
Twined with the holly berry.
"THERE WILL COME SOFT RAINS"
THERE will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows calling with their shimmering sound;
And frogs in the pools singing at night,
And wild-plum trees in tremulous white;
Robins will wear their feathery fire
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;
And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.
Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree,
If mankind perished utterly;
And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn,
Would scarcely know that we were gone.
WHAT legend of a star that fell
In falchion flight from heavenly flame
Brought to some poet-peasant's mind
The haunting sweetness of thy name?
War marked thee in thy sylvan sleep—
A spoil too pure for Hell to spare—
Seamed earth, stark, splintered trunks, proclaim
That Bois-Étoilé once was fair.
O wrecked and ravaged Wood of Stars!
The lights that named thee have not set!
In lovelier groves than even thine
France forges victory from them yet!
O green place on a glorious earth,
Thine, too, the martyr's meed shall be;
With Rheims and Ypres, there shall be found
A space on History's page for thee.
Nor shalt thou lose thine olden trick—
The winds of Peace thy leaves shall stir;
(Unbudded Aprils yearn, adream,
To keep dead springtides' trysts with her!).
GOING TO THE FRONT
I HAD no heart to march for war
When trees were bare and fell the snow;
To go to-day is easier far
When pink and white the orchards blow,
While cuckoo calls and from the lilac bush
Carols at peace the well-contented thrush.
For now the gorse is all in flower,
The chestnut tapers light the morn,
Gold gleam the oaks, the sun has power
To robe the glittering plain with corn;
I hear from all the land of hope a voice
That bids me forward bravely and rejoice.
So merry are the lambs at play,
So cheerfully the cattle feed,
With such security the May
Has built green walls round every mead,
O'er happy roofs such grey old church-towers peep,
Who would not fight these dear, dear homes to keep?
For hawthorn wreath, for bluebell glade,
For miles of buttercup that shine,
For song of birds in sun and shade
That fortify this soul of mine,
For all May joy beneath an English sky,
How sweet to live—how glad and good to die!
SINCE all that is was ever bound to be;
Since grim, eternal laws our Being bind;
And both the riddle and the answer find,
And both the carnage and the calm decree;
Since plain within the Book of Destiny
Is written all the journey of mankind
Inexorably to the end; since blind
And mortal puppets playing parts are we:
Then let's have faith; good cometh out of ill;
The power that shaped the strife shall end the strife;
Then let's bow down before the Unknown Will;
Fight on, believing all is well with life;
Seeing within the worst of War's red rage
The gleam, the glory of the Golden Age.
THE SONG OF THE PACIFIST
WHAT do they matter, our headlong hates, when we take the toll of our Dead?
Think ye our glory and gain will pay for the torrent of blood we have shed?
By the cheers of our Victory will the heart of the mother be comforted?
If by the Victory all we mean is a broken and brooding foe;
Is the pomp and power of a glitt'ring hour, and a truce for an age or so:
By the clay-cold hand on the broken blade we have smitten a bootless blow!
If by the Triumph we only prove that the sword we sheathe is bright;
That justice and truth and love endure; that Freedom's throned on the height;
That the feebler folk shall be unafraid; that Might shall never be Right;
If this be all: by the blood-drenched plains, by the havoc of fire and fear,
By the rending roar of the War of Wars, by the Dead so doubly dear . . .
Then our Victory is a vast defeat, and it mocks us as we cheer.
Victory! there can be but one, hallowed in every land:
When by the graves of our common dead we who were foemen stand;
And in the hush of our common grief hand is tendered to hand.
Triumph! Yes, when out of the dust in the splendour of their release
The spirits of those who fell go forth and they hallow our hearts to peace,
And, brothers in pain, with world-wide voice, we clamour that War shall cease.
Glory! Ay, when from blackest loss shall be born most radiant gain;
When over the gory fields shall rise a star that never shall wane:
Then, and then only, our Dead shall know that they have not fall'n in vain.
When our children's children shall talk of War as a madness that may not be;
When we thank our God for our grief to-day, and blazon from sea to sea
In the name of the Dead the banner of Peace . . . that will be Victory.
A MOTHER UNDERSTANDS
DEAR Lord, I hold my hand to take
Thy Body, broken once for me,
Accept the Sacrifice I make,
My Body, broken, Christ, for Thee.
His was my body, born of me,
Born of my bitter travail pain,
And it lies broken on the field,
Swept by the wind and the rain.
Surely a Mother understands Thy thorn-crowned head,
The mystery of Thy piercèd hands—the Broken Bread.
THE WAR CRY OF THE EAGLES
TECUMSEH of the Shawnees
He dreamed a noble dream,—
A league to hold their freedom old
And make their peace supreme.
He drew the tribes together
And bound them to maintain
Their sacred pact to stand and act
For common good and gain.
The eagles taught Tecumseh
The secret of their clan,—
A way to keep o'er plain and steep
The liberty of Man.
The champions of freedom
They may not weary soon,
Nor lay aside in foolish pride
The vigilance of noon.
Those teachers of Tecumseh
Were up to meet the dawn,
To scan the light and hold the height
Till the last light was gone.
Like specks upon the azure,
Their guards patrolled the sky,
To mount and plain and soar again
And give the warning cry.
They watched for lurking perils,
The death that skulks and crawls,
To take by stealth their only wealth
On wind-swept mountain walls.
They did not trust the shadows
That sleep upon the hill;
Where menace hid, where cunning slid,
They struck—and struck to kill.
Through lonely space unmeasured
They laid their sentry rings,
Till every brood in eyrie rude
Was shadowed by their wings.
Tecumseh watched the eagles
In summer o'er the plain,
And learned their cry, "If freedom die,
Ye will have lived in vain."
The vision of Tecumseh,
It could not long endure;
He lacked the might to back the right
And make his purpose sure.
Tecumseh and his people
Are gone; they could not hold
Their league for good; their brotherhood
Is but a tale that's told.
The eagles of Tecumseh
Still hold their lofty flight,
And guard their own on outposts lone,
Across the fields of light.
They hold their valiant instinct
And know their right of birth,
They do not cede their pride of breed
For things of little worth.
They see on earth below them,
Where time is but a breath,
Another race brought face to face
With liberty or death.
Above a thousand cities
A new day is unfurled,
And still on high those watchers cry
Their challenge o'er the world.
Where patriots are marching
And battle flags are borne,
To South and North their cry goes forth
To rally and to warn.
From border unto border,
They wheel and cry again
That master cry, "If freedom die,
Ye will have lived in vain!"