Why Ask To Know The Date—The Clime?
Why ask to know the date—the clime?
More then mere words they cannot be:
Men knelt to God and worshipped crime,
And crushed the helpless even as we.
But, they had learnt from length of strife—
Of civil war and anarchy
To laugh at death and look on life
With somewhat lighter sympathy.
It was the autumn of the year;
The time to labouring peasants, dear:
Week after week, from noon to noon,
September shone as bright as June.
Still, never hand a sickle held;
The crops were garnered in the field—
Trod out, and ground by horses feet
While every ear was milky sweet;
And kneaded on the threshing floor
With mire of tears and human gore.
Some said, they thought that heaven's pure rain
Would hardly bless those fields again.
Not so—the all-benignant skies
Rebuked that fear of famished eyes—
July passed on with showers and dew
And August glowed in showerless blue;
No harvest time could be more fair
Had harvest fruits but ripened there.
And I confess that hate of rest,
And thirst for things abandoned now,
Had weaned me from my country's breast
And brought me to that land of woe.
Enthusiast—in a name delighting,
My alien sword I drew to free
One race, beneath two standards fighting,
For loyalty, and liberty.
When kindred strive—God help the weak!
A brother's ruth 'tis vain to seek:
At first, it hurt my chivalry
To join them in their cruelty;
But I grew hard—I learnt to wear
An iron front to terror's prayer;
I learnt to turn my ears away
From torture's groans as well as they.
By force I learnt what power had I
To say the conquered should not die?
What heart, one trembling foe to save
When hundreds daily filled the grave?
Yet there were faces that could move
A moment's flash of human love;
And there were fates that made me feel
I was not to the centre, steel.
I've often witnessed wise men fear
To meet distress which they forsaw;
And sinning cowards nobly bear
A doom that thrilled the brave with awe:
Strange proofs I've seen how hearts could hide
Their secret with a lifelong pride,
And then, reveal it as they died—
Strange courage, and strange weakness too,
In that last hour when most are true,
And timid natures strangely nerved
To deeds from which the desperate swerved!
These I may tell, but, leave them now.
Go with me where my thoughts would go;
Now all today, and all last night
I've had one scene before my sight—
Wood-shadowed dales, a harvest moon,
Unclouded in its glorious noon;
A solemn landscape, wide and still;
A red fire on a distant hill—
A line of fires, and deep below,
Another dusker, drearier glow—
Charred beams, and lime and blackened stones
Self-piled in cairns o'er burning bones;
And lurid flames that licked the wood,
Then quenched their glare in pools of blood.
But yestereve—No! never care;
Let street and suburb smoulder there-
Smoke hidden, in the winding glen,
They lay too far to vex my ken.
Four score shot down—all veterans strong—
One prisoner spared, their leader young—
And he within his house was laid,
Wounded, and weak and nearly dead.
We gave him life against his will;
For he entreated us to kill—
And statue-like we saw his tears—
And coldly fell our captain's sneers!
'Now heaven forbid!' with scorn he said
'that noble gore our hands should shed
Like common blood—retain thy breath
Or scheme, if thou canst purchase death.
When men are poor we sometimes hear
And pitying grant that dastard prayer;
When men are rich, we make them buy
The pleasant privilege, to die.
O, we have castles reared for kings,
Embattled towers and buttressed wings,
Thrice three feet thick, and guarded well
With chain and bolt and sentinel!
We build our despots' dwellings sure;
Knowing they love to live secure.
And our respect for royalty
Extends to thy estate and thee!'
The supplicant groaned, his moistened eye
Swam wild and dim with agony.
The gentle blood could ill sustain
Degrading taunts, unhonoured pain.
Bold had he shown himself to lead;
Eager to smite and proud to bleed—
A man, amid the battle's storm;
An infant in the after calm.
Beyond the town his mansion stood
Girt round with pasture-land and wood;
And there our wounded soldiers lying
Enjoyed the ease of wealth in dying.
For him, no mortal more then he
Had softened life with luxury;
And truly did our priest declare
'Of good things he had had his share.'
We lodged him in an empty place,
The full moon beaming on his face,
Through shivered glass, and ruins, made
Where shell and ball the fiercest played.
I watched his ghastly couch beside
Regardless if he lived or died—
Nay, muttering curses on the breast
Whose ceaseless moans denied me rest:
'Twas hard, I know, 'twas harsh to say,
'Hell snatch thy worthless soul away!'
But then 'twas hard my lids to keep,
Through this long night, estranged from sleep.
Captive and keeper, both outworn,
Each in his misery yearned for morn;
Even though returning morn should bring
Intenser toil and suffering.
Slow, slow it came! Our dreary room
Grew drearier with departing gloom;
Yet, as the west[almost ineligible—possible 'night'.] wind warmly blew
I felt my pulses bound anew,
And turned to him—nor breeze, nor ray
Revived that mould of shattered clay,
Scarce conscious of his pain he lay—
Scarce conscious that my hands removed
The glittering toys his lightness loved;
The jewelled rings, and locket fair,
Where rival curls of silken hair,
Sable and brown, revealed to me
A tale of doubtful constancy.
['Forsake the world without regret';
I murmured in contemptuous tone;
'The world, poor wretch, will soon forget
Thy noble name, when thou art gone!
Happy, if years of slothful shame
Could perish like a noble name!
If God did no account require
And being with breathing might expire!']--bracketed text lightly crossed out in the MS.
And words of such contempt I said,
Harsh insults o'er a dying bed,
Which as they darken memory now
Disturb my pulse and flush my brow;
I know that Justice holds in store,
Reprisals for those days of gore;
Not for the blood, but for the sin
Of stifling mercy's voice within.
The blood spilt gives no pang at all;
It is my conscience haunting me
Telling how oft my lips shed gall
On many a thing too weak to be,
[Even in thought,]--bracketed text not crossed out
[Even in thought, my enemy]--bracketed text in random version on the net
And whispering ever, when I pray,
'God will repay—God will repay!'
[He does repay, and soon and well,
The deeds that turn his earth to hell,
The wrongs that aim a venomed dart
Through nature at the Eternal Heart.
Surely my cruel tongue was cursed;
I know my prisoner heard me speak;
A transient gleam of feeling burst
And wandered o'er his haggard cheek.
And from his quivering lips there stole
A look to melt a demon's soul,
A silent prayer more powerful far
Then any breathed petitions are,
Pleading in mortal agony
To mercy's Source but not to me.
Now I recall that glance and groan,
And wring my hands in vain distress;
Then I was adamantine stone,
Nor felt one touch of tenderness.]--bracketed text lightly crossed out in the MS.
My plunder ta'en[?] I left him there,
Without one breath of morning air,
To struggle with his last despair,
Regardless of the wildered cry
Which wailed for death yet wailed to die.
I left him there unwatched, alone,
And eager sought the court below,
Where o'er a trough of chizelled stone
An ice cold well did gurgling flow.
The water in its basin shed
A stranger tinge of fiery red.
I drank and scarcely marked the hue—
My hand was dyed with crimson too.
As I went out a wretched child,
With wasted cheek and ringlets wild,
A shape of fear and misery,
Raised up her twisted hands to me,
And begged her father dear to see.
I spurned the piteous wretch away;
'Thy father dear is lifeless clay,
As thou mayst be ere fall of day,
Unless the truth be quickly told—
Where they have hid thy father's gold.'
Yet in the intervals of pain
He heard my taunts and moaned again;
And mocking moans did I reply,
And asked him why he would not die.
[In noble agony uncomplaining]
Was it not foul disgrace and shame
To thus disgrace his ancient name?
Just then a comrade came hurrying in.
'Alas!', he cried, 'Sin genders sin
For every soldier slain they've sworn
To hang up five tomorrow morn!
They've ta'en of stragglers ['stranglers' in the MS} sixty-three,
Full thirty from one company,
And all my father's family;
And comrade thou hadst only one;
They've ta'en thy all—thy little son!'
Down, at my captive's feet I fell:
I had no option in despair:
'As thou wouldst save thy soul from hell,
My heart's own darling bid them spare,
Or human hate and hate divine
Blight every orphan flower of thine!'
He wakened up— he almost smiled: [He raised his head from death beguiled--alternative line not crossed out]
'I lost last night my only child.
Twice in my arms, twice on my knee,
You stabbed my child and laughed at me;
And so'—with choking voice he said—
'I trust in God—I hope she's dead.
Yet not to thee, not even to thee,
Would I return such misery.
[Such is that fearful grief I know
I will not cause thee equal woe]-- in random version on the net
Write that they harm no infant there.
Write that it is my latest prayer.'
I wrote—he signed—and thus did save
My treasure from the gory grave;
And oh! my soul longed wildly then
To give his saviour life again.
[Alternative lines not crossed out:
And I would freely, gladly then,
Have given his saviour life again.]
But heedless of my gratitude
The silent corpse before me lay;
And still methinks, in gloomy mood,
I see it fresh as yesterday;
The sad face raised imploringly
To mercy's God and not to me.
[Two partly illegible lines:
And mercy's God
The last look of that glazing eye.]
I could not rescue; him his child
I found alive and tended well;
But she was full of anguish wild,
And hated me, like burning[?] hell;
And weary with her savage woe
One moonless night I let her go.