A treasury of war poetry, British and American poems of the world war, 1914-1919/Verdun



THERE are five men in the moonlight
That by their shadows stand;
Three hobble humped on crutches,
And two lack each a hand.

Frogs somewhere near the roadside
Chorus their chant absorbed:
But a hush breathes out of the dream-light
That far in heaven is orbed.

It is gentle as sleep falling
And wide as thought can span,
The ancient peace and wonder
That brims the heart of man.

Beyond the hills it shines now
On no peace but the dead,
On reek of trenches thunder-shocked,
Tense fury of wills in wrestle locked,
A chaos crumbled red!

The five men in the moonlight
Chat, joke, or gaze apart.
They talk of days and comrades,
But each one hides his heart.

They wear clean cap and tunic,
As when they went to war;
A gleam comes where the medal's pinned:
But they will fight no more.

The shadows, maimed and antic,
Gesture and shape distort,
Like mockery of a demon dumb,
Out of the hell-din whence they come,
That dogs them for his sport:

But as if dead men were risen
And stood before me there
With a terrible fame about them blown
In beams of spectral air,

I see them, men transfigured
As in a dream, dilate
Fabulous with the Titan-throb
Of battling Europe's fate;

For history's hushed before them,
And legend flames afresh,—
Verdun, the name of thunder,
Is written on their flesh.


THREE hundred thousand men, but not enough
To break this township on a winding stream;
More yet must fall, and more, ere the red stuff
That built a nation's manhood may redeem
The Master's hopes and realize his dream.

They pave the way to Verdun; on their dust
The Hohenzollerns mount and, hand in hand,
Gaze haggard south; for yet another thrust
And higher hills must heap, ere they may stand
To feed their eyes upon the promised land.

One barrow, born of women, lifts them high,
Built up of many a thousand human dead.
Nursed on their mother's bosoms, now they lie—
A Golgotha, all shattered, torn and sped,
A mountain for these royal feet to tread.

A Golgotha, upon whose carrion clay
Justice of myriad men still in the womb
Shall heave two crosses; crucify and flay
Two memories accurs'd; then in the tomb
Of world-wide execration give them room.

Verdun! A clarion thy name shall ring
Adown the ages and the Nations see
Thy monuments of glory. Now we bring
Thank-offering and bend the reverent knee,
Thou star upon the crown of Liberty!


[Reprinted by permission of the Proprietors of Punch.]

GUNS of Verdun point to Metz
From the plated parapets;
Guns of Metz grin back again
O'er the fields of fair Lorraine.

Guns of Metz are long and grey,
Growling through a summer day;
Guns of Verdun, grey and long,
Boom an echo of their song.

Guns of Metz to Verdun roar,
"Sisters, you shall foot the score";
Guns of Verdun say to Metz,
"Fear not, for we pay our debts."

Guns of Metz they grumble, "When?"
Guns of Verdun answer then,
"Sisters, when to guard Lorraine
Gunners lay you East again!"