More songs by the fighting men. Soldiers poets: second series/Frank C. Lewis

FRANK C. LEWIS[1]

Flight Sub-Lieut., R.N.A.S.

 

Belgium, 1914

I

THE lithe flames flicker through the veil of night,
Licking with bitter tongue; and soon the dawn
Will come, and gaunt and black against the white
Cool sky will loom a smoking home, forlorn
Of all the joy and peace that once was there.
The pleading, pitiful dead lie mute and cold
And all untended still. The fields are bare
Of the young green, the parent of the gold.


O little land, great-hearted, who didst give
Thine all for sake of others' liberty,
Knowing the cost, nor shrinking at the thought,
Be sure that thy immortal name shall live
Writ large in thine own ashes. Men shall cry,
"This was a nation marvellously wrought!"


II

There came a voice from out the darkness crying—
A pleading voice, the voice of one in thrall—
"Come, ye who pass—oh, heed ye not my sighing?
Come and deliver! Hear, oh hear my call!
For when the invader stood before my gate
Demanding passage through with haughty tone,
A voice cried loud, 'Wilt thou endure this fate?
Better have death than live when honour's flown!'
And so my children now lie slain by him
I had not wronged; with strife my land is riven;
Dishonoured here I lie with fettered limb.
To desecration all my shrines are given,
And nought remains but bondage drear and grim. . . .
God! Is there any justice under heaven?"

 

Ad Profunda

WE have built high walls of pomp and pride
And wealth, around our inmost Being,
And deep, unseen, within there hide
Visions too bright for our dull seeing.


We yearning stand, and cannot pass
To where the Soul with these is One;
Our utterance is as the grass
Withering beneath the noonday sun.


The Waters of Infinity
Break on the spirit's lonely shore:
Lo! the wall crumbles, and we see
All we have hoped and striven for.


O, then all time is lost in Time,
The Soul has burst its prison-bars:
We walk with feet still deep in slime,
But with our heads above the stars.

 

The Downs, looking from Savernake Forest

WITH eager steps I climbed the hill
Ploughed with deep, age-old furrows, till
I reached the forest's edge and gazed
Across the low red town smoke-hazed,
Upon the downs, windy and bare,
Ridge upon ridge unending. There
No sound is heard save only these,
The wind's wild song 'mid lonely trees,
The echo of sheep-bells, and the cry
Of peewits circling in the sky.
Back in the dawn of time on earth,
Before she brought her sons to birth,
You stood the same as now you stand—
Untroubled, vast, majestic, grand:
Only you had not heard the tramp,
Old Hackpen Hill and Barbury Camp,
Of many an army passing by
Under a blue and cloud-flecked sky.
And happy they who fell in fight
Upon your clear and wind-swept height:
With thunder for their requiem
And the dark clouds to weep for them,
They dream the centuries away
Through changeless night and changeless day.


O Downs, I think it good that you
Have given your secret to the few
Who love you and can understand.
You are not as this other land
Trodden by all who chance to pass:
Only we tread your close-cropped grass
Who love to feel the beat of rain
Washing away all town-born pain:
Wind: and the heights whence one may see
The littleness of man: and we
There feel at last that we are free.

  1. Flight Sub-Lieut. Frank C. Lewis, R.N.A.S., was killed in aerial combat in France on August 21st, 1917, aged 19 years. He had only been twelve days in France, being selected for a fighting squadron three days after he landed. His squadron commander described him as having already proved "a brilliant pilot," and of his last air fight that "he fought bravely to a noble end." He fell in our lines and is buried at Bailleul. The Belgium sonnets were written in 1915 while he was a boy at Marlborough.