Poems of the Great War/The Stars in their Courses

The Stars in their Courses
by John Frederick Freeman


AND now, while the dark vast earth shakes and
In this wild dreamlike 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
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 quiver-
Stars quenched in anger and hate, stars sick with

I cannot look up to the naked skies
Because a sorrow on a 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 poor,
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,
And dies.
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;
Her children's inspiration is her name, her name!

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 heart;
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
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
Though all their dead be countless as the stars,
And all the living bitter as the sea.

I looked again, or dreamed I looked, and saw
The stars again and all their place 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, ye stern and solitary stars
On these disastrous wars!