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Soldier poets, songs of the fighting men/Alexander Robertson

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ALEXANDER ROBERTSON

Corporal, 12th York and Lancasters

 

"We shall drink to them that sleep"

(Campbell)

YES, you will do it, silently of course;
For after many a toast and much applause,
One is in love with silence, being hoarse,
Such more than sorrow is your quiet's cause.


Yes, I can see you at it, in a room
Well-lit and warm, high-roofed and soft to the tread,
Satiate and briefly mindful of the tomb
With its poor victim of Teutonic lead.


Some unknown notability will rise,
Ridiculously solemn, glass abrim,
And say, "To our dear brethren in the skies,"—
Dim are all eyes, all glasses still more dim.


Your pledge of sorrow but a cup to cheer,
Your sole remark some witless platitude,
Such as, "Although it does not yet appear,
To suffer is the sole beatitude.


"Life has, of course, good moments such as this
(A glass of sherry we should never spurn),
But where our brethren are, 'tis perfect bliss;
Still, we are glad our lot was,—to return."


Yes, I can see you and can see the dead,
Keen-eyed at last for Truth, with gentle mirth
Intent. And having heard, smiling they said:
"Strange are our little comrades of the earth."

 

A Midnight Reflection in a Hut

THIRTY "heroes" in a hut,
So the babblers call them, but
Sometimes doubts assail us when
We prefer to call them men.
For the "heroes" quarrel much,
And their language is not such,
Always, as to merit praise,—
Rather censure's frowning gaze;
Sometimes greedy, too, they be;
Sometimes idle, let's agree;
Short of temper—as of breath,
The impartial witness saith;
Sometimes cunning, that's the worst
Sin, the Serpent's, the accurst!
So the critics: they are right
In a fashion. Yet at night,
After "Lights out" and the talk
Subsequent, and when but the walk
Of the sentry tramping near
Breaks the silence and the queer
Nasal noises "heroes" snore
Just like men other and more—
They would be of gentler mood,
Seeing them on their couches rude,
Wearied after toil, asleep,
(Are their slumbers dreamless, deep?
Or do dark forebodings mar
Their repose who silent are?)
The white faces, if the moon
Chanced to shine, as in a swoon
Faces are. And were they wise
They would say of each that lies,
Heedless both of praise and blame,
"Faults he has but still he came,
Duty summoning, all men cherish
Left and but, perchance, to perish."
Shamefaced they would pass them by
In the moonlight as they lie,
All on tiptoe they would flit
Doorwards, gently open it,
Glance back once and all unknown
As they entered they'd be gone.

 

To an Old Lady seen at a Guest-house for Soldiers

QUIET thou didst stand at thine appointed place,
There was no press to purchase—younger grace
Attracts the youth of valour. Thou didst not know,
Like the old, kindly Marthas, to and fro
To haste. Yet one could say, "In thine I prize
The strength of calm that held in Mary's eyes."
And when they came, thy gracious smile so wrought
They knew that they were given, not that they bought.
Thou didst not tempt to vauntings and pretence
Was dumb before thy perfect woman's sense.
Blest who have seen, for they shall ever see
The radiance of thy benignity.