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E. J. L. GARSTIN

Lieut., 12th Battalion, Middlesex Regiment (B.E.F.)

 

To the Rats

O LOATHSOME rodent with your endless squeaking,
You hurry to and fro and give no peace,
Above the noise of Hun projectiles' shrieking
The sound of scratching footfalls never cease.


There is a thing which I could never pen,
The horror with which I regard your race,
For how can I describe my feelings when
I wake and find you sitting on my face.


Oh, how shall I portray the depths I plumb
When, stretched upon this bed, my body numb,
I see you, agile, helter-skelter fly.


Oh, Ignominy! while I sleepless lie,
You play your foolish games with eager zest
And sport and gambol freely on my chest.

 

Lines written between 1 and 2.30 a.m. in a German dug-out

OH horrible! How can the pen describe
The ghastliness of that which meets the eye,
The devastation and the frightfulness?
It seems as if some superhuman force,
Vast and malevolent, had passed this way,
Tormented by the Furies till its hate
Became insensate and demoniac:
Then, prompted by its innate cruelty,
Had ravaged where it went and had destroyed
All that it met, and made the countryside
A scene of horror without parallel.
Vast craters pit the ground, no blade of grass
Is left to shew what was a fertile plain;
Now is all barren, rugged, hideous,
The nightmare landscape of a fevered brain.
And scattered over all the stricken field,
See lie the shattered bodies of the slain
In all the ghastly posturings of death,
Their attitudes suggesting all their pain;
While over all, despite the blazing sun,
There hangs the shadow of a lurking death,
And in the cannon's never-ceasing roar
One hears the knell of many friends and foes:
But yet, for ever boastful of our worth,
We vaunt ourselves and puff our chests with pride,
Saying that man was ne'er so civilized,
No age so cultured. How the gods must smile
At such a paradox, at such a lie!
With frightful ingenuity, perhaps,
We have amassed a quantity of means
Whereby to sow destruction and to kill
Each other; yet the thought cannot be crushed
That, to be civilized means something more.
It is so trivial, for here are we,
Who are but particles upon a world,
Itself a minute atom lost in space,
At war with one another, filled with hate
And lust to kill and primal savag'ry.
What is the use, when all is said and done,
If we have hurried to eternity
The souls of many million fellow-men?
Our lives are but a moment in all time,
A fleeting instant, quickly come and gone;
Why fret ourselves in order to curtail
The short existences of other men?
And yet, in order to achieve this end
We suffer untold hardships, spend our wealth,
Endure the indescribable, and strain
Our ev'ry sinew, muscle, energy,
And name us patriots!