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Soldier poets, songs of the fighting men/H. Smalley Sarson


Private, Canadian Contingent



RAINDROPS falling,
Falling on the reddened grass
Where through the night battle held full sway,
Like Tears of God that drop in pity, then pass
To wash our guilt away.


The Armed Liner

THE dull grey paint of war
Covering the shining brass and gleaming decks
That once re-echoed to the steps of youth.
That was before
The storms of destiny made ghastly wrecks
Of Peace, the Right and Truth.
Impromptu dances, coloured lights and laughter,
Lovers watching the phosphorescent waves:
Now gaping guns, a whistling shell; and after
So many wandering graves.


The Village


SETTLING behind the haze a molten sun
Clothes the distant spires in gossamer,
Touches the swinging windows of the street
With fire, splashes the trees in liquid gold
And, in lassitude of slow decline,
Heralds the twilight's ease.
Weary workers
Turned from the plow, home-trudging from the fields,
Smile at their thoughts of well-earned peace and rest:
For in the village bustling pots and pans,
Sweet pleasant smells of peasant cookery,
Spell preparation for the evening meal.

In doorways, taking vantage of the light,
Sit here and there a figure, busy still
With flying fingers, weaving spider thread
To faery patterns of Valencienne.
Children are laughing; by the tiny brook
They wander, playing, teazing, now and then
Tossing a pebble at a darting minnow,
Till women voices, high-pitched to attract,
Cry Jacques, Noel or Pierre, when quietude
Comes to the rippling stream, drifting sounds
Of laughter only echoing from the doors
Subdued in harmony.

Peace and goodwill are the master tones
Brooding on the happy evening scene:
The men, seated beneath the café windows,
Talk, jest and laugh, with tinkling glass or mug,
And smoke their red clay pipes, sweet smelling smoke
Of home-cured leaf, rising in pearly clouds:
Whilst women, some still toiling at their lace,
Gossip, the elder matrons of their homes,
Girlhood as all girls will, so why say more?
For Madeleine, the minx, is missing. Where?
Henri, the cobbler's son, has vanished too,
Strong evidence enough for village life.

Suddenly the Curé, going to evensong,
Comes from underneath the shadowed trees,
A pleasant word for all, a cheery smile,
And in return due reverence and faith:
Thus softly the twilight deepens into night,
Boy and girl have, whispering, passed their way
To the security of scented lanes
To dream,—sweet fancies which the young enjoy,
The last thrush whistles in a distant copse,
As, only by the glowing of a pipe,
A smothered laugh, a restless infant's cry,
Is the blue silence of the Heavens broken
To show the stars humanity still lives.


The Village


THE shrieking of a thousand maddened furies
Riding the air, a violent thunder-clap,
Sharp vivid stabs of flame; then falling bricks
And silence: deep, deep silence of the dead.
No other creature but a scurrying rat
Is seen, even the sparrows that last year
In cheeky self-assurance chirped about
Have gone their way and left the desolate place.
In May the martins came again, to build
Their tiny homes on last year's site, but found
The sheltering eaves where they had taken refuge
Strewn on the ground.

Those scarred and tumbling walls
Once were the church, yet might have been an inn
For all the signs of reverence they show,
Save that in the encircling shady yard,
Heaped with scattered stone, the uprooted graves
And broken crosses speak of holier days:
The nave, choked with charred rafters from the roof,
Pleads untended to the wind and rain
Mutely; shelter even bats despise.

Standing stricken, the weary shrapnelled houses
Seem skeletons, grim and ghastly shapes
Beckoning with scraggy fingers to the sky
In silent plea for justice. A window gapes,
Laughing in mockery the frame still holds,
Grinning its execration.
No solid roof
Stands to offer hiding to a dog,
Whilst in the rooms that once were clean and white,
Midst the accumulating broken tiles,
Grasses and weeds already have their hold
Encroaching from the garden.
The road itself is seamed, pock-marked with holes
Where you might hide ten men, nor see their heads,
Those near the tiny stream filled to the brim
With dank and turbid water, in greening slime
The bloated body of a puny kitten
Floats, decayed and foul.
So everywhere
When yester-year found peace and happiness
Now death prowling lurks in gruesome power;
The thrushes sing no longer in the woods,
Whilst over all there meditates and broods
The sovereign cruelty of war.


To Sister E. W.

YOU gave me a white carnation:
Was it in sympathy?
And did you know the flower meant
Youth's glad world to me?

A simple white carnation.
Yet you seemed to understand
What I craved was a woman's smile,
The touch of a gentle hand,

So you gave me a white carnation—
'Twas a foolish thing to do,
For whenever I see carnations now
I shall always think of you.

St. Omer, June, 1915.


The Shell

SHRIEKING its message the flying death
Cursed the resisting air,
Then buried its nose by a battered church,
A skeleton gaunt and bare.

The brains of science, the money of fools
Had fashioned an iron slave
Destined to kill, yet the futile end
Was a child's uprooted grave.