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Soldier poets, songs of the fighting men/John William Streets

JOHN WILLIAM STREETS

Sergt., 12th York and Lancasters (B.E.F., France)

Wounded and missing, July, 1916

 

Youth's Consecration

"These verses were inspired while I was in the trenches, where I have been so busy that I have had little time to polish them. I have tried to picture some thoughts that pass through a man's brain when he dies. I may not see the end of the poems, but hope to live to do so. We soldiers have our views of life to express, though the boom of death is in our ears. We try to convey something of what we feel in this great conflict to those who think of us, and sometimes, alas! mourn our loss. We desire to let them know that in the midst of our keenest sadness for the joy of life we leave behind we go to meet death grim-lipped, clear-eyed, and resolute-hearted."

LOVERS of Life, dreamers with lifted eyes,
O Liberty, at thy command we challenge Death!
The monuments that tell our fathers' faith
Shall be the altars of our sacrifice.
Dauntless we fling our lives into the van,
Laughing at death, because within Youth's breast
Flame lambent fires of Freedom; man for man
We yield to thee our heritage, our best.
Life's highest product youth exults in Life;
We are Olympian gods in consciousness;
Mortality to us is sweet, yet less
We value Ease when Honour sounds the strife.
Lovers of life, we pledge thee, Liberty,
And go to death calmly, triumphantly!

 

At Dawn in France

NIGHT on the plains, and the stars unfold
The cycle of night in splendour old;
The winds are hushed, on the fire-swept hill
All is silent, shadowy, still—
Silent, yet tense as a harp high-strung
By a master bard for deeds unsung.
Slowly across the shadowy night
Tremble the shimmering wings of light,
And men with vigil in their eyes
And a fever light that never dies—
Men from the city, hamlet, town,
Once white faces tanned to brown,—
Stand to the watch of the parapet
And watch, with rifles, bayonets set,
For the great unknown that comes to men
Swift as the light: sudden, then—


Dawn! the light from its shimmering wings
Lights up their faces with strange, strange things:
Strange thoughts of love, of death and life,
Serenity 'mid sanguine strife:—
Dreams of life where the feet of youth
Rush to the pinnacles of Truth;
Where early dreams with pinions fleet
Rush to find a love complete;
Of Love and Youth 'neath rosy bowers
Sensuous, mad with the wine-filled hours,
Flushed with hope and joy's delight,
Weaving rapture from the night:—
Visions of death where the harp is still
And the sun sets swiftly behind youth's hill;
Where the song is hushed and the light is dead
And the man lies with the rememberèd;
Where Memory weaves a paradise,
A mother's face, her tender eyes,
Her suffering for the child she gave,
Her love unbroken by the grave;
Where shadows gather o'er the bliss,
The rapture of a bridal kiss:—
Yet dreams where Youth (sublimity!)
Doth thrill to give for Liberty
Its love, its hope, its radiant morn,
Doth thrill to die for the yet unborn,
To die and pay the utmost price
And save its ideals thro' the sacrifice.


Thus at dawn do the watchers dream
Of life and death, of love supreme:
Flushed with the dawn, hope in each breast,
Their faces turn to the starless west:
Thus at dawn do the watches think
Resolute-hearted upon death's brink
With a strange, proud look on every face—
The scorn of Death, the pride of race.

 

Love of Life

REACH out thy hands, thy spirit's hands, to me
And pluck the youth, the magic from my heart—
Magic of dreams whose sensibility
Is plumed like the light; visions that start
Mad pressure in the blood; desire that thrills
The soul with mad delight: to yearning wed
All slothfulness of life; draw from its bed
The soul of dawn across the twilight hills.
Reach out thy hands, O spirit, till I feel
That I am fully thine; for I shall live
In the proud consciousness that thou dost give,
And if thy twilight fingers round me steal
And draw me unto death—thy votary
Am I, O Life, reach out thy hands to me!

 

An English Soldier

HE died for love of race; because the blood
Of northern freemen swelled his veins; arose
True to tradition that like mountain stood
Impregnable, crown'd with its pathless snows.
When broke the call, from the sepulchred years
Strong voices urged and stirr'd his soul to life;
The call of English freemen fled his fears
And led him (their true son) into the strife.
There in the van he fought thro' many a dawn,
Stood by the forlorn hope, knew victory;
Proud, scorning Death, fought with a purpose drawn
Sword-edged, defiant, grand, for Liberty.
He fell; but yielded not his English soul—
That lives out there beneath the battle's roll.

 

A Soldiers' Cemetery

BEHIND that long and lonely trenched line
To which men come and go, where brave men die,
There is a yet unmarked and unknown shrine,
A broken plot, a soldiers' cemetery.
There lie the flower of youth, the men who scorn'd
To live (so died) when languished Liberty:
Across their graves flowerless and unadorned
Still scream the shells of each artillery.
When war shall cease: this lonely unknown spot
Of many a pilgrimage will be the end,
And flowers will shine in this now barren plot
And fame upon it through the years descend:
But many a heart upon each simple cross
Will hang the grief, the memory of its loss.

 

A Lark above the Trenches

HUSHED is the shriek of hurtling shells: and hark!
Somewhere within that bit of deep blue sky,
Grand in his loneliness, his ecstasy,
His lyric wild and free, carols a lark.
I in the trench, he lost in heaven afar;
I dream of love, its ecstasy he sings;
Both lure my soul to love till, like a star,
It flashes into life: O tireless wings
That beat love's message into melody—
A song that touches in this place remote
Gladness supreme in its undying note,
And stirs to life the soul of memory—
'Tis strange that while you're beating into life
Men here below are plunged in sanguine strife.