Southern Historical Society Papers/Volume 39/The House of Broken Swords


On one side marshes met the snarling sea,
And on the other, three gaunt mountain peaks
Shot up mid screaming eagles; and between,
Beetling above an inky tarn, upclomb
That hostelry.

Cloud-high it loomed and dark
As Amazonian forests. Far overhead
Its shadowy roof, sometimes was spindrift dim,
Sometimes was heaven, with lucent twilight skies
Besprent with stars; and round each echoing hall
From carven ambrys quaint, old storied arms
Blazoned the walls. There on Goliath's blade
Goliath's blood still rusted; there sea-born
Excalibur flaunted his wizard hilt.
And Soldan's yataghan and Richard's brand
Hung with the baton that in Caesar's grasp
Dispeopled nations.

But the loftiest nave
In that strange house was hung with broken swords,
Whereof the chiefest three had shields beneath,
Scrolled each with shining names. One shield was his
Who long time humbled Rome, and one. blood-red.
Recalled the Corsican; and last, a shield
Now wet with old men's tears, proclaimed the chief
Whose ramparts moulder mid Virginian pines.
Untenanted the place, to casual eyes.
And silent; but anon began afar
Onset of armed feet, and thunders rolled,

(Thunders or battle), and a hand unseen

Lifted a veil; and Lo! a marching host
Swept through the aisles, while on amazed ears
Sea-like uprose The Prayer of Beaten Men.

"We are the fallen, who with helpless faces
Hid in the dust, in stiffening ruin lay.
Felt the hoofs beat, and heard the rattling traces.
As o'er us drove the chariots of the fray.

"We are the fallen, who by ramparts gory
Awaiting death, heard the far shouts begin.
And with our last glance glimpsed the victor's glory
For which we died, but dying might not win.

"We were but men. Always our eyes were holden,
We could not read the dark that walled us round,
Nor deem our futile plans with thine enfolden—
We fought, not knowing God was on the ground,

"Give us our own; and though in realms eternal
The potsherd and the pot. belike, are one.
Make our old world to know that with supernal
Powers we were matched, and by the stars o'erthrown.

"Aye, grant our ears to hear the foolish praising
Of men—old voices of our lost home-land.
Or else, the gateways of this dim world raising,
Give us our swords again—and hold thy hand!"

Thus prayed they; and no spoken answer fell.
But whoso watched, saw the dark roof again
Flash into sudden heaven aglow with stars
That aimed their rays, straight as God's glances, on
Those shields alone beneath the broken swords.

—William Hervey Woods, Scribner for March, 1910.