A treasury of war poetry, British and American poems of the world war, 1914-1919/The Fallen
BLOW out, you bugles, over the rich Dead!
There's none of these so lonely and poor of old
But, dying, has made us rarer gifts than gold.
These laid the world away; poured out the red
Sweet wine of youth; gave up the years to be
Of work and joy, and that unhoped serene,
That men call age; and those who would have been,
Their sons, they gave, their immortality.
Blow, bugles, blow! They brought us, for our dearth,
Holiness, lacked so long, and Love, and Pain.
Honour has come back, as a king, to earth,
And paid his subjects with a royal wage;
And Nobleness walks in our ways again;
And we have come into our heritage.
These hearts were woven of human joys and cares
Washed marvellously with sorrow, swift to mirth.
The years had given them kindness. Dawn was theirs,
And sunset, and the colours of the earth.
These had seen movement and heard music; known
Slumber and waking; loved; gone proudly friended;
Felt the quick stir of wonder; sat alone;
Touched flowers and furs and cheeks. All this is ended.
There are waters blown by changing winds to laughter
And lit by the rich skies, all day. And after,
Frost, with a gesture, stays the waves that dance
And wandering loveliness. He leaves a white
Unbroken glory, a gathered radiance,
A width, a shining peace, under the night.
QUI IN HOC SAECULO FIDELITER
HE that has left hereunder
The signs of his release
Feared not the battle's thunder
Nor hoped that wars should cease;
No hatred set asunder
His warfare from his peace.
Nor feared he in his sleeping
To dream his work undone,
To hear the heathen sweeping
Over the lands he won;
For he has left in keeping
His sword unto his son.
FOR THE FALLEN
WITH proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.
Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres,
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.
They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted:
They fell with their faces to the foe.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England's foam.
But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;
As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.
SAINTS have adored the lofty soul of you.
Poets have whitened at your high renown.
We stand among the many millions who
Do hourly wait to pass your pathway down.
You, so familiar, once were strange: we tried
To live as of your presence unaware.
But now in every road on every side
We see your straight and steadfast signpost there.
I think it like that signpost in my land,
Hoary and tall, which pointed me to go
Upward, into the hills, on the right hand,
Where the mists swim and the winds shriek and blow,
A homeless land and friendless, but a land
I did not know and that I wished to know.
Such, such is Death: no triumph: no defeat:
Only an empty pail, a slate rubbed clean,
A merciful putting away of what has been.
And this we know: Death is not Life effete,
Life crushed, the broken pail. We who have seen
So marvellous things know well the end not yet.
Victor and vanquished are a-one in death:
Coward and brave: friend, foe. Ghosts do not say,
"Come, what was your record when you drew breath?"
But a big blot has hid each yesterday
So poor, so manifestly incomplete.
And your bright Promise, withered long and sped,
Is touched, stirs, rises, opens and grows sweet
And blossoms and is you, when you are dead.
June 12, 1915.
WHEN you see millions of the mouthless dead
Across your dreams in pale battalions go,
Say not soft things as other men have said,
That you'll remember. For you need not so.
Give them not praise. For, deaf, how should they know
It is not curses heaped on each gashed head?
Nor tears. Their blind eyes see not your tears flow.
Nor honour. It is easy to be dead.
Say only this, "They are dead." Then add thereto,
"Yet many a better one has died before."
Then scanning all the o'ercrowded mass, should you
Perceive one face that you loved heretofore,
It is a spook. None wears the face you knew.
Great Death has made all his for evermore.
IN FLANDERS FIELDS
[Reprinted by permission of the Proprietors of Punch.]
IN Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
THE ANXIOUS DEAD
O GUNS, fall silent till the dead men hear
Above their heads the legions pressing on:
(These fought their fight in time of bitter fear
And died not knowing how the day had gone.)
O flashing muzzles, pause and let them see
The coming dawn that streaks the day afar:
Then let your mighty chorus witness be
To them, and Cæsar, that we still make war.
Tell them, O guns, that we have heard their call,
That we have sworn, and will not turn aside,
That we will onward, till we win or fall,
That we will keep the faith for which they died.
Bid them be patient, and some day, anon,
They shall feel earth enwrapt in silence deep,
Shall greet, in wonderment, the quiet dawn,
And in content may turn them to their sleep.
TO OUR FALLEN
YE sleepers, who will sing you?
We can but give our tears—
Ye dead men, who shall bring you
Fame in the coming years?
Brave souls . . . but who remembers
The fame that fired your embers? . . .
Deep, deep the sleep that holds you
Who one time had no peers.
Yet maybe Fame's but seeming
And praise you'd set aside,
Content to go on dreaming,
Yea, happy to have died
If of all things you prayed for—
All things your valour paid for—
One prayer is not forgotten,
One purchase not denied.
But God grants your dear England
A strength that shall not cease
Till she have won for all the Earth
From ruthless men release,
And made supreme upon her
Mercy and Truth and Honour—
Is this the thing you died for?
Oh, Brothers, sleep in peace!
THE FALLEN SUBALTERN
THE starshells float above, the bayonets glisten;
We bear our fallen friend without a sound;
Below the waiting legions lie and listen
To us, who march upon their burial ground.
Wound in the flag of England here, we lay him;
The guns will flash and thunder o'er the grave;
What other winding sheet should now array him,
What other music should salute the brave?
As goes the Sun-god in his chariot glorious,
When all his golden banners are unfurled,
So goes the soldier, fallen but victorious,
And leaves behind a twilight in the world.
And those who come this way, in days hereafter,
Will know that here a boy for England fell,
Who looked at danger with the eyes of laughter,
And on the charge his days were ended well.
One last salute; the bayonets clash and glisten;
With arms reversed we go without a sound:
One more has joined the men who lie and listen
To us, who march upon their burial-ground.
WE who are left, how shall we look again
Happily on the sun, or feel the rain,
Without remembering how they who went
Ungrudgingly and spent
Their all for us, loved, too, the sun and rain?
A bird among the rain wet lilac sings—
But we, how shall we turn to little things
And listen to the birds and winds and streams
Made holy by their dreams,
Nor feel the heart-break in the heart of things?
VALLEY OF THE SHADOW
GOD, I am travelling out to death's sea,
I, who exulted in sunshine and laughter,
Thought not of dying death—is such waste of me!
Grant me one comfort: Leave not the hereafter
Of mankind to war, as though I had died not—
I, who in battle, my comrade's arm linking,
Shouted and sang—life in my pulses hot
Throbbing and dancing! Let not my sinking
In dark be for naught, my death a vain thing!
God, let me know it the end of man's fever!
Make my last breath a bugle call, carrying
Peace o'er the valleys and cold hills, for ever!
[From A Sheaf. Copyright, 1916, by Charles Scribner's Sons.]
A HARROW GRAVE IN FLANDERS
HERE in the marshland, past the battered bridge,
One of a hundred grains untimely sown,
Here, with his comrades of the hard-won ridge,
He rests unknown.
His horoscope had seemed so plainly drawn,—
School triumphs, earned apace in work and play;
Friendships at will; then love's delightful dawn
And mellowing day;
Home fostering hope; some service to the State;
Benignant age; then the long tryst to keep
Where in the yew-tree shadow congregate
His fathers sleep.
Was here the one thing needful to distil
From life's alembic, through this holier fate,
The man's essential soul, the hero will?
We ask; and wait.
NO more, old England, will they see—
Those men who've died for you and me.
So lone and cold they lie; but we,
We still have life; we may still greet
Our pleasant friends in home and street;
We still have life, are able still
To climb the turf of Bignor Hill,
To see the placid sheep go by,
To hear the sheep-dog's eager cry,
To feel the sun, to taste the rain,
To smell the Autumn's scents again
Beneath the brown and gold and red
Which old October's brush has spread,
To hear the robin in the lane,
To look upon the English sky.
So young they were, so strong and well,
Until the bitter summons fell—
Too young to die.
Yet there on foreign soil they lie,
So pitiful, with glassy eye
And limbs all tumbled anyhow:
Quite finished, now.
On every heart—lest we forget—
Secure at home—engrave this debt!
Too delicate is flesh to be
The shield that nations interpose
'Twixt red Ambition and his foes—
The bastion of Liberty.
So beautiful their bodies were,
Built with so exquisite a care:
So young and fit and lithe and fair.
The very flower of us were they,
The very flower, but yesterday!
Yet now so pitiful they lie,
Where love of country bade them hie
To fight this fierce Caprice—and die.
All mangled now, where shells have burst,
And lead and steel have done their worst;
The tender tissues ploughed away,
The years' slow processes effaced:
The Mother of us all—disgraced.
And some leave wives behind, young wives;
Already some have launched new lives:
A little daughter, little son—
For thus this blundering world goes on.
But never more will any see
The old secure felicity,
The kindnesses that made us glad
Before the world went mad.
They'll never hear another bird,
Another gay or loving word—
Those men who lie so cold and lone,
Far in a country not their own;
Those men who died for you and me,
That England still might sheltered be
And all our lives go on the same
(Although to live is almost shame).
HE was a boy of April beauty; one
Who had not tried the world; who, while the sun
Flamed yet upon the eastern sky, was done.
Time would have brought him in her patient ways—
So his young beauty spoke—to prosperous days,
To fullness of authority and praise.
He would not wait so long. A boy, he spent
His boy's dear life for England. Be content:
No honour of age had been more excellent.
THE ARMY OF THE DEAD
I DREAMED that overhead
I saw in twilight grey
The Army of the Dead
Marching upon its way,
So still and passionless,
With faces so serene,
That scarcely could one guess
Such men in war had been.
No mark of hurt they bore,
Nor smoke, nor bloody stain;
Nor suffered any more
Famine, fatigue, or pain;
Nor any lust of hate
Now lingered in their eyes—
Who have fulfilled their fate,
Have lost all enmities.
A new and greater pride
So quenched the pride of race
That foes marched side by side
Who once fought face to face.
That ghostly army's plan
Knows but one race, one rod—
All nations there are Man,
And the one King is God.
No longer on their ears
The bugle's summons falls;
Beyond these jangled spheres
The Archangel's trumpet calls;
And by that trumpet led
Far up the exalted sky
The Army of the Dead
Goes by, and still goes by—
Look upward, standing mute;
THE SPECTRAL ARMY
I DREAM that on far heaven's steep
To-night Christ lets me stand by Him
To see the many million ghosts
Tramp up Death's highway, wide and dim.
The young are older than the old,
Their eyes are strained, their faces grey
With horror's twilight dropped too soon
Upon a scarcely opened day.
The guns move light as carven mist,
The weary footsteps make no sound,
As up the never-ending hill
They come on their last death-march bound.
Their heads are lifted. As they pass
They look at Christ's red wounds, and smile
In gallant comradeship: they know
Golgotha's terrible defile.
They too have drained a bitter gall,
Heart's Calvary they know full well,
And every man, or old or young,
Has stared into the deeps of Hell.
Yet brave and gay that spectral host
Goes by. Like Christ, on bloody sod
They gladly paid a price, like Him
They left the reckoning to God.
TO A DOG
PAST happiness dissolves. It fades away,
Ghost-like, in that dim attic of the mind
To which the dreams of childhood are consigned.
Here, withered garlands hang in slow decay,
And trophies glimmer in the dying ray
Of stars that once with heavenly glory shined.
But you old friend, are you still left behind
To tell the nearness of life's yesterday?
Ah, boon companion of my vanished boy,
For you he lives; in every sylvan walk
He waits; and you expect him everywhere.
How would you stir, what cries, what bounds of joy,
If but his voice were heard in casual talk,
If but his footstep sounded on the stair!
FOR FRANCIS LEDWIDGE
(Killed in action, July 31, 1917.)
YOU fell; and on a distant field, shell shatter'd,
Soaked with blood; while, in your dying, Erin
Knew naught of you, nor folded you for rest.
You will not sleep beneath a mound where kings
Were coffin'd long ago in carven stone
And dream in peace amid an emerald land
Of many memories and swift-wing'd song.
And yet I think that you are not forgotten;
For even in the Irish air there will be
Somewhat of you; in the wide beam of sunlight
Streaming athwart the mountains to the fields
Furrowed and brown, where languid rooks, and gulls
With their sharp crying, circle, or sit and sun
Themselves. The song of birds shall speak of you;
The blackbird chirping cheerily of spring,
When hawthorn blows and gorse runs through the hedge;
The lark lost in the morning; and the stream
Sparkling, or dark with pools, where salmon leap.
You will not be forgotten; for your songs
Have brought the beauty of the Irish land
To many dimming eyes and homesick hearts.
Poet and Soldier, could your land forget?
For you each morning shall her fields be wet.
THE LAST HERO
WE laid him to rest with tenderness;
Homeward we turned in the twilight's gold;
We thought in ourselves with dumb distress—
All the story of earth is told.
A beautiful word at the last was said:
A great deep heart like the hearts of old
Went forth; and the speaker had lost the thread,
Or all the story of earth was told.
The dust hung over the pale dry ways
Dizzily fired with the twilight's gold,
And a bitter remembrance blew in each face
How all the story of earth was told.
THE ISLAND OF SKYROS
HERE, where we stood together, we three men,
Before the war had swept us to the East
Three thousand miles away, I stand again
And hear the bells, and breathe, and go to feast.
We trod the same path, to the selfsame place,
Yet here I stand, having beheld their graves,
Skyros whose shadows the great seas erase,
And Seddul Bahr that ever more blood craves.
So, since we communed here, our bones have been
Nearer, perhaps, than they again will be,
Earth and the worldwide battle lie between,
Death lies between, and friend-destroying sea.
Yet here, a year ago, we talked and stood
As I stand now, with pulses beating blood.
I saw her like a shadow on the sky
In the last light, a blur upon the sea,
Then the gale's darkness put the shadow by,
But from one grave that island talked to me;
And, in the midnight, in the breaking storm,
I saw its blackness and a blinking light,
And thought, "So death obscures your gentle form,
So memory strives to make the darkness bright;
And, in that heap of rocks, your body lies,
Part of the island till the planet ends,
My gentle comrade, beautiful and wise,
Part of this crag this bitter surge offends,
While I, who pass, a little obscure thing,
War with this force, and breathe, and am its king."
YOUR face was lifted to the golden sky
Ablaze beyond the black roofs, of the square
As flame on flame leapt, flourishing in air
Its tumult of red stars exultantly
To the cold constellations dim and high:
And as we neared the roaring ruddy flare
Kindled to gold your throat and brow and hair
Until you burned, a flame of ecstasy.
The golden head goes down into the night
Quenched in cold gloom—and yet again you stand
Beside me now with lifted face alight,
As, flame to flame, and fire to fire you burn . . .
Then, recollecting, laughingly you turn,
And look into my eyes and take my hand.
Once in my garret—you being far away
Tramping the hills and breathing upland air,
Or so I fancied—brooding in my chair,
I watched the London sunshine feeble and grey
Dapple my desk, too tired to labour more.
When, looking up, I saw you standing there
Although I'd caught no footstep on the stair,
Like sudden April at my open door.
Though now beyond earth's farthest hills you fare,
Song-crowned, immortal, sometimes it seems to me
That, if I listen very quietly,
Perhaps I'll hear a light foot on the stair
And see you, standing with your angel air,
Fresh from the uplands of eternity.
Your eyes rejoiced in colour's ecstasy,
Fulfilling even their uttermost desire,
When, over a great sunlit field afire
With windy poppies streaming like a sea
Of scarlet flame that flaunted riotously
Among green orchards of that western shire,
You gazed as though your heart could never tire
Of life's red flood in summer revelry.
And as I watched you, little thought had I
How soon beneath the dim low-drifting sky
Your soul should wander down the darkling way,
With eyes that peer a little wistfully,
Half-glad, half-sad, remembering, as they see
Lethean poppies, shrivelling ashen grey.
October chestnuts showered their perishing gold
Over us as beside the stream we lay
In the Old Vicarage garden that blue day,
Talking of verse and all the manifold
Delights a little net of words may hold,
While in the sunlight water-voles at play
Dived under a trailing crimson bramble-spray,
And walnuts thudded ripe on soft black mould.
Your soul goes down unto a darker stream
Alone, O friend, yet even in death's deep night
Your eyes may grow accustomed to the dark
And Styx for you may have the ripple and gleam
Of your familiar river, and Charon's bark
Tarry by that old garden of your delight.
I NEVER knew you save as all men know
Twitter of mating birds, flutter of wings
In April coverts, and the streams that flow—
One of the happy voices of our Springs:
A voice for ever stilled, a memory,
Since you went eastward with the fighting ships,
A hero of the great new Odyssey,
And God has laid His finger on your lips.
TO RUPERT BROOKE
THOUGH we, a happy few,
That from the purple came
This poet of pure flame,
The world first saw his light
Flash on an evil night,
And heard his song from far
Above the drone of war.
Out of the primal dark
He leapt, like lyric lark,
Singing his aubade strain;
Then fell to earth again.
We garner all he gave,
And on his hero grave,
For love and honour strew,
Rosemary, myrtle, rue.
Son of the Morning, we
Had kept you thankfully;
But yours the asphodel:
Hail, singer, and farewell!
[From Plain Song, 1914–1916. Reprinted by permission of William Heinemann, London.]
UNFLINCHING hero, watchful to forsee
And face thy country's peril wheresoe'er,
Directing war and peace with equal care,
Till by long duty ennobled thou wert he
Whom England call'd and bade: "Set my arm free
To obey my will and save my honour fair,"—
What day the foe presumed on her despair
And she herself had trust in none but thee:
Among Herculean deeds the miracle
That mass'd the labour of ten years in one
Shall be thy monument. Thy work was done
Ere we could thank thee; and the high sea swell
Surgeth unheeding where thy proud ship fell
By the lone Orkneys, at the set of sun.
June 8, 1916.
THERE is wild water from the north;
The headlands darken in their foam
As with a threat of challenge stubborn earth
Booms at that far wild sea-line charging home.
The night shall stand upon the shifting sea
As yesternight stood there,
And hear the cry of waters through the air,
The iron voice of headlands start and rise—
The noise of winds for mastery
That screams to hear the thunder in those cries.
But now henceforth there shall be heard
From Brough of Bursay, Marwick Head,
And shadows of the distant coast,
Another voice bestirred—
Telling of something greatly lost
Somewhere below the tidal glooms, and dead.
Beyond the uttermost
Of aught the night may hear on any seas
From tempest-known wild water's cry, and roar
Of iron shadows looming from the shore,
It shall be heard—and when the Orcades
Sleep in a hushed Atlantic's starry folds
As smoothly as, far down below the tides,
Sleep on the windless broad sea-wolds
Where this night's shipwreck hides.
By many a sea-holm where the shock
Of ocean's battle falls, and into spray
Gives up its ghosts of strife; by reef and rock
Ravaged by their eternal brute affray
With monstrous frenzies of their shore's green foe;
Where overstream and overfall and undertow
Strive, snatch away;
A wistful voice, without a sound,
Shall dwell beside Pomona, on the sea,
And speak the homeward and the outward-bound,
And touch the helm of passing minds
And bid them steer as wistfully—
Saying: "He did great work, until the winds
And waters hereabout that night betrayed
Him to the drifting death! His work went on—
He would not be gainsaid. . . .
Though where his bones are, no man knows, not one!
WHERE KITCHENER SLEEPS
O GRIM and iron-bastioned,
Of vast and awful maelstroms,
And eagle-taloned seas;—
Great is your cruel sovereignty,
But greater than all your might,
Was he, this strong world-captain,
Who entered your halls to-night.
Wild were the headland skerries,
And wilder the sunset's frown,
And the kelpie lords were abroad in the dark,
When Kitchener went down;
Down in the hour of duty
His worldwide task scarce done,
'Mid the thunder of cannonading surfs,
And the searchlight gleam of the sun.
What fitter and truer ending,
Than greatly thus to die,
Called to his sleep in the kingly deep,
'Mid the pageant of water and sky;
To sink to his long, last slumber,
With Ocean to cradle his form;
And draw round the sweep of his lordly sleep
The mighty curtains of storm!
Yes, famed is the storied abbey
Where slumber our kingly dead;
And solemn the lofty-domed St. Paul's
Where the last sad rites are said;
But where in all earth's sepulchres
For this iron soul more meet,
Than to keep his rest where the titan surfs
Thunder at Bursay's feet?
NOT the muffled drums for him
Nor the wailing of the fife.
Trumpets blaring to the charge
Were the music of his life.
Let the music of his death
Be the feet of marching men.
Let his heart a thousandfold
Take the field again!
Of his patience, of his calm,
Of his quiet faithfulness,
England, build your hero's cairn!
He was worthy of no less.
Stone by stone, in silence laid,
Singly, surely, let it grow.
He whose living was to serve
Would have had it so.
There's a body drifting down
For the mighty sea to keep.
There's a spirit cannot die
While one heart is left to leap
In the land he gave his all,
Steeled alike to praise and hate.
He has saved the life he spent—
Death has struck too late.
Not the muffled drums for him
Nor the wailing of the fife—
Trumpets blaring to the charge
Were the music of his life.
Let the music of his death
Be the feet of marching men.
Let his heart a thousandfold
Take the field again!
[From Life and Living. Copyright, 1917, by George H. Doran Company.]
TO THE MEMORY OF FIELD-MARSHAL EARL ROBERTS
OF KANDAHAR AND PRETORIA
Born, 1832. Died, on Service at the Front, Nov. 14th, 1914.
[Reprinted by permission of the Proprietors of Punch.]
HE died, as soldiers die, amid the strife,
Mindful of England in his latest prayer;
God, of His love, would have so fair a life
Crowned with a death as fair.
He might not lead the battle as of old,
But, as of old, among his own he went,
Breathing a faith that never once grew cold,
A courage still unspent.
So was his end; and, in that hour, across
The face of War a wind of silence blew,
And bitterest foes paid tribute to the loss
Of a great heart and true.
But we who loved him, what have we to lay
For sign of worship on his warrior-bier?
What homage, could his lips but speak to-day,
Would he have held most dear?
Not grief, as for a life untimely reft;
Not vain regret for counsel given in vain;
Not pride of that high record he had left,
Peerless and pure of stain;
But service of our lives to keep her free,
The land he served; a pledge above his grave
To give her even such a gift as he,
The soul of loyalty, gave.
That oath we plight, as now the trumpets swell
His requiem, and the men-at-arms stand mute,
And through the mist the guns he loved so well
Thunder a last salute!
[From Life and Living. Copyright, 1917, by George H. Doran Company.]
THE world hath its own dead; great motions start
In human breasts, and make for them a place
In that hushed sanctuary of the race
Where every day men come, kneel, and depart.
Of them, O English nurse, henceforth thou art,
A name to pray on, and to all a face
Of household consecration; such His grace
Whose universal dwelling is the heart.
O gentle hands that soothed the soldier's brow,
And knew no service save of Christ the Lord!
Thy country now is all humanity!
How like a flower thy womanhood doth show
In the harsh scything of the German sword,
And beautifies the world that saw it die!
BEFORE MARCHING, AND AFTER
(In Memoriam F. W. G.)
ORION swung southward aslant
Where the starved Egdon pine-trees had thinned,
The Pleaids aloft seemed to pant
With the heather that twitched in the wind;
But he looked on indifferent to sights such as these,
Unswayed by love, friendship, home joy or home sorrow,
And wondered to what he would march on the morrow.
The crazed household clock with its whirr
Rang midnight within as he stood,
He heard the low sighing of her
Who had striven from his birth for his good;
But he still only asked the spring starlight, the breeze,
What great thing or small thing his history would borrow
From that Game with Death he would play on the morrow.
When the heath wore the robe of late summer,
And the fuchsia-bells, hot in the sun,
Hung red by the door, a quick comer
Brought tidings that marching was done
For him who had joined in that game overseas
Where Death stood to win; though his memory would borrow
A brightness therefrom not to die on the morrow.
TO OUR DEAD
SLEEP well, heroic souls, in silence sleep,
Lapped in the circling arms of kindly death!
No ill can vex your slumbers, no foul breath
Of slander, hate, derision mar the deep
Repose that holds you close. Your kinsmen reap
The harvest you have sown, while each man saith:
"So would I choose, when danger threateneth,
Let my death be as theirs." We dare not weep.
For you have scaled the starry heights of fame,
Nor ever shrunk from peril and distress
In fight undaunted for the conqueror's prize;
Therefore your death, engirt with loveliness
Of simple service done for England's name,
Shall shine like beacon-stars of sacrifice.
TELLING THE BEES
(An Old Gloucestershire Superstition)
THEY dug no grave for our soldier lad, who fought and who died out there:
Bugle and drum for him were dumb, and the padre said no prayer;
The passing bell gave never a peal to warn that a soul was fled,
And we laid him not in the quiet spot where cluster his kin that are dead.
But I hear a foot on the pathway, above the low hum of the hive,
That at edge of dark, with the song of the lark, tells that the world is alive:
The master starts on his errand, his tread is heavy and slow,
Yet he cannot choose but tell the news—the bees have a right to know.
Bound by the ties of a happier day, they are one with us now in our worst;
On the very morn that my boy was born they were told the tidings the first:
With what pride they will hear of the end he made, and the ordeal that he trod—
Of the scream of shell, and the venom of hell, and the flame of the sword of God.
Wise little heralds, tell of my boy; in your golden tabard coats
Tell the bank where he slept, and the stream he leapt, where the spangled lily floats:
The tree he climbed shall lift her head, and the torrent he swam shall thrill,
And the tempest that bore his shouts before shall cry his message still.
THE HOUSE OF DEATH
SURELY the Keeper of the House of Death
Had long grown weary of letting in the old—
Of welcoming the aged, the short of breath,
Sad spirits, duller than their tales oft-told.
He must have longed to gather in the gold
Of shining youth to deck his dreary spaces—
To hear no more old wail and sorrowing.
And now he has his wish, and the young faces
Are crowding in: and laughter fills Death's places;
And all his courts are gay with flowers of Spring.
(Killed at the Dardanelles.)
BEES hummed and rooks called hoarsely outside the quiet room
Where by an open window Gervais, the restless boy,
Fretting the while for cricket, read of Patroclos' doom
And flower of youth a-dying by far-off windy Troy.
Do the old tales, half-remembered, come back to haunt him now
Who leaving his glad school-days and putting boyhood by
Joined England's bitter Iliad? Greek beauty on the brow
That frowns with dying wonder up to Hissarlik's sky!
I FEARED the lonely dead, so old were they,
Decrepit, tired beings, ghastly white,
With withered breasts and eyes devoid of sight,
Forever mute beneath the sodden clay;
I feared the lonely dead, and turned away
From thoughts of sombre death and endless night;
Thus, through the dismal hours I longed for light
To drive my utter hopelessness away.
But now my nights are filled with flowered dreams
Of singing warriors, beautiful and young;
Strong men and boys within whose eyes there gleams
The triumph song of worlds unknown, unsung;
Grim death has vanished, leaving in its stead
The shining glory of the living dead.
TO THE FALLEN
OUT of the flame-scarred night one came to me
And whispered, "He is dead." . . . But I, who find
Thy resurrection in each noble mind,
Thy soul in every deed of chivalry,
I can but think, while lives nobility,
While honour lights a path for humankind,
While aught is beautiful, or aught enshrined,
Death hath o'ertaken but not conquered thee.
Until all loveliness shall pass away,
Until the darkness dies no more in dawn,
Until the lustre of the stars is shed,
Till no dream mocks the madness of the fray,
Till love has learnt to leer and pride to fawn,
Till heaven is sunk in hell—thou are not dead.
SPORTSMEN IN PARADISE
THEY left the fury of the fight,
And they were very tired.
The gates of Heaven were open quite,
Unguarded and unwired.
There was no sound of any gun,
The land was still and green;
Wide hills lay silent in the sun,
Blue valleys slept between.
They saw far off a little wood
Stand up against the sky.
Knee-deep in grass a great tree stood . . .
Some lazy cows went by . . .
There were some rooks sailed overhead,
And once a church-bell pealed.
"God! but it's England," someone said,
"And there's a cricket-field!"
THE dead are with us everywhere,
By night and day;
No street we tread but they have wandered there
Who now lie still beneath the grass
Of some shell-scarred and distant plain,
Beyond the fear of death, beyond all pain.
And in the silence you can hear their noiseless footsteps pass—
The dead are with us always, night and day.
Where once the sound of mirth would rouse
The sleeping town,
The laughter has died out from house to house;
And where through open window late
At night would float delightful song,
And glad-souled music from the light-heart revel-throng,
In quadrangle and street the windows darkly wait
For those who cannot wake the sleeping town.
This city once a bride to all
Who entered here,
A lover magical who had in thrall
The souls of those who once might know
Her kiss upon their lips and brow—
A golden, laughter-hearted lover then, but now
A mother grey, whose sees Death darken as they go,
Son after son of those who entered there.
Yet sometimes at the dead of night
I see them come—
The darkness is suffused with a great light
From that radiant, countless host:
No face but is triumphant there,
A flaming crown of youth imperishable they wear.
A thousand years that passed have gained what we to-day have lost,
The splendour of their sacrifice for years to come.
TO A CANADIAN LAD, KILLED IN THE WAR
O NOBLE youth that held our honour in keeping,
And bore it sacred through the battle flame,
How shall we give full measure of acclaim
To thy sharp labour, thy immortal reaping?
For though we sowed with doubtful hands, half sleeping,
Thou in thy vivid pride hast reaped a nation,
And brought it in with shouts and exultation,
With drums and trumpets, with flags flashing and leaping.
Let us bring pungent wreaths of balsam, and tender
Tendrils of wild-flowers, lovelier for thy daring,
And deck a sylvan shrine, where the maple parts
The moonlight, with lilac bloom, and the splendour
Of suns unwearied; all unwithered wearing
Thy valour stainless in our heart of hearts.
TO SOME WHO HAVE FALLEN
SPRING is God's season; may you see His Spring
Somewhere, the larch and ash buds burgeoning,
Round catkin tassels and the blossomed spine
Of blackthorn, and the golden celandine,
And little rainwashed violet leaves unfurled
To deck young April in another world.
We cannot know how much a dead man hears,
What awful music of the distant spheres,
But you may linger still, you may not be
Too far from us to share the ecstasy
Of all the larks that nest upon our hills,
Or miss the flowering of the daffodils.
Since if, as some folks say, ourselves do make
Our Heaven, yours will hold, for old times' sake,
The farms and orchards that you left behind,
Steep lichened roofs, and rutted lanes that wind
Through green lush meadows up from Wealden towns
To the bare beauty of our Sussex Downs.
Private D. Sutherland, killed in Action in the German Trench, May 16, 1916, and Others who Died.
SO you were David's father,
And he was your only son,
And the new-cut peats are rotting
And the work is left undone,
Because of an old man weeping,
Just an old man in pain,
For David, his son David,
That will not come again.
Oh, the letters he wrote you,
And I can see them still,
Not a word of the fighting
But just the sheep on the hill
And how he should get the crops in
Ere the year got stormier,
And the Bosches have got his body,
And I was his officer.
Your were only David's father,
But I had fifty sons
When we went up in the evening
Under the arch of the guns,
And we came back at twilight—
O God! I heard them call
To me for help and pity
That could not help at all.
Oh, never will I forget you,
My men that trusted me,
More my sons than your fathers',
For they could only see
The little helpless babies
And the young men in their pride.
They could not see you dying,
And hold you while you died.
Happy and young and gallant,
They saw their first-born go,
But not the strong limbs broken
And the beautiful men brought low,
The piteous writhing bodies,
The screamed, "Don't leave me, Sir,"
For they were only your fathers
And I was your officer.
THE SILENT TOAST
THEY stand with reverent faces,
And their merriment give o'er,
As they drink the toast to the unseen host
Who have fought and gone before.
It is only a passing moment
In the midst of the feast and song,
But it grips the breath, as the wing of death
In a vision sweeps along.
No more they see the banquet
And the brilliant lights around;
But they charge again on the hideous plain
When the shell-bursts rip the ground.
Or they creep at night, like panthers,
Through the waste of No Man's Land,
Their hearts afire with a wild desire,
And death on every hand.
And out of the roar and tumult,
Or the black night loud with rain,
Some face comes back on the fiery track
And looks in their eyes again.
And the love that is passing woman's,
And the bonds that are forged by death,
Now grip the soul with a strange control
And speak what no man saith.
The vision dies off in the stillness,
Once more the tables shine,
But the eyes of all in the banquet hall
Are lit with a light divine.
Vimy Ridge, April, 1917.
NOT long did we lie on the torn, red field of pain.
We fell, we lay, we slumbered, we took rest,
With the wild nerves quiet at last, and the vexed brain
Cleared of the wingèd nightmares, and the breast
Freed of the heavy dreams of hearts afar.
We rose at last under the morning star.
We rose, and greeted our brothers, and welcomed our foes.
We rose; like the wheat when the wind is over, we rose.
With shouts we rose, with gasps and incredulous cries,
With bursts of singing, and silence, and awestruck eyes,
With broken laughter, half tears, we rose from the sod,
With welling tears and with glad lips, whispering, "God."
Like babes, refreshed from sleep, like children, we rose,
Brimming with deep content, from our dreamless repose.
And, "What do you call it?" asked one. "I thought I was dead."
"You are," cried another. "We're all of us dead and flat."
"I'm alive as a cricket. There's something wrong with your head."
They stretched their limbs and argued it out where they sat.
And over the wide field friend and foe
Spoke of small things, remembering not old woe
Of war and hunger, hatred and fierce words.
They sat and listened to the brooks and birds,
And watched the starlight perish in pale flame,
Wondering what God would look like when He came.
WE challenged Death. He threw with weighted dice.
We laughed and paid the forfeit, glad to pay—
Being recompensed beyond our sacrifice
With that nor Death nor Time can take away.
WE talked together in the days gone by
Of life and of adventure still to come,
We saw a crowded future, you and I,
And at its close two travellers come home,
Full of experience, wise, content to rest,
Having faced life and put it to the test.
Already we had seen blue skies grow bleak,
And learned the fickleness of fate, firsthand;
We knew each goal meant some new goal to seek,
Accepting facts we couldn't understand;
You seemed equipped for life's most venturous way—
Death closed the gallant morning of your day.
Oh, many a one still watching others go
Might fall, and leave no such heart-sickening gap.
What waste, what pity 't seems to squander so
Courage that dared whatever ill might hap,
While laggards, fearful both of worst and best,
Hoard up the life you hazarded with zest!
It seems like waste to others, but to you
And the thronged heroes who have paid the price,
Yourselves, your hopes, and all you dreamed and knew,
Were counted as a puny sacrifice—
You knew, with keener judgment, all was gained,
If honour at the last shone still unstained!
"SOMEWHERE IN FRANCE"
" SOMEWHERE in France"—we know not where he lies,
'Mid shuddering earth and under anguished skies!
We may not visit him. but this we say:
Though our steps err, his shall not miss their way.
From the exhaustion of War's fierce embrace
He, nothing doubting, went to his own place.
To him has come, if not the crown and palm,
The kiss of Peace—a vast, sufficing calm!
So fine a spirit, daring, yet serene,—
He may not, surely, lapse from what has been:
Greater, not less, his wondering mind must be;
Ampler the splendid vision he must see.
'Tis unbelievable he fades away,—
An exhalation at the dawn of day!
Nor dare we deem that he has but returned
Into the Oversoul, to be discerned
Hereafter in the bosom of the rose,
In petal of the lily, or in those
Far jewelled sunset skies that glow and pale,
Or in the rich note of the nightingale.
Nay, though all beauty may recall to mind
What we in his fair life were wont to find,
He shall escape absorption, and shall still
Preserve a faculty to know and will.
Such is my hope, slow climbing to a faith:
(We know not Life, how should we then know Death?)
From our small limits, and withholdings free,
Somewhere he dwells and keeps high company;
Yet tainted not with so supreme a bliss
As to forget he knew a world like this.
TO TONY (AGED 3)
(In memory T. P. C. W.)
GEMMED with white daisies was the great green world
Your restless feet have pressed this long day through—
Come now and let me whisper to your dreams
A little song grown from my love for you.
There was a man once loved green fields like you,
He drew his knowledge from the wild birds' songs;
And he had praise for every beauteous thing,
And he had pity for all piteous wrongs ....
A lover of earth's forests—of her hills,
And brother to her sunlight—to her rain—
Man, with a boy's fresh wonder. He was great
With greatness all too simple to explain.
He was a dreamer and a poet, and brave
To face and hold what he alone found true.
He was a comrade of the old—a friend
To every little laughing child like you.
And when across the peaceful English land,
Unhurt by war, the light is growing dim,
And you remember by your shadowed bed
All those—the brave—you must remember him,
And know it was for you who bear his name
And such as you that all his joy he gave—
His love of quiet fields, his youth, his life,
To win that heritage of peace you have.
TO MY GODSON
THEY shall come back through Heaven's bars
When June has filled the world with joy,
And you are seeking playmates, boy,
To share your Kingdom of the stars;
Or part with you the bracken fronds
Where golden armoured knights may ride,
Or learn where baby rabbits hide,
Or dabble in the silver ponds.
O all the pipes of fairyland
Shall give you royal welcoming
And all the fairy bells shall ring
And you will wander hand in hand.
But through the music gay and sweet
That fairies teach their chosen ones
Shall sound an echo of the guns
And high ambition's drum will beat.
For they who died lest all that's good
And beautiful and brave and free
Should sink in Hell's obscurity,
These claim you in a brotherhood.
The lot is fallen, O child to you
To finish all they had to leave,
And by their sacrifice achieve
The manifold desires they knew.
And you shall feel their ardour burn
Like flaming fires within your heart,
In all your life they'll have a part
And all their secrets you shall learn.
They would have guided your young feet,
Kind, but so far from boyhood's day,
But death has found a surer way
Of making comradeship complete.
O all the pipes of fairyland
Shall play for you, shall play for them,
Their flame of radiant life will stem
Evil you scarce could understand.
They'll bid you raise your wondering eyes,
Till, far above you, you shall see
The Beauty that they knew might be,
Calling you from the starlit skies.
PARADISE now has many a Knight,
Many a lordkin, many lords,
Glimmer of armour, dinted and bright,
The young Knights have put on new swords.
Some have barely the down on the lip,
Smiling yet from the new-won spurs,
Their wounds are rubies, glowing and deep,
Their scars amethyst—glorious scars.
Michael's army hath many new men,
Gravest Knights that may sit in stall,
Kings and Captains, a shining train,
But the little young Knights are dearest of all.
Paradise now is the soldiers' land,
Their own country its shining sod,
Comrades all in a merry band;
And the young Knights' laughter pleaseth God.
THE OLD SOLDIER
LEST the young soldiers be strange in heaven,
God bids the old soldier they all adored
Come to Him and wait for them, clean, new-shriven,
A happy doorkeeper in the House of the Lord.
Lest it abash them, the strange new splendour,
Lest it affright them, the new robes clean;
Here's an old face, now, long-tried, and tender,
A word and a hand-clasp as they troop in.
"My boys," he greets them: and heaven is homely,
He their great captain in days gone o'er;
Dear is the friend's face, honest and comely,
Waiting to welcome them by the strange door.
IN the place to which I go,
Better men than I have died.
Freeman friend and conscript foe,
Face to face and side by side,
In the shallow grave abide.
Melinite that seared their brains,
Gas that slew them in a snare,
War's inferno of strange pains,
What are these to them who share
That great boon of silence there?
When like blood the moon is red;
And a shadow hides the sun,
We shall wake, the so-long dead,
We shall know our quarrel done,—
Will God tell us who has won?
A LAMENT FROM THE DEAD
PEACE! Vex us not: we are the Dead,
We are the Dead for England slain.
(O England and the English Spring,
The English Spring, the Spring-tide rain:
Ah, God, dear God, in England now!) . . .
The snows of Death are on our brow:
Peace! Vex us not!
Brothers, the footfalls of the year
(The Maiden month's in England now!) . . .
I feel them pass above my head:
Alas, they echo on my heart!
(Ah, God, dear God, but England now!) . . .
Peace! Vex me not, for I am dead;
The snows of Death are on my brow:
Peace! Vex me not!
Brothers, and I—I taste again,
Again I taste the Wine of Spring.
(O Wine of Spring and Bread of Love,
O lips that kiss and mouths that sing:
O Love and Spring in England now!) . . .
Peace! Vex me not, but pass above:
Sweet English Love, fleet English Spring—
Pass! Vex me not!
Brothers, my brothers, I pray you—hark!
I hear a song upon the wing,
Upon the silver wing of morn!
It is—dear God!—it is the lark—
It is the lark above the corn,
The fledgling corn of England's Spring! . . .
Ah! pity thou my wearied heart:
Cease! Vex me not!
Brothers, I beg you be at rest,
Be quite at rest for England's sake:
The flowerful hours in England now
Sing low your sleep in English ears:
And would ye have your sorrows wake
The Mother's heart to further tears? . . .
Nay! be at peace, her loyal dead.
Sleep! Vex her not!
- Lieutenant S. G. Ridley, Royal Flying Corps, sacrificed his life in the Egyptian desert in an attempt to save a comrade. He was twenty years of age.
- At our banquets at the Front the toast to the Dead was drunk in silence. It was naturally a very impressive moment.