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Before Action


VIII

Into Battle

THE naked earth is warm with spring,
And with green grass and bursting trees
Leans to the sun's gaze glorying,
And quivers in the sunny breeze;
And life is colour and warmth and light,
And a striving evermore for these;
And he is dead who will not fight;
And who dies fighting has increase.


The fighting man shall from the sun
Take warmth, and life from the glowing earth;
Speed with the light-foot winds to run,
And with the trees to newer birth;
And find, when fighting shall be done,
Great rest, and fullness after dearth.


All the bright company of Heaven
Hold him in their high comradeship,
The Dog-Star, and the Sisters Seven,
Orion's Belt and sworded hip.


The woodland trees that stand together,
They stand to him each one a friend;
They gently speak in the windy weather;
They guide to valley and ridge's end.


The kestrel hovering by day,
And the little owls that call by night,
Bid him be swift and keen as they,
As keen of ear, as swift of sight.


The blackbird sings to him, "Brother, brother,
If this be the last song you shall sing,
Sing well, for you may not sing another;
Brother, sing."


In dreary, doubtful, waiting hours,
Before the brazen frenzy starts,
The horses show him nobler powers;
O patient eyes, courageous hearts!


And when the burning moment breaks,
And all things else are out of mind,
And only joy of battle takes
Him by the throat, and makes him blind,


Through joy and blindness he shall know
Not caring much to know, that still
Nor lead nor steel shall reach him, so
That it be not the Destined Will.


The thundering line of battle stands,
And in the air death moans and sings;
But Day shall clasp him with strong hands,
And Night shall fold him in soft wings.


IX

Before Action

BY all the glories of the day
And the cool evening's benison,
By that last sunset touch that lay
Upon the hills when day was done,
By beauty lavishly outpoured
And blessings carelessly received,
By all the days that I have lived
Make me a soldier, Lord.


By all of all man's hopes and fears,
And all the wonders poets sing,
The laughter of unclouded years,
And every sad and lovely thing;
By the romantic ages stored
With high endeavour that was his,
By all his mad catastrophes
Make me a man, O Lord.


I, that on my familiar hill
Saw with uncomprehending eyes
A hundred of Thy sunsets spill
Their fresh and sanguine sacrifice,
Ere the sun swings his noonday sword
Must say good-bye to all of this;—
By all delights that I shall miss,
Help me to die, O Lord.

June 29th, 1916.


X

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 plumèd 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!


XI

Big Words

"I'VE whined of coming death, but now, no more!
It's weak and most ungracious. For, say I,
Though still a boy if years are counted, why!
I've lived those years from roof to cellar-floor,
And feel, like grey-beards touching their fourscore,
Ready, so soon as the need comes, to die:
And I'm satisfied.
For winning confidence in those quiet days
Of peace, poised sickly on the precipice side
Of Lliwedd crag by Snowdon, and in war
Finding it firmlier with me than before;
Winning a faith in the wisdom of God's ways
That once I lost, finding it justified
Even in this chaos; winning love that stays
And warms the heart like wine at Easter-tide;
Having earlier tried
False loves in plenty; oh! my cup of praise
Brims over, and I know I'll feel small sorrow,
Confess no sins and make no weak delays
If death ends all and I must die to-morrow."
But on the firestep, waiting to attack,
He cursed, prayed, sweated, wished the proud words back.


XII

The Approach

1. In the Grass: Halt by the Wayside

IN my tired, helpless body
I feel my sunk heart ache;
But suddenly, loudly
The far, the great guns shake.


Is it sudden terror
Burdens my heart? My hand
Flies to my head. I listen. . .
And do not understand.


Is death so near, then?
From this blazing light,
Do I plunge suddenly
Into vortex? Night?


Guns again! the quiet
Shakes at the vengeful voice. . .
It is terrible pleasure.
I do not fear; I rejoice.


2. On the Way Up

The battery grides and jingles,
Mile succeeds to mile;
Shaking the noonday sunshine,
The guns lunge out a while
And then are still a while.


We amble along the highway;
The reeking, powdery dust
Ascends and cakes our faces,
With a striped, sweaty crust.


Under the still sky's violet
The heat throbs in the air. . . .
The white road's dusty radiance,
Assumes a dark glare.


With a head hot and heavy,
And eyes that cannot rest,
And a black heart burning
In a stifled breast,


I sit in the saddle,
I feel the road unroll,
And keep my senses straightened
Toward to-morrow's goal.


There over unknown meadows,
Which we must reach at last,
Day and night thunders
A black and chilly blast.


Heads forget heaviness,
Hearts forget spleen,
For by that mighty winnowing
Being is blown clean.


Light in the eyes again,
Strength in the hand,
A spirit dares, dies, forgives
And can understand.


And best! Love comes back again
After grief and shame,
And along the wind of death
Throws a clean flame!

·····

The battery grides and jingles;
Mile succeeds to mile;
Suddenly battering the silence
The guns burst out a while.

·····

I lift my head and smile.


3. Nearer

Nearer and ever nearer. . . .
My body tired but tense
Hovers 'twixt vague pleasure
And tremulous confidence.


Arms to have and to use them,
And a soul to be made
Worthy if not worthy;
If afraid, unafraid!


To endure for a little,
To endure and have done:
Men I love about me,
Over me the sun!


And should at last suddenly
Fly the speeding death:
The four great quarters of heaven
Receive this little breath.


XIII

To the Poet before Battle

NOW, youth, the hour of thy dread passion comes;
Thy lovely things must all be laid away;
And thou, as others, must face the riven day
Unstirred by rattle of the rolling drums
Or bugles' strident cry. When mere noise numbs
The sense of being, the sick soul doth sway,
Remember thy great craft's honour, that they may say
Nothing in shame of poets. Then the crumbs
Of praise the little versemen joyed to take
Shall be forgotten; then they must know we are,
For all our skill in words, equal in might
And strong of mettle as those we honoured. Make
The name of poet terrible in just war,
And like a crown of honour upon the fight.


XIV

Absolution

THE anguish of the earth absolves our eyes
Till beauty shines in all that we can see.
War is our scourge; yet war has made us wise,
And, fighting for our freedom, we are free.


Horror of wounds and anger at the foe,
And loss of things desired; all those must pass.
We are the happy legion, for we know
Time's but a golden wind that shakes the grass.


There was an hour when we were loth to part
From life we longed to share no less than others.
Now, having claimed his heritage of heart,
What need we more, my comrades and my brothers?


XV

Better Far to Pass Away

BETTER far to pass away
While the limbs are strong and young,
Ere the ending of the day,
Ere youth's lusty song be sung.
Hot blood pulsing through the veins,
Youth's high hope a burning fire,
Young men needs must break the chains
That hold them from their hearts' desire.


My friends the hills, the sea, the sun,
The winds, the woods, the clouds, the trees—
How feebly, if my youth were done,
Could I, an old man, relish these!
With laughter, then, I'll go to greet
What Fate has still in store for me,
And welcome Death if we should meet,
And bear him willing company.


My share of fourscore years and ten
I'll gladly yield to any man,
And take no thought of "where" or "when,"
Contented with my shorter span.
For I have learned what love may be,
And found a heart that understands,
And known a comrade's constancy,
And felt the grip of friendly hands.


Come when it may, the stern decree
For me to leave the cheery throng
And quit the sturdy company
Of brothers that I work among.
No need for me to look askance,
Since no regret my prospect mars.
My day was happy—and perchance
The coming night is full of stars.