The Muse in Arms/Moods and Memories

The Muse in Arms edited by Edward Bolland Osborn
Moods and Memories

Moods and Memories


The Listeners

THE guns!

Far, far away in the distance we hear them.
Oh, for a chance to be there, to be near them,
Borne on the wind in the stillness of night
Far-away sounds of the thunderous fight.

Nightly ere sleeping our senses we strain,
Faintly we hear it—the muttered refrain.
Would we were free to be fighting again.
Hark to the guns!

Well do we know all the horrors of night,
Darkness made day by the calcium light,
Nothing but wreckage revealed to the sight.
Hark to the guns!

Yet would we break inactivity's spell
Just for one night in that shuddering hell,
Thunder of guns and the scream of the shell.
Hark to the guns!

The guns!
Breathless we wait for the news of the fray,
News of the guns that are nearer to-day.
Nearer they mutter, they thunder, they roll!
Nearer to victory, nearer their goal.

Weilburg a. d. Lahn,
May 1916.



WHEN the moonlit shadows creep,
When the sun beats pitiless down,
Steadfast, vigilant they keep
Watch and ward about the town.

Guardians of an Empire's gate,
In the sunshine and the dust
Still beside their guns they wait,
Faithful to their weary trust.

Not for them the hero's cross,
Not for them the hero's grave,
Thrill of victory, pain of loss,
Praise of those they fell to save.

Only days of monotone,
Sand and fever, flies and fret,
All unheeded and unknown,
Little thanks they're like to get.

Yet mayhap in after-days
—Distant eye the clearer sees—
Gods apportioning the praise
Shall be kindly unto these.

Aden, 1916.



SILENCE o'erwhelms the melody of Night,
Then slowly drips on to the woods that sigh
For their past vivid vernal ecstasy.
The branches and the leaves let in the light
In patterns, woven 'gainst the paler sky
—Create mysterious Gothic tracery,
Between those high dark pillars,—that affright
Poor weary mortals who are wand'ring by. ····· Silence drips on the woods like sad faint rain,
Making each frail tired sigh, a sob of pain:
Each drop that falls, a hollow painted tear
Such as are shed by Pierrots, when they fear
Black clouds may crush their silver lord to death.
The world is waxen; and the wind's least breath
Would make a hurricane of sound. The earth
Smells of the hoarded sunlight that gave birth
To the gold-glowing radiance of that leaf,
Which falls to bury from our sight its grief.


The Tryst


THERE was a peace at eve no other hour
Knows of: the east, a dusken tapestry of yellow light
Woven with feathers from the wings of birds in flight,
Curtained the presence of an unseen Power.

I stood between deep ranks of pillaring pine
In a small glade, and up above a cupola more deep
Recessed into the blueness of the sky. All wrapped in sleep
Save the unresting vigil of starshine.

And then I called on God. The pinetops kissed,
The sky was suddenly disturbed, vague eddies in the air
Scattered night-perfumes, cloud-sheets raced, grass rustled everywhere,
Nature made preparation for that mighty tryst.


Clutching thine hand, sweet Death, my tranquil friend,
And nestling close to thee, I shall have power
To rest uninjured by the transient hour,
Knowing my end.

I shall be held above the eddying tide
Into a sunlit quiet, and thence hide
With but an outstretched palm the wearying crowd,
'Twixt whom and God a gulf unknownly wide
Is fixed, to drown their littlenesses loud.
Blow forth, Death's herald, from thy silver horn
Strains sweeter far than birds a-song at morn. ·····



All day he moved not, lying low amid
The cool fresh odorous grass. He heard the trill
Of water leaping somewhere shadow-hid,
And in unfettered rapture drank his fill
Of deep rose odour, till sleep stole unbid
Upon him, with the music of the rill.


He woke in darkness. 'Twixt him and the skies
Darted the black things of the middle night—
While all around broke shrill and tragic cries
As of hope dead, and fancy put to flight.
And somewhere, hidden from his burning eyes,
Cold dropping water set his heart affright.


The Warrior Month

STRONG March, what wonder that I think of war
When thou art triumphing across the sky
With bannered cloud and trump of victory
Bloodless, and not as our red triumphs are,
And in thy happy conquest spreading far
The Spring's green welcome ravage, biddest fly
Those dull oppressors of the land, the sly
Old monarch Winter and his consort Care.

A happy gain to all, a loss to none!
But we, how great soe'er our triumphs be
Ever gain less than we have lost alone,
And less than even our broken enemy
Get from the thought how their brave dead have known
Nought of their country's dire calamity.


Back in Billets

WE'RE in billets again, and to-night, if you please,
I shall strap myself up in a Wolsely valise.
What's that, boy? Your boots give you infinite pain?
You can chuck them away: we're in billets again.

We're in billets again now and, barring alarms,
There'll be no occasion for standing to arms,
And you'll find if you'd many night-watches to keep
That the hour before daylight's the best hour for sleep.

We're feasting on chocolate, cake, currant buns,
To a faint German-band obbligato of guns,
For I've noticed, wherever the regiment may go,
That we always end up pretty close to the foe.

But we're safe out of reach of trench mortars and snipers
Five inches south-west of the "Esses" in Ypres;
—Old Bob, who knows better, pronounces it Yper
But don't argue the point now—you'll waken the sleeper.

Our host brings us beer up, our thirst for to quench,
So we'll drink him good fortune in English and French:
—Bob, who finds my Parisian accent a blemish,
Goes one better himself in a torrent of Flemish.

It's a fortnight on Friday since Christopher died,
And John's at Boulogne with a hole in his side,
While poor Harry's got lost, the Lord only knows where;—
May the Lord keep them all and ourselves in His care.

. . . Mustn't think we don't mind when a chap gets laid out,
They've taken the best of us, never a doubt;
But with life pretty busy and death rather near
We've no time for regret any more than for fear.

. . . Here's a health to our host, Isidore Deschildre,
Himself and his wife and their plentiful childer,
And the brave aboyeur who bays our return;
More power to his paws when he treads by the churn!

You may speak of the Ritz or the Curzon (Mayfair)
And maintain that they keep you in luxury there:
If you've lain for six weeks on a water-logged plain,
Here's the acme of comfort, in billets again.

February 1915.



AH Progress, what a sorry claim thou hast
To be accounted worthy of thy name!
Availing less than a weak candle-flame
Before our steady accusation's blast.
Thy life is forfeit—thou that never wast
More than a word between the lips of shame,
A subtle lie that so like truth became,
That all unknown our skies grew overcast!

The mind triumphant—making hideous war,
A reeking shambles all impossible,
Yet luring on the nations near and far
To that red end? Arise, ye dead, and tell
How in our hate we hate no less than ye,
And in our love love not more tenderly.


The Hills

MUSSOORIE and Chakrata Hill
The Jumna flows between;
And from Chakrata's hills afar
Mussoorie's vale is seen.
The mountains sing together
In cloud or sunny weather,
The Jumna, through their tether,
Foams white, or plunges green.

The mountains stand and laugh at Time;
They pillar up the earth,
They watch the ages pass, they bring
New centuries to birth.
They feel the daybreak shiver,
They see Time passing ever
As flows the Jumna River,
As breaks the white sea-surf.

They drink the sun in a golden cup,
And in blue mist the rain;
With a sudden brightening they meet the lightning
Or ere it strikes the plain.
They seize the sullen thunder,
And take it up for plunder,
And cast it down and under,
And up and back again.

They are as changeless as the rock,
As changeful as the sea;
They rest, but as a lover rests
After love's ecstasy.
They watch, as a true lover
Watches the quick lights hover
About the lids that cover
His eyes so wearily.

Heaven lies upon their breasts at night,
Heaven kisses them at dawn;
Heaven clasps and kisses them at even
With fire of the sun's death born.
They turn to his desire
Their bosom, flushing higher
With soft receptive fire,
And blushing, passion-torn.

Here, in the hills of ages
I met thee face to face;
O mother Earth, O lover Earth,
Look down on me with grace.
Give me thy passion burning,
And thy strong patience, turning
All wrath to power, all yearning
To truth, thy dwelling-place.


On Account of Ill Health

YOU go, brave friends, and I am cast to stay behind,
To read with frowning eyes and discontented mind
The shining history that you are gone to make,
To sleep with working brain, to dream and to awake
Into another day of most ignoble peace,
To drowse, to read, to smoke, to pray that war may cease.
The spring is coming on, and with the spring you go
In countries where strange scents on the April breezes blow;
You'll see the primroses marched down into the mud,
You'll see the hawthorn-tree wear crimson flowers of blood,
And I shall walk about, as I did walk of old,
Where the laburnum trails its chains of useless gold,
I'll break a branch of may, I'll pick a violet
And see the new-born flowers that soldiers must forget,
I'll love, I'll laugh, I'll dream and write undying songs,
But with your regiment my marching soul belongs.
Men that have marched with me and men that I have led
Shall know and feel the things that I have only read,
Shall know what thing it is to sleep beneath the skies
And to expect their death what time the sun shall rise.
Men that have marched with me shall march to peace again,
Bringing for plunder home glad memories of pain,
Of toils endured and done, of terrors quite brought under,
And all the world shall be their plaything and their wonder.
Then in that new-born world, unfriendly and estranged,
I shall be quite alone, I shall be left unchanged.


Last Lines


AH! Hate like this would freeze our human tears,
And stab the morning star:
Not it, not it commands and mourns and bears
The storm and bitter glory of red war.


To J. H. S. M., killed in action, March 13, 1915

O brother, I have sung no dirge for thee:
Nor for all time to come
Can song reveal my grief's infinity:
The menace of thy silence made me dumb.


A Prayer

LORD, if it be Thy will
That I enter the great shadowed valley that lies
Silent, just over the hill,
Grant they may say, "There's a comrade that dies
Waving his hand to us still!"

Lord, if there come the end,
Let me find space and breath all the dearest I prize
Into Thy hands to commend:
Then let me go, with my boy's laughing eyes
Smiling a word to a friend.


The God who waits

THE old men in the olden days,
Who thought and worked in simple ways,
Believed in God and sought His praise.

They looked to God in daily need,
He shone in simple, homely deed;
They prayed to Him to raise their seed.

He sowed on mountain side and weald,
He steered the plough across the field,
He garnered in their harvest yield.

And if He gave them barren sod,
Or smote them with His lightning rod,
They yielded humbly to their God.

They searched the record of their days
To find and mend their evil ways,
Which made the wrath of God to blaze.

And if no evil they could find,
They did not say, "Our God is blind,"
"God's will be done," they said, resigned.

So played the old their humble part,
And lived in peace of soul and heart,
Without pretence of Reason's art.

But we have lost their simple creed
Of simple aim and simple need,
Of simple thought and simple deed.

Their creed has crumbled as their dust,
We do not yield their God as just,
Now question holds the place of trust.

Faith blossomed like the Holy Rod,
So grew the old men's faith in God.
We cannot tread the path they trod.

We were not born to anchored creed
That measures good and evil deed—
A guide to those who guidance need.

The God the old men hearkened to
We left, and in our image drew
And fashioned out a God anew.

That iron God, who still unfed,
Sits throned with lips that dribble red
Among the sacrificial dead.

Belching their flames between the bars,
Our fires sweep out like scimitars
Across the Eden of the stars.

And souls are sold and souls are bought,
And souls in hellish tortures wrought
To feed the mighty Juggernaut.

The dripping wheels go roaring by
And crush and kill us where we lie
Blaspheming God with our last cry.

Man's cry to man the heaven fills;
We hear not in our marts and mills
The silent voices of the hills:

The message of the breathing clay,
Calling us through the night and day
To come away, to come away!

For though old creeds, had we the will,
We cannot, lacking faith, fulfil,
The God above all creed waits still.

For still beyond the city gate,
The fallow fields eternal wait
For us to drive our furrow straight.



SO be it, God, I take what Thou dost give,
And gladly give what Thou dost take away.
For me Thy choice is barren days and grey.
Unquestioning Thy ordered days I live,
I do not seek to sift hi Reason's sieve—
Thou rangest far beyond our Reason's sway.
We are but poor, uncomprehending clay,
For Thou to mould as Thou dost well conceive.

But when my blanchèd days of sorrow end,
And this poor clay for funeral is drest,
Then shall my soul to Thy Gold Gate ascend,
Then stall my soul soar up and summon Thee
To tell me why. And as Thou answerest,
So shall I judge Thee, God, not Thou judge me.


The Hospital Ship

THERE is a green-lit hospital ship,
Green, with a crimson cross,
Lazily swaying there in the bay,
Lazily bearing my friend away,
Leaving me dull-sensed loss.
Green-lit, red-lit hospital ship,
Numb is my heart, but you carelessly dip
There in the drift of the bay.

There is a green-lit hospital ship,
Dim as the distance grows,
Speedily steaming out of the bay,
Speedily bearing my friend away
Into the orange-rose.
Green-lit, red-lit hospital ship,
Dim are my eyes, but you heedlessly slip
Out of their sight from the bay. ····· There was a green-lit hospital ship,
Green, with a blood-red cross,
Lazily swaying there in the bay,
But it went out with the light of the day—
Out where the white seas toss.
Green-lit, red-lit hospital ship,
Cold are my hands and trembling my lip:
Did you make home from the bay?


The Rainbow

I WATCH the white dawn gleam,
To the thunder of hidden guns.
I hear the hot shells scream
Through skies as sweet as a dream
Where the silver dawn-break runs.
And stabbing of light
Scorches the virginal white.
But I feel in my being the old, high, sanctified thrill,
And I thank the gods that the dawn is beautiful still.

From death that hurtles by
I crouch in the trench day-long,
But up to a cloudless sky
From the ground where our dead men lie
A brown lark soars in song.
Through the tortured air,
Rent by the shrapnel's flare,
Over the troubleless dead he carols his fill,
And I thank the gods that the birds are beautiful still.

Where the parapet is low
And level with the eye
Poppies and cornflowers glow
And the corn sways to and fro
In a pattern against the sky.
The gold stalks hide
Bodies of men who died
Charging at dawn through the dew to be killed or to kill.
I thank the gods that the flowers are beautiful still.

When night falls dark we creep
In silence to our dead.
We dig a few feet deep
And leave them there to sleep—
But blood at night is red,
Yea, even at night,
And a dead man's face is white.
And I dry my hands, that are also trained to kill,
And I look at the stars—for the stars are beautiful still.

August 8th, 1916.



(August 6, 1916. Officer previously reported Died of Wounds, now reported Wounded. Graves, Capt. R., Royal Welsh Fusiliers)

BUT I was dead, an hour or more:
I woke when I'd already passed the door
That Cerberus guards and half-way down the road
To Lethe, as an old Greek sign-post showed.
Above me, on my stretcher swinging by,
I saw new stars in the sub-terrene sky,
A Cross, a Rose in Bloom, a Cage with Bars,
And a barbed Arrow feathered with fine stars.
I felt the vapours of forgetfulness
Float in my nostrils: Oh, may Heaven bless
Dear Lady Proserpine, who saw me wake
And, stooping over me, for Henna's sake
Cleared my poor buzzing head and sent me back
Breathless, with leaping heart along the track.
After me roared and clattered angry hosts
Of demons, heroes, and policeman-ghosts.
"Life, life! I can't be dead, I won't be dead:
Damned if I'll die for any one," I said . . .
Cerberus stands and grins above me now,
Wearing three heads, lion and lynx and sow.
"Quick, a revolver! but my Webley's gone,
Stolen . . . no bombs . . . no knife . . . (the crowd swarms on,
Bellows, hurls stones) . . . not even a honeyed sop . . .
Nothing . . . Good Cerberus . . . Good dog . . . but stop!
Stay! . . . a great luminous thought . . . I do believe
There's still some morphia that I bought on leave."
Then swiftly Cerberus' wide mouths I cram
With Army biscuit smeared with Tickler's jam;
And Sleep lurks in the luscious plum and apple.
He crunches, swallows, stiffens, seems to grapple
With the all-powerful poppy . . . then a snore,
A crash; the beast blocks up the corridor
With monstrous hairy carcase, red and dun—
Too late: for I've sped through.
O Life! O Sun!



GOOD luck, good health, good temper, these,
A very hive of honey-bees
To make and store up happiness,
Should wait upon you without cease,
If I'd the power to call them down
Into this stuffy little town,
Where the dull air in sticky wreaths
Afflicts a man each time he breathes.
But since I have no power to call
Benevolent spirits down at all,
I'll wish you all the good I know
And close the chapter up and go.