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The Ghostly Company


XC

The Home-coming

WHEN this blast is over-blown,
And the beacon fires shall burn
And in the street
Is the sound of feet—
They also shall return.


When the bells shall rock and ring,
When the flags shall flutter free,
And the choirs shall sing,
"God save our King"—
They shall be there to see.


When the brazen bands shall play,
And the silver trumpets blow,
And the soldiers come
To the tuck of drum—
They shall be there also.


When that which was lost is found;
When each shall have claimed his kin,
Fear not they shall miss
Mother's clasp, maiden's kiss—
For no strange soil might hold them in.


When Te Deums seek the skies,
When the Organ shakes the Dome,
A dead man shall stand
At each live man's hand
For they also have come home.


XCI

The Army of Death

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.


XCII

Cha Till Maccruimein

Departure of the 4th Camerons

THE pipes in the streets were playing bravely,
The marching lads went by,
With merry hearts and voices singing
My friends marched out to die;
But I was hearing a lonely pibroch
Out of an older war,
"Farewell, farewell, farewell, MacCrimmon,
MacCrimmon comes no more."


And every lad in his heart was dreaming
Of honour and wealth to come,
And honour and noble pride were calling
To the tune of the pipes and drum;
But I was hearing a woman singing
On dark Dunvegan shore,
"In battle or peace, with wealth or honour,
MacCrimmon comes no more."


And there in front of the men were marching,
With feet that made no mark,
The grey old ghosts of the ancient fighters
Come back again from the dark;
And in front of them all MacCrimmon piping
A weary tune and sore,
"On the gathering day, for ever and ever,
MacCrimmon comes no more."


XCIII

Ghosts

(Flanders 1915)

BY rosy woodlands all aglow
With autumn, slow-consuming fire,
By dintling brooks that broaden now,
By hill and hollow and mead and mire,
By farms mid all their yellow ricks
From ivied chimney smoking blue,
And by the lofty kiln where bricks
Stand piled in cubes so red and new,
By queer thatched hamlets all askew,
And by the little unbusy town
Around the grey spire that we knew,
We pass again, but all unknown.


Again we guide the jolting plough
Or bake the brittle, tinting clay;
But none will mark our labour now,
Urge as we will, toil as we may.


XCIV

Easter Even

EVENING steals on in stillness o'er the heath,
Across the blue-green sky and fire-tinged clouds,
And silent birds wing homewards; misty shrouds
Rise to the hilltops from the vales beneath;


And far away against the eastern sky
Stand silhouetted pine-trees on a hill,
Sharp, rugged shapes, so very black and still,
Like memories dear of childhood storèd by.


An awful silence, like a deep-tongued bell
Reverberent about me as I stand,
Its holy mantle sheds upon the land;
I dare not move, lest I should break the spell.

·····

Then many friendly voices spake with me,
Voices no longer framed by lips of flesh,
Voices whose noted tones rang strangely fresh,
Transfigured, instinct with new harmony:


And I did weep to think that these had died,
That I should hold no more their clasping hands,
Which now are blent with dust of foreign lands;
"But mourn not us; we are content," they cried;


"Rejoicing we went forth, and loud in song,
Ready to suffer all things, or to die
If Fate so willed it; but our hopes were high;
We went forth steadfast to our will and strong.


"And some of us return not, but remain
In close-dug graves o'ergrown with simple flowers,
Tended by gentle winds, washed with soft showers,
Lulled on earth's bosom to forget our pain.


"But comfort these, and on their foreheads lay
Cool hands of consolation, that they sleep,
And so forget the cause for which they weep
In happy dreamlessness until the day."


Then I saw many mothers grieving sore,
With sad, bowed heads, hot eyes devoid of tears;
Some young, unblemished, some grown grey with years,
Lone mothers mourning for the sons they bore.


But they were bravely desolate; to speak
Soft words of comfort, hopeful of relief
Seemed but an insult to their quiet grief;
In face of such a sorrow words are weak.


"Yet this, O mothers, take for comforting:
We suffer and not they; the glorious dead
Are now at peace from Hate and Fear," I said;
"That day they died, they vanquished suffering.


"Therefore rejoice with them; for not in vain
They gave the virgin glory of their youth,
That evil should not overcome, that truth
Might not be trampled for a tyrant's gain."


Then in the air about me ever close
Strange Things unheard, impalpable, unseen,
Dimly perceived, danced statelily between
Heaven and earth; and a great tumult rose,


The rushing horror of a thousand wings,
And intermingling voices of sweet praise,
Of men rejoicing, that had trod the ways
Of terror, and triumphant faced Death's stings.


And all those mourners, that were on the earth,
Raised suppliant arms as o'er a sacrifice,
And with brave eyes exultant gave the price
Of victory—the sons they brought to birth.

·····

Then suddenly the sudden voices cease,
And high above shines out the evening star,
Shedding its ray of love and hope afar,
And on the stricken earth descendeth peace.


XCV

The Half-hour's Furlough

I THOUGHT that a man went home last night
From the trench where the tired men lie,
And walked through the streets of his own old town—
And I thought that man was I.


And I walked through the gates of that good old town
Which circles below the hill,
And laves its feet in the river fair
That floweth so full and still.


Gladly and gladly into my heart
Came the old street sounds and sights,
And pleasanter far than the Pleiades
Was the gleam of the old street lights.


And as I came by St. Mary's Tower,
The old, solemn bell struck ten,
And back to me echoed the memory
Of my boyhood days again:
Musing I turned me east about
To the haunt of my fellow-men.


There were some that walked, and some that talked,
Beneath the old Arcade,
And for comfort I elbowed among the throng
And hearkened to what they said.


Some were that talked, and some that walked
By one, by two, by three;
And some there were who spake my name
As though they lovèd me.


And some who said, "Might he but return
When this weary war is spent!"
And it moved me much that their thought was such,
And I turned me well content.


I passed me along each familiar way,
And paused at each friendly door,
And thought of the things that had chanced within
In the kindly days of yore.


Till I came to the place of my long, long love,
Where she lay with her head on her arm;
And she sighed a prayer that the dear Lord should
Shield my body from all harm.


Ae kiss I left on her snow-white brow,
And ane on her raven hair,
And ane, the last, on her ruby lips,
Syne forth again I fare.


And I came to the home that will ay be home,
And brightly the fires did burn,
And at hearth, and in hearts, was a place for me
'Gainst the day that I should return.


Then I came to the glade where my mother was laid,
'Neath the cypress and the yew:
And she stood abune, and she said, "My son,
I am glad that your heart was true."


And I passed me over both hill and down,
By each well-remembered path,
While the blessèd dawn, like the love o' God,
Stole over the sleeping Strath.


And from a thorn came the pipe of a thrush,
Like the first faint pipes of Peace:
It slid with healing into my heart,
And my sorrowing found surcease.

·····

Then I awoke to the sound of guns,
And in my ears was the cry:
"The Second Relief will stand to arms!"
And I rose—for that man was I.


XCVI

The Sleep of Death

WE see no terror in your eyes.
They say that sleeping you were found;
Now we with bayonets guard you round.
Night's shadow up the hillside creeps,
But you still watch the lighted skies,
Although the sentinel that sleeps
The next dawn dies.


Ah, the remorse is gone that grew
To think of what my comrade said:
"Give this to her when I am dead"—
A heart-shaped thing of little worth
That held her picture for his view,
But he was killed and in the earth
Before I knew.


It was last night. My watch I kept,
The stars just overhead shone dim.
Nought moved upon the hills' far rim.
But in the hollows shadows seethed,
And as I watched, towards me crept.
I listened: deep my comrades breathed
Where near they slept.


Below men moved innumerable—
Fancy! and yet there was a doubt.
I closed my eyes to shut them out,
And for relief drew deeper breath,
Across my lids Sleep laid his spell;
I flung it off—to sleep was death,
I knew too well.


There came a pleasant breath of air,
Cool—wafted from the stars it seemed.
I looked: now they all brightly gleamed,
Then long I watched, alert, clear-eyed.
No sleeper stirred behind me there. . . .
Yet then of some one at my side
I grew aware.


I stared: for he stood there, though dead,
Yet looking, that seemed nothing strange;
About his form there was no change
To see within that little light.
"'Tis I. And yet you heard no tread.
A careless watch you keep to-night,"
He laughing said.


His voice no huskier had grown,
Then while I watched, he sat and told
Me of his love just as of old.
"Give this to her," I heard him say.
I looked, and found I was alone.
Within my hand the locket lay
Cold as a stone.


I have it here to prove he lies
Who says that sleeping I was found.
I fear not though you guard me round.
Night's shadow up the hillside creeps,
But I can watch the lighted skies,
Although the sentinel that sleeps
The next dawn dies.