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The Mother Land


I

If I Should Die

IF I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England's, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.


And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.


II

At the Wars

Now that I am ta'en away
And may not see another day
What is it to my eye appears?
What sound rings in my stricken ears?
Not even the voice of any friend
Or eyes beloved-world-without-end,
But scenes and sounds of the country-side
In far England across the tide:
An upland field when spring's begun,
Mellow beneath the evening sun. . . .
A circle of loose and lichened wall
Over which seven red pines fall. . . .
An orchard of wizen blossoming trees
Wherein the nesting chaffinches
Begin again the self-same song
All the late April day-time long. . . .
Paths that lead a shelving course
Between the chalk scarp and the gorse
By English downs; and oh! too well
I hear the hidden, clanking bell
Of wandering sheep. . . . I see the brown
Twilight of the huge, empty down
Soon blotted out! for now a lane
Glitters with warmth of May-time rain.
And on a shooting briar I see
A yellow bird who sings to me.


O yellow-hammer, once I heard
Thy yaffle when no other bird
Could to my sunk heart comfort bring;
But now I could not have thee sing
So sharp thy note is with the pain
Of England I may not see again!
Yet sing thy song: there answereth
Deep in me a voice which saith:
"The gorse upon the twilit down,
The English loam so sunset brown,
The bowed pines and the sheep-bells' clamour,
The wet, lit lane and the yellow-hammer,
The orchard and the chaffinch song
Only to the Brave belong.
And he shall lose their joy for aye
If their price he cannot pay.
Who shall find them dearer far
Enriched by blood after long war."


III

Reverie

AT home they see on Skiddaw
His royal purple lie,
And autumn up in Newlands
Arrayed in russet die,
Or under burning woodland
The still lake's gramarye.
And far off and grim and sable
The menace of the Gable
Lifts up his stark aloofness
Against the western sky.


At vesper-time in Durham
The level evening falls
Upon the shadowy river
That slides by ancient walls,
Where out of crannied turrets
The mellow belfry calls.
And there sleep brings forgetting
And morning no regretting,
And love is laughter-wedded
To health in happy halls.


IV

Farewell

FOR the last time, maybe, upon the knoll
I stand. The eve is golden, languid, sad. . .
Day like a tragic actor plays his rôle
To the last whispered word and falls gold-clad.
I, too, take leave of all I ever had.


They shall not say I went with heavy heart:
Heavy I am, but soon I shall be free,
I love them all, but oh I now depart
A little sadly, strangely, fearfully,
As one who goes to try a mystery.


The bell is sounding down in Dedham vale:
Be still, O bell: too often standing here
When all the air was tremulous, fine and pale,
Thy golden note so calm, so still, so clear,
Out of my stony heart has struck a tear.


And now tears are not mine. I have release
From all the former and the later pain,
Like the mid sea I rock in boundless peace
Soothed by the charity of the deep-sea rain. . . .
Calm rain! Calm sea! Calm found, long sought in vain!


O bronzen pines, evening of gold and blue,
Steep mellow slope, brimmed twilit pools below,
Hushed trees, still vale dissolving in the dew,
Farewell. Farewell. There is no more to do.
We have been happy. Happy now I go.

Expeditionary Force Leave,
1915.


V

Home Thoughts in Laventie

GREEN gardens in Laventie!
Soldiers only know the street
Where the mud is churned and splashed about
By battle-wending feet;
And yet beside one stricken house there is a glimpse of grass.
Look for it when you pass.


Beyond the church whose pitted spire
Seems balanced on a strand
Of swaying stone and tottering brick
Two roofless ruins stand,
And here behind the wreckage where the back wall should have been
We found a garden green.


The grass was never trodden on,
The little path of gravel
Was overgrown with celandine,
No other folk did travel
Along its weedy surface, but the nimble-footed mouse
Running from house to house.


So all among the vivid blades
Of soft and tender grass
We lay, nor heard the limber wheels
That pass and ever pass,
In noisy continuity until their stony rattle
Seems in itself a battle.


At length we rose up from this ease
Of tranquil happy mind,
And searched the garden's little length
A fresh pleasaunce to find;
And there, some yellow daffodils and jasmine hanging high
Did rest the tired eye.


The fairest and most fragrant
Of the many sweets we found,
Was a little bush of Daphne flower
Upon a grassy mound,
And so thick were the blossoms set and so divine the scent
That we were well content.


Hungry for spring, I bent my head,
The perfume fanned my face,
And all my soul was dancing
In that little lovely place,
Dancing with a measured step from wrecked and shattered towns
Away . . . upon the Downs.


I saw green banks of daffodil,
Slim poplars in the breeze,
Great tan-brown hares in gusty March
A-courting on the leas;
And meadows with their glittering streams, and silver scurrying dace,
Home—what a perfect place!

Belgium,
March, 1916.


VI

Marching at Home

I

UNDER a grey dawn, timidly breaking,
Through the little village the men are waking,
Easing their stiff limbs and rubbing their eyes;
From my misted window I watch the sun rise.
In the middle of the village a fountain stands,
Round it the men sit, washing their red hands.
Slowly the light grows, we call the roll over,
Bring the laggards stumbling from their warm cover,
Slowly the company gathers all together
And the men and the officer look shyly at the weather.
By the left, quick march! Off the column goes.
All through the village all the windows unclose:
At every window stands a child, early waking,
To see what road the company is taking.

II

The wind is cold and heavy
And storms are in the sky:
Our path across the heather
Goes higher and more high.


To right, the town we came from,
To left, blue hills and sea:
The wind is growing colder,
And shivering are we.


We drag with stiffening fingers
Our rifles up the hill.
The path is steep and tangled,
But leads to Flanders still.


VII

Strange Service

LITTLE did I dream, England, that you bore me
Under the Cotswold Hills beside the water meadows
To do you dreadful service, here, beyond your borders
And your enfolding seas.


I was a dreamer ever, and bound to your dear service
Meditating deep, I thought on your secret beauty,
As through a child's face one may see the clear spirit
Miraculously shining.


Your hills not only hills, but friends of mine and kindly,
Your tiny knolls and orchards hidden beside the river
Muddy and strongly flowing, with shy and tiny streamlets
Safe in its bosom.


Now these are memories only, and your skies and rushy sky-pools
Fragile mirrors easily broken by moving airs;
But deep in my heart for ever goes on your daily being
And uses consecrate.


Think on me too, O Mother, who wrest my soul to serve you
In strange and fearful ways beyond your encircling waters;
None but you can know my heart, its tears and sacrifice,
None, but you, repay.