I PRELUDE: THE TROOPS
Dim, gradual thinning of the shapeless gloomShudders to drizzling daybreak that revealsDisconsolate men who stamp their sodden bootsAnd turn dulled, sunken faces to the skyHaggard and hopeless. They, who have beaten downThe stale despair of night, must now renewTheir desolation in the truce of dawn,Murdering the livid hours that grope for peace.
Yet these, who cling to life with stubborn hands,Can grin through storms of death and find a gapIn the clawed, cruel tangles of his defence.They march from safety, and the bird-sung joyOf grass-green thickets, to the land where allIs ruin, and nothing blossoms but the skyThat hastens over them where they endureSad, smoking, flat horizons, reeking woods,And foundered trench-lines volleying doom for doom.
O my brave brown companions, when your soulsFlock silently away, and the eyeless dead,Shame the wild beast of battle on the ridge,Death will stand grieving in that field of warSince your unvanquished hardihood is spent.And through some mooned Valhalla there will passBattalions and battalions, scarred from hell;The unreturning army that was youth;The legions who have suffered and are dust.DREAMERS
Soldiers are citizens of death's gray land, Drawing no dividend from time's to-morrows.In the great hour of destiny they stand, Each with his feuds, and jealousies, and sorrows.Soldiers are sworn to action; they must win Some flaming, fatal climax with their lives.Soldiers are dreamers; when the guns begin They think of firelit homes, clean beds, and wives.
I see them in foul dug-outs, gnawed by rats, And in the ruined trenches, lashed with rain,Dreaming of things they did with balls and bats, And mocked by hopeless longing to regainBank-holidays, and picture shows, and spats, And going to the office in the train.THE REDEEMER
Darkness: the rain sluiced down; the mire was deep;It was past twelve on a mid-winter night,When peaceful folk in beds lay snug asleep:There, with much work to do before the light,We lugged our clay-sucked boots as best we mightAlong the trench; sometimes a bullet sang,And droning shells burst with a hollow bang;We were soaked, chilled and wretched, every one.Darkness: the distant wink of a huge gun.
I turned in the black ditch, loathing the storm;A rocket fizzed and burned with blanching flare,And lit the face of what had been a formFloundering in mirk. He stood before me there;I say that he was Christ; stiff in the glare,And leaning forward from his burdening task,Both arms supporting it; his eyes on mineStared from the woeful head that seemed a maskOf mortal pain in Hell's unholy shine.
No thorny crown, only a woollen capHe wore—an English soldier, white and strong,Who loved his time like any simple chap,Good days of work and sport and homely song;Now he has learned that nights are very long,And dawn a watching of the windowed sky.But to the end, unjudging, he'll endureHorror and pain, not uncontent to dieThat Lancaster on Lune may stand secure....