[identity profile] duathir.livejournal.com
Dawn On The Somme

Last night rain fell over the scarred plateau
And now from the dark horizon, dazzling, flies
Arrow on fire-plumed arrow to the skies
Shot from the bright arc of Apollo's bow;
And from the wild and writhen waste below,
From flashing pools and mounds lit one by one,
O is it mist or are these companies
Of morning heroes who arise, arise
With thrusting arms, with limbs and hair aglow
Toward the risen god, upon whose brow
Burns the gold laurel of all victories,
Hero and hero's god, th' invincible Sun?

By Robert Nichols

[identity profile] duathir.livejournal.com
The Last Salute
(H.S.G., Ypres, 1916)


In a far field, away from England, lies
A boy I friended with a care like love;
All day the wide earth aches, the keen wind cries,
The melancholy clouds drive on above.

There, separate from him by a little span
Two eagle cousins, generous, reckless, free,
Two Grenfells, lie, and my boy is made man,
One with these elder knights of chivalry.

Boy, who expected not this dreadful day,
Yet leaped, a soldier, at the sudden call,
Drank as your fathers, deeper though than they,
The soldier's cup of anguish, blood, and gall.

Not now as friend, but as a soldier, I
Salute you fallen. For the soldier's name
Our greatest honour is, if worthily
These wayward hearts assume and bear the same

The Soldier's is a name none recognise
Saving his fellows. Deeds are all his flower.
He lives, he toils, he suffers, and he dies,
And if not vainly spent, this is his dower.

The Soldier is the Martyr of a nation,
Expresses but is subject to its will,
His is the Pride ennobles Resignation
As his the rebel Spirit-to-fulfil.

Anonymous, he takes his country's name,
Becomes its blindest vassal - though its lord
By force of arms-its shame is called his shame,
As its the glory gathered by his sword.

Lonely he is: he has nor friend nor lover,
Sith in his body he is dedicate…
His comrades only share his life and offer
Their further deeds to one more heart oblate.

Living, lie's made an "Argument Beyond"
For others' peace; but when hot wars have birth,
For all his brothers' safety he is bond
To Fate or Whatsoever sways this Earth.

Dying, his mangled body, to inter it,
He doth bequeath him into comrade hands,
His soul he renders to some Captain Spirit
That knows, admires, pities, and understands!

All this you knew by that which doth reside
Deeper than learning; by apprehension
Of ancient, dark, and melancholy pride;
You were a Soldier true and died as one!…

All day the long wind cries, the clouds unroll,
But to the cloud and wind I cry, "Be still!"
What need of comfort has the heroic soul?
What soldier finds a soldier's grave is chill?

by Robert Nichols

First Battle of Ypres, Oct. 19 - Nov. 22, 1916
[identity profile] duathir.livejournal.com
Comrades

(In hospital, London, Autumn 1915)

Before, before he was aware
The "Verey" light had risen... on the air
It hung glistering..
And he could not stay his hand
From moving to the barbed wire's broken strand.
A rifle cracked.
He fell.
Night waned. He was alone. A heavy shell
Whispered itself passing high, high overhead.
His wound was wet to his hand: for still it bled
On the glimmering ground.
Then with a slow, vain smile his wound he bound,
Knowing, of course, he'd not see home again -
Home, whose thought he put away.
His men
Whispered, "Where's Mister Gates?" "Out on the wire."
"I'll get him," said one....
Dawn blinked and the fire
Of the Germans heaved up and down the line.
"Stand to!"
Too late! "I'll get him." "Oh the swine,
When we might get him in yet safe and whole!"
"Corp'ral didn't see un fall out on patrol
Or he'd a got un." "Ssssh"...
"No talking there."
A whisper: "'A went down at the last flare."
Meanwhile the Maxims toc-toc-tocked: their swish
Of bullets told death lurked against the wish.
No hope for him!
His corporal, as one shamed,
Vainly and helplessly his ill-luck blamed.

Then Gates slowly saw the morn
Break in a rose peace through the lone thorn
By which he lay, and felt the dawn-wind pass
Whispering through the pallid, stalky grass
Of No-Man's Land...
And the tears came
Scaldingly sweet, more lovely than a flame.
He closed his eyes: he thought of home
And grit his teeth. He knew no help could come....

The silent sun over the earth held sway,
Occasional rifles cracked, and far away
A heedless speck, a 'plane, slid on alone
Like a fly traversing a cliff of stone.

"I must get back," said Gates aloud, and heaved
At his body. But it lay bereaved
Of any power. He could not wait till night....
And he lay still. Blood swam across his sight.
Then with a groan:
"No luck ever. Well! I must die alone."

Occasional rifles cracked. A cloud that shone,
Gold-rimmed, blackened the sun and then was gone...
The sun still smiled. The grass sang in its play.
Some one whistled, "Over the hills and far away."
Gates watched silently the swift, swift sun
Burning his life before it was begun....

Suddenly he heard Corporal Timmins' voice: "Now, then,
'Urry up with that tea."
"Hin Ginger!" "Bill." His men!
Timmins and Jones and Wilkinson ("the bard")
And Hughes and Simpson. It was hard
Not to see them: Wilkinson, stubby, grim,
With his "No, sir," "Yes, sir," and the slim
Simpson, "Indeed, sir?" [while it seemed he winked
Because his smiling left eye always blinked]
And Corporal Timmins, straight and blonde and wise,
With his quiet-scanning, level, hazel eyes,
And all the others... tunics that didn't fit....
A dozen different sorts of eyes. Oh, it
Was hard to lie there! Yet he must. But no:
"I've got to die. I'll get to them. I'll go."

Inch by inch he fought, breathless and mute,
Dragging his carcase like a famished brute....
His head was hammering and his eyes were dim,
A bloody sweat seemed to ooze out of him
And freeze along his spine... then he'd lie still
Before another effort of his will
Took him one nearer yard.

The parapet was reached.
He could not rise to it. A look-out screeched,
"Mr. Gates!"
Three figures in one breath
Leaped up. Two figures fell in toppling death;
And Gates was lifted in. "Who's hit?" said he.
"Timmins and Jones." "Why did they that for me?
I'm gone already!" Gently they laid him prone
And silently watched.
He twitched. They heard him moan,
"Why for me?" His eyes roamed round and none replied.
"I see it was alone I should have died."
They shook their heads. Then, "Is the doctor here?"
"He's comin', sir, he's hurryin', no fear."
"No good....
"Lift me." They lifted him.
He smiled and held his arms out to the dim,
And in a moment passed beyond their ken,
Hearing him whisper, "O my men, my men!"

by Robert Nichols
[identity profile] duathir.livejournal.com
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."


by Robert Nichols
[identity profile] duathir.livejournal.com
Fulfilment

Was there love once? I have forgotten her.
Was there grief once? Grief yet is mine.
Other loves I have, men rough, but men who stir
More grief, more joy, than love of thee and thine.

Faces cheerful, full of whimsical mirth,
Lined by the wind, burned by the sun;
Bodies enraptured by the abounding earth,
As whose children we are brethren: one.

And any moment may descend hot death
To shatter limbs! Pulp, tear, blast
Beloved soldiers who love rough life and breath
Not less for dying faithful to the last.

O the fading eyes, the grimed face turned bony,
Oped mouth gushing, fallen head,
Lessening pressure of a hand, shrunk, clammed and stony!
O sudden spasm, release of the dead!

Was there love once? I have forgotten her.
Was there grief once? Grief yet is mine.
O loved, living, dying, heroic soldier,
All, all my joy, my grief, my love, are thine.

By Robert Nichols
[identity profile] duathir.livejournal.com
The Assault

The beating of the guns grows louder.
'Not long, boys, now.'
My heart burns whiter, fearfuller, prouder;
Hurricanes grow
As guns redouble their fire.
Through the shaken periscope peeping
I glimpse their wire:
Black earth, fountains of earth rise, leaping,
Spouting like shocks of meeting waves.
Death's fountains are playing,
Shells like shrieking birds rush over;
Crash and din rises higher.
A stream of lead raves
Over us from the left… (we safe under cover!)
Crash. Reverberation. Crash!
Acrid smoke billowing. Flash upon flash.
Black smoke drifting. The German line
Vanishes in confusion, smoke. Cries, and cry
Of our men, 'Gah! yer swime,
You're for it,' die
In a hurricane of shell….
One cry;
'We're comin' soon! look out!'
There is opened hell
Over there. Fragments fly,
Rifles and bits of men whirled at the sky:
Dust, smoke, thunder. A sudden bout
Of machine-guns chattering….
And redoubled battering
As if in fury at their daring….

No good staring.

Time soon now… home… house on a sunlit hill….

Gone like a flickered page.
Time soon now… zero… will engage…

A sudden thrill.
'Fix bayonets.'
Gods! we have our fill
Of fear, hysteria, exultation, rage -
Rage to kill….

My heart burns hot, whiter and whiter... )
[identity profile] duathir.livejournal.com
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 grinds and jingles... )
[identity profile] duathir.livejournal.com
Farewell

For the last time, maybe, upon the knoll
I stand. The eve is golden, languid, sad.
Day like a tragic actor plays his role
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.

By Robert Nichols
[identity profile] duathir.livejournal.com
The Last Salute
(H.S.G., Ypres, 1916)

In a far field, away from England, lies
A boy I friended with a care like love;
All day the wide earth aches, the keen wind cries,
The melancholy clouds drive on above.

There, separate from him by a little span
Two eagle cousins, generous, reckless, free,
Two Grenfells, lie, and my boy is made man,
One with these elder knights of chivalry.

Boy, who expected not this dreadful day,
Yet leaped, a soldier, at the sudden call,
Drank as your fathers, deeper though than they,
The soldier's cup of anguish, blood, and gall.

Not now as friend, but as a soldier, I
Salute you fallen. For the soldier's name
Our greatest honour is, if worthily
These wayward hearts assume and bear the same

The Soldier's is a name none recognise
Saving his fellows. Deeds are all his flower.
He lives, he toils, he suffers, and he dies,
And if not vainly spent, this is his dower.

The Soldier is the Martyr of a nation,
Expresses but is subject to its will,
His is the Pride ennobles Resignation
As his the rebel Spirit-to-fulfil.

Anonymous, he takes his country's name,
Becomes its blindest vassal - though its lord
By force of arms-its shame is called his shame,
As its the glory gathered by his sword.

Lonely he is: he has nor friend nor lover,
Sith in his body he is dedicate…
His comrades only share his life and offer
Their further deeds to one more heart oblate.

Living, lie's made an "Argument Beyond"
For others' peace; but when hot wars have birth,
For all his brothers' safety he is bond
To Fate or Whatsoever sways this Earth.

Dying, his mangled body, to inter it,
He doth bequeath him into comrade hands,
His soul he renders to some Captain Spirit
That knows, admires, pities, and understands!

All this you knew by that which doth reside
Deeper than learning; by apprehension
Of ancient, dark, and melancholy pride;
You were a Soldier true and died as one!…

All day the long wind cries, the clouds unroll,
But to the cloud and wind I cry, "Be still!"
What need of comfort has the heroic soul?
What soldier finds a soldier's grave is chill?

by Robert Nichols
[identity profile] duathir.livejournal.com
Battle

1. Noon

It is midday; the deep trench glares....
A buzz and blaze of flies....
The hot wind puffs the giddy airs....
The great sun rakes the skies.

No sound in all the stagnant trench
Where forty standing men
Endure the sweat and grit and stench,
Like cattle in a pen.

Sometimes a sniper's bullet whirs
Or twangs the whining wire,
Sometimes a soldier sighs and stirs
As in hell's frying fire.

From out a high, cool cloud descends
An aeroplane's far moan,
The sun strikes down, the thin cloud rends....
The black speck travels on.

And sweating, dizzed, isolate
In the hot trench beneath,
We bide the next shrewd move of fate
Be it of life or death.

2. Night Bombardment

Softly in the silence the evening rain descends... )

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