Monday, November 10, 2008

A Sampling of Verse for Armistice Day

The Heroes

In that Valhalla where the heroes go
A careful sentinel paced to and fro
Before the gate, burnt black with battle smoke,
Whose echoes to the tread of armed men woke,
And up the fiery stairs whose steps are spears
Came the pale heroes of the bloodstained years.

There were lean Caesars from the glory fields
With heart that only to a sword-thrust yields;
And there were Generals decked in pride of rank,
Red scabbard swinging from the wary flank;
And slender youths, who were the sons of kings,
And barons with their sixteen quarterings.
And while the nobles went with haughty air
The courteous sentinel questioned: “Who goes there?”
And as each came, full lustily he cried
His string of titles, ere he passed inside…
And presently there was a little man,
A silent mover in the regal van.
His hand still grasped his rifle, and his eyes’
Seemed blinded with the light from Paradise…
His was a humble guise, a modest air—
The sentinel held him sharply: “Who goes there?”

There were no gauds tacked to that simple name,
But every naked blade leapt out like flame,
And every blue-blood warrior bowed his head—
“I am a Belgian,” this was all he said.
Men’s cheering echoed thro’ the battle ‘s Hell
“Pass in, mon brave,” said that wise sentinel.

M. Forrest
Brisbane, Queensland

At the Movies

They swing across the screen in brave array,
Long British columns grinding the dark grass.
Twelve months ago the marched into the gray
Of battle; yet again behold them pass!

One lifts his dusty cap; his hair is bright’
I meet his eyes, eager and young and gold.
The picture quivers into ghostly white;
Then I remember, and my heart grows cold!

Florence Ripley Mastin
(Teacher of English Literature, Brooklyn, New York)

The Connaught Rangers

I saw the Connaught Rangers when they were passing by.
On a spring day, a good day, with gold rifts in the sky.
Themselves were marching steadily along the Liffey quay.
An’ I see the young proud look of them as it was to-day!
The bright lads, the right lads, I have them in my mind,
With the green flags on their bayonets all fluttering in the wind!

A last look at old Ireland, a last good-bye maybe,
Then the gray sea, the wide sea, my grief upon the sea!
And when will they come home, says I, when will they see once more
The dear blue hills of Wicklow and Wexford’s dim gray shore?
The brave lads of Ireland, no better lads you’ll find,
With the green flags on their bayonets all fluttering in the wind!

Three years have passed since that spring day, sad years for them and me.
Green graves there are in Serbia and in Gallipoli.
And many who went by that day along the muddy street
Will never hear the roadway ring to their triumphant feet.
But when they march before Him, God’s welcome will be kind,
And the green flags on their bayonets will flutter in the wind.

Winifred M. Letts

(Winifred M. Letts served in 1915 as a V.A.D. nurse in Manchester Base Hospital, at Command Depot Camps at Manchester and Alnwick, and an Orthopedic Hospital in Blackrock, Dublin. The Connaught Rangers would be disbanded on July 31, 1922 in the wake of the regiment’s 1920 mutiny in India after news reached them of the brutal actions of Britain’s Special Auxiliaries – “the Black and Tans” - in Ireland.)

The Last Post

The bugler sent a call of high romance—
Lights out! Lights out!—to the deserted square:
On the thin brazen notes he threw a prayer.
God, if it’s this for me next time in France
Spare me the phantom bugle as I lie
Dead in the gas and smoke and roar of guns,
Dead in a row with the other shattered ones,
Lying so stiff and still under the sky—
Jolly young Fusiliers, too good to die.
The music ceased, and the red sunset flare
Was blood about his head as he stood there.

Robert Graves
(Captain, Royal Welsh Fusiliers, serving in France for 18 months including the battles of Loos and the Somme)

1 comment:

Poetry said...

Brilliant poetry. I like to sit sometimess and ponder over this kind of poetry. Lets me appreciate the peace and freedom which has been won for us.