The Great War

from November: Poems in War Time, an electronic edition

A Non-Combatant


I SAW my neighbour going gay

To France as for a holiday:

Caught out of the cursing battle

Many a burst of boyish prattle:

Heard how many a devilish stroke

Was taken, laughing, for a joke:

Knew the horror, and the sin

In the horror glorying,

Boasting they could make a clod

Of any image of our God,

Boasting they could dim and dull

Love with hatred, and annul

Whatsoe'er is beautiful:

Boasting all the hideous boasts

That glut the ugly battle-ghosts . . .

Clear, among the starry rafters

Of the world, heard angel laughters

Answer with melodious shout

And put the ugly ghosts to rout--

Even while the dead lads lay

In their dreadful disarray,

Even while their women stood

Frozen in their motherhood.

I heard the voice of Liberty--

That was and is and is to be

From first to finish of our span

Son of God and Son of Man--

Cry that splendid word of Death

(That we say beneath our breath)

In its whole divine intent;

And I knew the joy it meant,

Shared the joy that only they

Partake who give themselves away

To the freedom of the world.

I saw the mystic flag unfurled

Of ever-new defiance, flung

To the old world by the young:

Saw that flag--whose sunrise-red

Dissipates despair and dread--

Repay all the dead are giving

With its joy of mightier living:

For I heard the dying cry,

"Freedom! You shall never die !"

Saw their dying as the birth

Of that overmastering mirth

At whose face the devils quail

For their terrors naught avail.


I saw soldiers going gay

Over the hills and far away:

And I followed through the fern

Sighing, "They will not return!

To the board and to the bed

Grief and Hate will come instead.

The November sun was pale,

But the tall defiant trees

Shook their tops against the gale,

Spurning such impieties:

And within my soul I knew

My fear and sadness were untrue

To something in myself that would

Give my body to make good

My spirit's boasting: fain would give

All that makes me glad to live

For a weapon or a shield

In Freedom's hand, that He may yield

No inch to Tyranny, or 'bate

Any joy of His for Fate.

I believed that I would dare

Naked to confront Despair,

Having given all I might:

Would go dwell in the dark night,

Of my light bereft: defy

Loneliness, if only I

Could feel I had held nothing back

From Freedom in His hour of lack.

Evermore I would rejoice

That I had recognised the Voice

Divine, and against any odds

Held to Him against the gods

And princes of this world,

Who have no stomach for the high

Mirth of His flag unfurled

Upon the sky.


When myself I utterly

Give to Freedom, I can be

The hateless weapon in His hand--

Let Him bid me, let me hear

The authentic voice within my ear

That I know for His command.

I have seen the eyes of Him

Who is Freedom: they are dim

With no doubting: naught of weakness

Dulls their gaze of piercing meekness;

It is brighter than the sun

That I cannot look upon.

I have felt His living breath

Challenge in me doubt and death:

Who am I that I should bear

Only to speak gentle and fair?

I must be the battle-cry

Of Freedom, or become a lie

On His lips, when they would speak

Mortal Truth, though they be meek.

There is not, nor ever shall

Be any peace on Earth till all

Life's great truth be spoken out:

Never while we fear to flout

Half-truth; while we dare not be

Hated of complacency:

Never till we give our whole

Being--body, mind, and soul--

To Freedom, and stand forth among

Them who battle against the strong

Proud powers that put Him in the wrong.