The Great War

from Poems, an electronic edition

The Song of Honour

I CLIMBED a hill as light fell short.

And rooks came home in scramble sort.

And filled the trees and flapped and fought

And sang themselves to sleep;

An owl from nowhere with no sound

Swung by and soon was nowhere found,

I heard him calling half-way round,

Holloing loud and deep ;

A pair of stars, faint pins of light,

Then many a star, sailed into sight,

And all the stars, the flower of night,

Were round me at a leap;

To tell how still the valleys lay

I heard a watchdog miles away,

And bells of distant sheep.

I heard no more of bird or bell,

The mastiff in a slumber fell,

I stared into the sky,

As wondering men have always done

Since beauty and the stars were one

Though none so hard as I.

It seemed, so still the valleys were,

As if the whole world knelt at prayer,

Save me and me alone;

So pure and wide that silence was

I feared to bend a blade of grass,

And there I stood like stone.

There, sharp and sudden, there I heard--

Ah! some wild lovesick singing bird

Woke singing in the trees?

The nightingale and babble-wren

Were in the English greenwood then,

And you heard one of these?

The babble-wren and nightingale

Sang in the Abyssinian vale

That season of the year!

Yet, true enough, I heard them plain,

I heard them both again, again,

As sharp and sweet and clear

As if the Abyssinian tree

Had thrust a bough across the sea,

Had thrust a bough across to me

With music for my ear!

I heard them both, and oh! I heard

The song of every singing bird

That sings beneath the sky,

And with the song of lark and wren

The song of mountains, moths and men

And seas and rainbows vie!

I heard the universal choir,

The Sons of Light exalt their Sire

With universal song,

Earth's lowliest and loudest notes,

Her million times ten million throats

Exalt Him loud and long,

And lips and lungs and tongues of


From every part and every place

Within the shining of His face,

The universal throng.

I heard the hymn of being sound

From every well of honour found

In human sense and soul:

The song of poets when they write

The testament of Beauty sprite

Upon a flying scroll,

The song of painters when they take

A burning brush for Beauty's sake

And limn her features whole--

The song of men divinely wise

Who look and see in starry skies

Not stars so much as robins' eyes,

And when these pale away

Hear flocks of shiny pleiades

Among the plums and apple trees

Sing in the summer day--

The song of all both high and low

To some blest vision true,

The song of beggars when they throw

The crust of pity all men owe

To hungry sparrows in the snow,

Old beggars hungry too--

The song of kings of kingdoms when

They rise above their fortune Men,

And crown themselves anew--

The song of courage, heart and will

And gladness in a fight,

Of men who face a hopeless hill

With sparking and delight,

The bells and bells of song that ring

Round banners of a cause or king

From armies bleeding white--

The song of sailors every one

When monstrous tide and tempest run

At ships like bulls at red,

When stately ships are twirled and spun

Like whipping tops and help there's none

And mighty ships ten thousand ton

Go down like lumps of lead--

And song of fighters stern as they

At odds with fortune night and day.

Crammed up in cities grim and grey

As thick as bees in hives,

Hosannas of a lowly throng

Who sing unconscious of their song.

Whose lips are in their lives--

And song of some at holy war

With spells and ghouls more dread by far

Than deadly seas and cities are

Or hordes of quarrelling kings--

The song of fighters great and small,

The song of pretty fighters all

And high heroic things--

The song of lovers -- who knows how

Twitched up from place and time

Upon a sigh, a blush, a vow,

A curve or hue of cheek or brow,

Borne up and off from here and now

Into the void sublime!

And crying loves and passions still

In every key from soft to shrill

And numbers never done,

Dog-loyalties to faith and friend,

And loves like Ruth's of old no end,

And intermission none--

And burst on burst for beauty and

For numbers not behind,

From men whose love of motherland

Is like a dog's for one dear hand,

Sole, selfless, boundless, blind--

And song of some with hearts beside

For men and sorrows far and wide,

Who watch the world with pity and pride

And warm to all mankind--

And endless joyous music rise

From children at their play,

And endless soaring lullabies

From happy, happy mothers' eyes,

And answering crows and baby-cries,

How many who shall say!

And many a song as wondrous well

With pangs and sweets intolerable

From lonely hearths too grey to tell,

God knows how utter grey!

And song from many a house of care

When pain has forced a footing there

And there's a Darkness on the stair

Will not be turned away--

And song--that song whose singers come

With old kind tales of pity from

The Great Compassion's lips,

That make the bells of Heaven to peal

Round pillows frosty with the feel

Of Death's cold finger tips--

The song of men all sorts and kinds,

As many tempers, moods and minds

As leaves are on a tree,

As many faiths and castes and creeds.

As many human bloods and breeds

As in the world may be;

The song of each and all who gaze

On Beauty in her naked blaze,

Or see her dimly in a haze,

Or get her light in fitful rays

And tiniest needles even,

The song of all not wholly dark,

Not wholly sunk in stupor stark

Too deep for groping Heaven--

And alleluias sweet and clear

And wild with beauty men mishear,

From choirs of song as near and dear

To Paradise as they,

The everlasting pipe and flute

Of wind and sea and bird and brute,

And lips deaf men imagine mute

In wood and stone and clay,

The music of a lion strong

That shakes a hill a whole night long,

A hill as loud as he,

The twitter of a mouse among

Melodious greenery,

The ruby's and the rainbow's song,

The nightingale's -- all three,

The song of life that wells and flows

From every leopard, lark and rose

And everything that gleams or goes

Lack-lustre in the sea.

I heard it all, each, every note

Of every lung and tongue and throat.

Ay, every rhythm and rhyme

Of everything that lives and loves

And upward, ever upward moves

From lowly to sublime!

Earth's multitudinous Sons of Light,

I heard them lift their lyric might

With each and every chanting sprite

That lit the sky that wondrous night

As far as eye could climb!

I heard it all, I heard the whole

Harmonious hymn of being roll

Up through the chapel of my soul

And at the altar die,

And in the awful quiet then

Myself I heard. Amen, Amen,

Amen I heard me cry!

I heard it all and then although

I caught my flying senses. Oh,

A dizzy man was I!

I stood and stared; the sky was lit,

The sky was stars all over it,

I stood, I knew not why,

Without a wish, without a will,

I stood upon that silent hill

And stared into the sky until

My eyes were blind with stars and still

I stared into the sky.