Captivity by John Still

I saw a flight of herons cross the sky,
Borne by slow-beating multitudinous wings;
Spread in a twinkling crescent, flying high,
They travelled eastward, seeking many things.

I watched a thousand swallows in the air
Weaving wide patterns with invisible thread,
Speeding and fleeting swiftly here and there,
And seeking in the heavens their daily bread.

I saw a hanging hawk above a spire,
Outspread and motionless while wind rushed past;
Suddenly stoop deep deep down to inquire
Into some stir that promised to end his fast.

Now that my passage-way is barred with steel
All free and wingéd things seem doubly rare,
Objects of envy that I will not feel,
Emblems of liberty I cannot share.

With bayonets fixed the sentries pace below,
With bayonet fixed one stands beside my door.
The days drag on, the hours seem strangely slow.
The sentry’s footsteps clump along the floor.

One day I saw a sentry kiss his blade,
Longing to find it some more worthy sheath;
Or hoping haply I might be afraid,
I who so lately had been friends with death!

Yet freedom is and ever will remain
Moral, not physical, and those are free
Who can rise morally above their pain,
Their minds uncrippled by captivity.

More free by far than any bird that flies,
My mind is free to climb among the stars,
My soul is free to wander o’er the skies,
Only my body lies behind the bars.

Constantinople, 19. Viii. 1915.

From: Still, John, Poems in Captivity, 1919, John Lane, The Bodley Head: London, pp. 3-4.
(https://archive.org/stream/poemsincaptivity00stiliala#page/n19/mode/2up)

Date: 1915

By: John Still (18??-19??)

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