Archive for ‘First World War’

Thursday, 28 April 2022

The Enemy Within the Gate by Anne Almer

Hot sunlight streaming across the sands,
Alone at her window a woman stands.
The people crowd on the beach below,
And wave her flags as the soldiers go;
(But who had a cheer for her son, on his way
To the death he died, ere the dawn of day?)
With a “Good-bye!” here, and a “Bless you” there,
To the men who are riding so debonair,
And “Remember, Bill, bring the Kaiser back,
And we’ll find him some work on a back bush track!”
“You bet, we’ll try; if we don’t succeed
Send some other fellows to do the deed!”
And a “Three cheers, lads, ‘tis to honour you go,
And we look to your safe return, you know!”
(But no honour lay in the path he trod,
Who to-morrow will lie beneath the sod.)
And a grip of a hand, and a pat of a horse,
And, “Our prayers will follow you men, of course!”
And alone at her window the woman stands,
She is holding a rose in her trembling hands:
And the perfume of roses is scenting the air,
White roses she strewed on the white bed there.
As she watches the soldiers riding by,
The rose at her bosom is moved by her sigh;
Had her son been one of that gallant band,
Perchance to die in an alien land,
She had wept and sighed, but an honoured name
He had left behind, not a name of shame.
She bleeds for that soul gone forth in the night,
And she prays, “O Thou, who are Light, shed light
On that tragic journey he took alone,
Uncalled. O Christ, who for sin did’st atone,
Who knowest the secret struggles of men,
Have pity on one who has failed. Amen!”
For the foe her son fought was too strong for his strength;
But he fought, ay, he fought, day and night, till at length
Worn out by the conflict, confused and distressed—
The future loomed horror, and death promised rest.
His foe was no German whose name we abhor,
Who acts but the maxim, “In love and in war
All’s fair.” But an enemy garbed as a friend,
Who cheers and who brightens, to damn in the end!
But the woman who stands at the window sees,
While the soldiers ride by, and flags wave in the breeze,
There are women who weep, unashamed of their tears,
Unashamed of folk knowing their pride and their fears;
But, her eyelashes dry, she looks out o’er the sands,
Then suddenly turns to the rose in her hands:
As stainless and white was his hearts, when a boy,
He rode by her window, all frolic and joy.

The Light Horse have passed, with the crowd in their wake.
Grey and gold is the sea, and as still as a lake,
With no sound but the lap, as it licks at the sand,
And, as still as the water, so still is the land:
But stiller than all is that form on the bed,
Where a woman kneels weeping, alone with her dead.

From: Almer, Anne, “The Enemy Within the Gate” in The Register, Saturday, 31 October 1914, p. 5.
(https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/59270859#)

Date: 1915

By: Anne Almer (fl. 1896-1915)

Tuesday, 26 April 2022

The Sleep of Death by Harley “Harry” Matthews

We see no terror in your eyes.
They say that sleeping you were found;
Now we with bayonets guard you round.
Night’s shadow up the hillside creeps,
But you still watch the lighted skies,
Although the sentinel that sleeps
The next dawn dies.

Ah, the remorse is gone that grew
To think of what my comrade said:
“Give this to her when I am dead”—
A heart-shaped thing of little worth
That held her picture for his view,
But he was killed and in the earth
Before I knew.

It was last night. My watch I kept,
The stars just overhead shone dim.
Nought moved upon the hills’ far rim.
But in the hollows shadows seethed,
And as I watched, towards me crept.
I listened: deep my comrades breathed
Where near they slept.

Below men moved innumerable –
Fancy! and yet there was a doubt.
I closed my eyes to shut them out,
And for relief drew deeper breath,
Across my lids Sleep laid his spell;
I flung it off—to sleep was death,
I knew too well.

There came a pleasant breath of air,
Cool-wafted from the stars it seemed.
I looked: now they all brightly gleamed,
Then long I watched, alert, clear-eyed.
No sleeper stirred behind me there…
Yet then of some one at my side
I grew aware.

I stared: for he stood there, though dead,
Yet looking, that seemed nothing strange;
About his form there was no change
To see within that little light.
“‘Tis I. And yet you heard no tread.
A careless watch you keep to-night,”
He laughing said.

His voice no huskier had grown,
Then while I watched, he sat and told
Me of his love just as of old.
“Give this to her,” I heard him say.
I looked, and found I was alone.
Within my hand the locket lay
Cold as a stone.

I have it here to prove he lies
Who says that sleeping I was found.
I fear not though you guard me round.
Night’s shadow up the hillside creeps,
But I can watch the lighted skies,
Although the sentinel that sleeps
The next dawn dies.

From: https://allpoetry.com/The-Sleep-of-Death

Date: 1917

By: Harley “Harry” Matthews (1889-1968)

Monday, 25 April 2022

Sonnet by Robert Malise Bowyer Nichols

Now when I feel the hand of Death draw near
While yet no laurel stands upon my brow,
I ask what can sustain me, what is dear
Was dear once and remains so even now?
Fame, Wisdom, Love, the high inheritance
Of noble words and actions can no more
Beacon my spirit being changed of chance
To the bright rags on which the crazed set store.

Grown child again I turn my thoughts—too late—
Back to the quiet house upon the hill
Where shine—alas! more than sea-separate—
Those human hearts I loved, and harder still
Eyes too oft grieved by th’ importunate
And crooked workings of my hazard will.

FRANCE, 1915.

From: Nichols, Robert, Invocation: War Poems and Others, 1915, Elkin Mathews: London, p. 24.
(https://archive.org/details/invocationwarpoe00nichiala/)

Date: 1915

By: Robert Malise Bowyer Nichols (1893-1944)

Sunday, 24 April 2022

On the Tape by Richard Mill Oliver

Will the dawn ne’er waken?
Will the guns ne’er speak?
The opening words of the barrage,
Crouched here in shell holes,
The moments with leaden feet,
Creep to the zero time.

Why do I tremble so?
Surely craven fear is not mine,
As I think what an hour might bring.

Ah! see the dawn lingers as if
Fearing to rise, and rising,
Will gaze on forms so cold and stiff.
The dawn is here—the barrage down;
We’re moving at last, thank God!
It was not fear that seized my heart;
‘Twas only waiting for the start.

From: Oliver, R. Mill, Verses by a Solider “Over There”, 1918, John J. Newbegin: San Francisco, California, p. 22.
(https://archive.org/details/versesbysoldiero00oliv/)

Date: 1918

By: Richard Mill Oliver (fl. 1918)

Saturday, 23 April 2022

Nous Autres by Geoffrey Dearmer

We never feel the lust of steel
Or fury-woken blood,
We live and die and wonder why
In mud, and mud, and mud,
And horror first and horror last
And Phantom Terror riding past.
We hear and hear the hounds of Fear
Nearer and more near.
We feel their breath….
Only the nights befriend
And mitigate the hell;
Of those who ponder, see and hear,
Too well.
The nights, and Death –
The end.
We feel but never fear
His breath.

Day after weary day,
In vain, in vain, in vain,
We turn to Thee and pray,
We cry and cry again –
“O lord of Battle, why
Should we alone be sane?”

We stifle cries with lightless eyes
And face eternal night;
We stifle cries to sacrifice
Our eyes for Human Sight.
And many give that men may live,
A life, a limb, a brain,
That fellow men may understand
And be for ever sane.
What matter if we lose a hand
If others wander hand in hand;
Or lose a foot if others greet
The dawn of peace with dancing feet;
What matter if we die unheard
If others hear the Poet’s Word?

Because we pay from day to day
The price of sacrifice;
Because we face each dreary place
Again, again, again.
Lord, set us free from Sanity –
Who feel no fighting thrill;
Must we remain for ever sane
And never learn to kill?
No answer came. In very shame
Our long-unheeded cry
Grew bitterly more bitterly,
“O why, O why, O why.
May we not feel the lust of steel
The fury-woken thrill –
For men may learn to live and die
And never learn to kill?”

From: https://allpoetry.com/Nous-Autres

Date: 1919

By: Geoffrey Dearmer (1893-1996)

Friday, 22 April 2022

A Woman’s Prayer by Philadelphia Nina Robertson

I am so placid as I sit
In train or tram, and knit and knit;
I walk serenely down the street
And smile on all the friends I meet;
Within the house I give due heed
To every duty, each one’s need
And when it’s dark and lamps are lit,
I take my sock again, and knit.

Sometimes the newsboys hurry by
And then my needles seem to fly
Through purl and plain, row after row,
They flash, until the fire burns low—
I am so tranquil as I sit
Till bedtime comes, and knit and knit.

And when the house has grown quite still,
I lean out on my window-sill—
Lean out to the velvet night,
Gemmed with all its points of light,
And pray to God to see to it
That I keep sane enough to knit.

From: “New War Books” in The Bulletin, Vol. 37, No. 1916 (2 November 1916), p. [The Red Page].
(https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-658831288/view?partId=nla.obj-658862907#page/n0/mode/1up)

Date: 1916

By: Philadelphia Nina Robertson (1886-1951)

Monday, 15 November 2021

God! How I Hate You, You Young Cheerful Men! by Arthur Graeme West

On a University Undergraduate moved to verse by the war.

Phrases from H. Rex Feston’s “Quest of Truth”: Poems on Doubt, War, Sorrow, Despair, Hope, Death, Somewhere in France. He was killed in action and was an undergraduate at Exeter.

His attitude is that God is good, amused, rather, at us fighting. “Oh, happy to have lived these epic days,” he writes (of us). This (he had been three years at Oxford) is his address to the Atheists:

“ I know that God will never let me die.
He is too passionate and intense for that.
See how He swings His great suns through the sky,
See how He hammers the proud-faced mountains flat;
He takes a handful of a million years
And flings them at the planets; or He throws
His red stars at the moon; then with hot tears
He stoops to kiss one little earth-born rose.
Don’t nail God down to rules, and think you know!
Or God, Who sorrows all a summer’s day
Because a blade of grass has died, will come
And suck this world up in His Iips, and lo!
Will spit it out a pebble, powdered grey,
Into the whirl of Infinity s nothingless foam.'”

This ruined the reputation of all English Atheists for months!

God! How I hate you, you young cheerful men,
Whose pious poetry blossoms on your graves
As soon as you are in them, nurtured up
By the salt of your corruption, and the tears
Of mothers, local vicars, college deans,
And flanked by prefaces and photographs
From all you minor poet friends—the fools—
Who paint their sentimental elegies
Where sure, no angel treads; and, living, share
The dead’s brief immortality

Oh Christ!
To think that one could spread the ductile wax
Of his fluid youth to Oxford’s glowing fires
And take her seal so ill! Hark how one chants—
“Oh happy to have lived these epic days”—
“These epic days”! And he’d been to France,
And seen the trenches, glimpsed the huddled dead
In the periscope, hung in the rusting wire:
Choked by their sickly fœtor, day and night
Blown down his throat: stumbled through ruined hearths,
Proved all that muddy brown monotony,
Where blood’s the only coloured thing. Perhaps
Had seen a man killed, a sentry shot at night,
Hunched as he fell, his feet on the firing-step,
His neck against the back slope of the trench,
And the rest doubled up between, his head
Smashed like and egg-shell, and the warm grey brain
Spattered all bloody on the parados:
Had flashed a torch on his face, and known his friend,
Shot, breathing hardly, in ten minutes—gone!
Yet still God’s in His heaven, all is right
In the best possible of worlds. The woe,
Even His scaled eyes must see, is partial, only
A seeming woe, we cannot understand.
God loves us, God looks down on this out strife
And smiles in pity, blows a pipe at times
And calls some warriors home. We do not die,
God would not let us, He is too “intense,”
Too “passionate,” a whole day sorrows He
Because a grass-blade dies. How rare life is!
On earth, the love and fellowship of men,
Men sternly banded: banded for what end?
Banded to maim and kill their fellow men—
For even Huns are men. In heaven above
A genial umpire, a good judge of sport,
Won’t let us hurt each other! Let’s rejoice
God keeps us faithful, pens us still in fold.
Ah, what a faith is ours (almost, it seems,
Large as a mustard-seed)—we trust and trust,
Nothing can shake us! Ah, how good God is
To suffer us to be born just now, when youth
That else would rust, can slake his blade in gore,
Where very God Himself does seem to walk
The bloody fields of Flanders He so loves!

From: West, Arthur Graeme, The Diary of a Dead Officer, being the posthumous papers of Arthur Graeme West, 1918, G. Allen & Unwin, Ltd: London, pp. 79-81.
(https://archive.org/details/diaryofdeadoffic00westrich/)

Date: 1918 (published)

By: Arthur Graeme West (1891-1917)

Sunday, 14 November 2021

Last Song by Henry Lamont Simpson

All my songs are risen and fled away;
(Only the brave birds stay);
All my beautiful songs are broken or fled.
My poor songs could not stay
Among the filth and the weariness and the dead.

There was bloody grime on their light, white feathery wings,
(Hear how the lark still sings),
And their eyes were the eyes of dead men that I knew.
Only a madman sings
When half of his friends lie asleep for the rain and the dew.

The flowers will grow over the bones of my friends;
(The birds’ song never ends);
Winter and summer, their fair flesh turns to clay.
Perhaps before all ends
My songs will come again that have fled away.

Written on 13 June 1918.

From: https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/56671822/henry-lamont-simpson

Date: 1918

By: Henry Lamont Simpson (1897-1918)

Saturday, 13 November 2021

Trenches: St Eloi by Thomas Ernest Hulme

(Abbreviated from the Conversation of Mr TEH)

Over the flat slopes of St Eloi
A wide wall of sand bags.
Night,
In the silence desultory men
Pottering over small fires, cleaning their mess-tins:
To and fro, from the lines,
Men walk as on Piccadilly,
Making paths in the dark,
Through scattered dead horses,
Over a dead Belgian’s belly.

The Germans have rockets. The English have no rockets.
Behind the line, cannon, hidden, lying back miles.
Beyond the line, chaos:

My mind is a corridor. The minds about me are corridors.
Nothing suggests itself. There is nothing to do but keep on.

From: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/oct/10/poem-of-the-week-t-e-hulme

Date: 1915

By: Thomas Ernest Hulme (1883-1917)

Friday, 12 November 2021

After a Bad Dream by Gerrit Engelke

I am a soldier and stand in the field
And know of no-one in the world.
Thus I cannot celebrate this rainy day,
So tenderly concerned, damp and leaden
Since at night your image broke my sleep
And brought me near to you.

I am a soldier and stand in the field,
Gun on the arm and far from the world.
Were I at home, I would close door and window
And remain alone for a long time,
Sink into the sofa’s corner,
With closed eyes, think of you.

I am a soldier and stand in the field.
Here the old human world ends.
The rain sings, the wet skeins flow.
I can do nothing – only shoot lead.
Don’t know why, I still do it, as if I must
Into the grey weather a shot cracks!

From: https://warpoets.org.uk/splashpage/blog/poem/after-a-bad-dream/

Date: 1918 (original in German); 2015 (translation in English)

By: Gerrit Engelke (1890-1918)

Translated by: Penelope Monkhouse (19??- )