Ballads of a Bohemian
Robert W. Service
Part 3 out of 4
Hurrah! I'm off to Finistere, to Finistere, to Finistere;
My satchel's swinging on my back, my staff is in my hand;
I've twenty ~louis~ in my purse, I know the sun and sea are there,
And so I'm starting out to-day to tramp the golden land.
I'll go alone and glorying, with on my lips a song of joy;
I'll leave behind the city with its canker and its care;
I'll swing along so sturdily -- oh, won't I be the happy boy!
A-singing on the rocky roads, the roads of Finistere.
Oh, have you been to Finistere, and do you know a whin-gray town
That echoes to the clatter of a thousand wooden shoes?
And have you seen the fisher-girls go gallivantin' up and down,
And watched the tawny boats go out, and heard the roaring crews?
Oh, would you sit with pipe and bowl, and dream upon some sunny quay,
Or would you walk the windy heath and drink the cooler air;
Oh, would you seek a cradled cove and tussle with the topaz sea! --
Pack up your kit to-morrow, lad, and haste to Finistere.
Oh, I will go to Finistere, there's nothing that can hold me back.
I'll laugh with Yves and Le/on, and I'll chaff with Rose and Jeanne;
I'll seek the little, quaint ~buvette~ that's kept by Mother Merdrinac,
Who wears a cap of many frills, and swears just like a man.
I'll yarn with hearty, hairy chaps who dance and leap and crack their heels;
Who swallow cupfuls of cognac and never turn a hair;
I'll watch the nut-brown boats come in with mullet, plaice and conger eels,
The jeweled harvest of the sea they reap in Finistere.
Yes, I'll come back from Finistere with memories of shining days,
Of scaly nets and salty men in overalls of brown;
Of ancient women knitting as they watch the tethered cattle graze
By little nestling beaches where the gorse goes blazing down;
Of headlands silvering the sea, of Calvarys against the sky,
Of scorn of angry sunsets, and of Carnac grim and bare;
Oh, won't I have the leaping veins, and tawny cheek and sparkling eye,
When I come back to Montparnasse and dream of Finistere.
~Two days later~.
Behold me with staff and scrip, footing it merrily in the Land of Pardons.
I have no goal. When I am weary I stop at some ~auberge~;
when I am rested I go on again. Neither do I put any constraint
on my spirit. No subduing of the mind to the task of the moment.
I dream to heart's content.
My dreams stretch into the future. I see myself a singer of simple songs,
a laureate of the under-dog. I will write books, a score of them.
I will voyage far and wide. I will . . .
But there! Dreams are dangerous. They waste the time one should spend
in making them come true. Yet when we do make them come true,
we find the vision sweeter than the reality. How much of our happiness
do we owe to dreams? I have in mind one old chap who used to herd the sheep
on my uncle's farm.
Old David Smail
He dreamed away his hours in school;
He sat with such an absent air,
The master reckoned him a fool,
And gave him up in dull despair.
When other lads were making hay
You'd find him loafing by the stream;
He'd take a book and slip away,
And just pretend to fish . . . and dream.
His brothers passed him in the race;
They climbed the hill and clutched the prize.
He did not seem to heed, his face
Was tranquil as the evening skies.
He lived apart, he spoke with few;
Abstractedly through life he went;
Oh, what he dreamed of no one knew,
And yet he seemed to be content.
I see him now, so old and gray,
His eyes with inward vision dim;
And though he faltered on the way,
Somehow I almost envied him.
At last beside his bed I stood:
"And is Life done so soon?" he sighed;
"It's been so rich, so full, so good,
I've loved it all . . ." -- and so he died.
Framed in hedgerows of emerald, the wheat glows with a caloric fervor,
as if gorged with summer heat. In the vivid green of pastures
old women are herding cows. Calm and patient are their faces
as with gentle industry they bend over their knitting.
One feels that they are necessary to the landscape.
To gaze at me the field-workers suspend the magnificent lethargy
of their labors. The men with the reaping hooks improve the occasion
by another pull at the cider bottle under the stook;
the women raise apathetic brown faces from the sheaf they are tying;
every one is a study in deliberation, though the crop is russet ripe
and crying to be cut.
Then on I go again amid high banks overgrown with fern and honeysuckle.
Sometimes I come on an old mill that seems to have been constructed
by Constable, so charmingly does Nature imitate Art. By the deserted house,
half drowned in greenery, the velvety wheel, dipping in the crystal water,
seems to protest against this prolongation of its toil.
Then again I come on its brother, the Mill of the Wind, whirling its arms
so cheerily, as it turns its great white stones for its master,
the floury miller by the door.
These things delight me. I am in a land where Time has lagged,
where simple people timorously hug the Past. How far away now
seems the welter and swelter of the city, the hectic sophistication
of the streets. The sense of wonder is strong in me again,
the joy of looking at familiar things as if one were seeing them
for the first time.
I wish that I could understand
The moving marvel of my Hand;
I watch my fingers turn and twist,
The supple bending of my wrist,
The dainty touch of finger-tip,
The steel intensity of grip;
A tool of exquisite design,
With pride I think: "It's mine! It's mine!"
Then there's the wonder of my Eyes,
Where hills and houses, seas and skies,
In waves of light converge and pass,
And print themselves as on a glass.
Line, form and color live in me;
I am the Beauty that I see;
Ah! I could write a book of size
About the wonder of my Eyes.
What of the wonder of my Heart,
That plays so faithfully its part?
I hear it running sound and sweet;
It does not seem to miss a beat;
Between the cradle and the grave
It never falters, stanch and brave.
Alas! I wish I had the art
To tell the wonder of my Heart.
Then oh! but how can I explain
The wondrous wonder of my Brain?
That marvelous machine that brings
All consciousness of wonderings;
That lets me from myself leap out
And watch my body walk about;
It's hopeless -- all my words are vain
To tell the wonder of my Brain.
But do not think, O patient friend,
Who reads these stanzas to the end,
That I myself would glorify. . . .
You're just as wonderful as I,
And all Creation in our view
Is quite as marvelous as you.
Come, let us on the sea-shore stand
And wonder at a grain of sand;
And then into the meadow pass
And marvel at a blade of grass;
Or cast our vision high and far
And thrill with wonder at a star;
A host of stars -- night's holy tent
Huge-glittering with wonderment.
If wonder is in great and small,
Then what of Him who made it all?
In eyes and brain and heart and limb
Let's see the wondrous work of Him.
In house and hill and sward and sea,
In bird and beast and flower and tree,
In everything from sun to sod,
The wonder and the awe of God.
August 9, 1914.
For some time the way has been growing wilder. Thickset hedges
have yielded to dykes of stone, and there is every sign that I am approaching
the rugged region of the coast. At each point of vantage I can see a Cross,
often a relic of the early Christians, stumpy and corroded.
Then I come on a slab of gray stone upstanding about fifteen feet.
Like a sentinel on that solitary plain it overwhelms me
with a sense of mystery.
But as I go on through this desolate land these stones become
more and more familiar. Like soldiers they stand in rank,
extending over the moor. The sky is cowled with cloud,
save where a sullen sunset shoots blood-red rays across the plain.
Bathed in that sinister light stands my army of stone,
and a wind swooping down seems to wail amid its ranks. As in a glass darkly
I can see the skin-clad men, the women with their tangled hair,
the beast-like feast, the cowering terror of the night. Then the sunset
is cut off suddenly, and a clammy mist shrouds that silent army.
So it is almost with a shudder I take my last look at the Stones of Carnac.
But now my pilgrimage is drawing to an end. A painter friend
who lives by the sea has asked me to stay with him awhile.
Well, I have walked a hundred miles, singing on the way.
I have dreamed and dawdled, planned, exulted. I have drunk buckets of cider,
and eaten many an omelette that seemed like a golden glorification of its egg.
It has all been very sweet, but it will also be sweet to loaf awhile.
Oh, It Is Good
Oh, it is good to drink and sup,
And then beside the kindly fire
To smoke and heap the faggots up,
And rest and dream to heart's desire.
Oh, it is good to ride and run,
To roam the greenwood wild and free;
To hunt, to idle in the sun,
To leap into the laughing sea.
Oh, it is good with hand and brain
To gladly till the chosen soil,
And after honest sweat and strain
To see the harvest of one's toil.
Oh, it is good afar to roam,
And seek adventure in strange lands;
Yet oh, so good the coming home,
The velvet love of little hands.
So much is good. . . . We thank Thee, God,
For all the tokens Thou hast given,
That here on earth our feet have trod
Thy little shining trails of Heaven.
August 10, 1914.
I am living in a little house so near the sea that at high tide
I can see on my bedroom wall the reflected ripple of the water.
At night I waken to the melodious welter of waves; or maybe
there is a great stillness, and then I know that the sand and sea-grass
are lying naked to the moon. But soon the tide returns,
and once more I hear the roistering of the waves.
Calvert, my friend, is a lover as well as a painter of nature. He rises
with the dawn to see the morning mist kindle to coral and the sun's edge
clear the hill-crest. As he munches his coarse bread and sips his white wine,
what dreams are his beneath the magic changes of the sky!
He will paint the same scene under a dozen conditions of light.
He has looked so long for Beauty that he has come to see it everywhere.
I love this friendly home of his. A peace steals over my spirit,
and I feel as if I could stay here always. Some day I hope that I too
may have such an one, and that I may write like this:
I Have Some Friends
I have some friends, some worthy friends,
And worthy friends are rare:
These carpet slippers on my feet,
That padded leather chair;
This old and shabby dressing-gown,
So well the worse of wear.
I have some friends, some honest friends,
And honest friends are few;
My pipe of briar, my open fire,
A book that's not too new;
My bed so warm, the nights of storm
I love to listen to.
I have some friends, some good, good friends,
Who faithful are to me:
My wrestling partner when I rise,
The big and burly sea;
My little boat that's riding there
So saucy and so free.
I have some friends, some golden friends,
Whose worth will not decline:
A tawny Irish terrier, a purple shading pine,
A little red-roofed cottage that
So proudly I call mine.
All other friends may come and go,
All other friendships fail;
But these, the friends I've worked to win,
Oh, they will never stale;
And comfort me till Time shall write
The finish to my tale.
Calvert tries to paint more than the thing he sees; he tries
to paint behind it, to express its spirit. He believes that Beauty
is God made manifest, and that when we discover Him in Nature
we discover Him in ourselves.
But Calvert did not always see thus. At one time he was a Pagan, content to
paint the outward aspect of things. It was after his little child died
he gained in vision. Maybe the thought that the dead are lost to us
was too unbearable. He had to believe in a coming together again.
I sought Him on the purple seas,
I sought Him on the peaks aflame;
Amid the gloom of giant trees
And canyons lone I called His name;
The wasted ways of earth I trod:
In vain! In vain! I found not God.
I sought Him in the hives of men,
The cities grand, the hamlets gray,
The temples old beyond my ken,
The tabernacles of to-day;
All life that is, from cloud to clod
I sought. . . . Alas! I found not God.
Then after roamings far and wide,
In streets and seas and deserts wild,
I came to stand at last beside
The death-bed of my little child.
Lo! as I bent beneath the rod
I raised my eyes . . . and there was God.
A golden mile of sand swings hammock-like between two tusks of rock.
The sea is sleeping sapphire that wakes to cream and crash upon the beach.
There is a majesty in the detachment of its lazy waves,
and it is good in the night to hear its friendly roar. Good, too,
to leap forth with the first sunshine and fall into its arms,
to let it pummel the body to living ecstasy and send one to breakfast
glad-eyed and glowing.
Behind the house the greensward slopes to a wheat-field
that is like a wall of gold. Here I lie and laze away the time,
or dip into a favorite book, Stevenson's ~Letters~ or Belloc's ~Path to Rome~.
Bees drone in the wild thyme; a cuckoo keeps calling,
a lark spills jeweled melody. Then there is a seeming silence,
but it is the silence of a deeper sound.
After all, Silence is only man's confession of his deafness.
Like Death, like Eternity, it is a word that means nothing. So lying there
I hear the breathing of the trees, the crepitation of the growing grass,
the seething of the sap and the movements of innumerable insects.
Strange how I think with distaste of the spurious glitter of Paris,
of my garret, even of my poor little book.
I watch the wife of my friend gathering poppies in the wheat.
There is a sadness in her face, for it is only a year ago
they lost their little one. Often I see her steal away
to the village graveyard, sitting silent for long and long.
As I sat by my baby's bed
That's open to the sky,
There fluttered round and round my head
A radiant butterfly.
And as I wept -- of hearts that ache
The saddest in the land --
It left a lily for my sake,
And lighted on my hand.
I watched it, oh, so quietly,
And though it rose and flew,
As if it fain would comfort me
It came and came anew.
Now, where my darling lies at rest,
I do not dare to sigh,
For look! there gleams upon my breast
A snow-white butterfly.
My friends will have other children, and if some day they should read
this piece of verse, perhaps they will think of the city lad
who used to sit under the old fig-tree in the garden and watch the lizards
sun themselves on the time-worn wall.
The Other One
"Gather around me, children dear;
The wind is high and the night is cold;
Closer, little ones, snuggle near;
Let's seek a story of ages old;
A magic tale of a bygone day,
Of lovely ladies and dragons dread;
Come, for you're all so tired of play,
We'll read till it's time to go to bed."
So they all are glad, and they nestle in,
And squat on the rough old nursery rug,
And they nudge and hush as I begin,
And the fire leaps up and all's so snug;
And there I sit in the big arm-chair,
And how they are eager and sweet and wise,
And they cup their chins in their hands and stare
At the heart of the flame with thoughtful eyes.
And then, as I read by the ruddy glow
And the little ones sit entranced and still . . .
~He~'s drawing near, ah! I know, I know
He's listening too, as he always will.
He's there -- he's standing beside my knee;
I see him so well, my wee, wee son. . . .
Oh, children dear, don't look at me --
I'm reading now for -- the Other One.
For the firelight glints in his golden hair,
And his wondering eyes are fixed on my face,
And he rests on the arm of my easy-chair,
And the book's a blur and I lose my place:
And I touch my lips to his shining head,
And my voice breaks down and -- the story's done. . . .
Oh, children, kiss me and go to bed:
Leave me to think of the Other One.
Of the One who will never grow up at all,
Who will always be just a child at play,
Tender and trusting and sweet and small,
Who will never leave me and go away;
Who will never hurt me and give me pain;
Who will comfort me when I'm all alone;
A heart of love that's without a stain,
Always and always my own, my own.
Yet a thought shines out from the dark of pain,
And it gives me hope to be reconciled:
~That each of us must be born again,
And live and die as a little child;
So that with souls all shining white,
White as snow and without one sin,
We may come to the Gates of Eternal Light,
Where only children may enter in.~
So, gentle mothers, don't ever grieve
Because you have lost, but kiss the rod;
From the depths of your woe be glad, believe
You've given an angel unto God.
Rejoice! You've a child whose youth endures,
Who comes to you when the day is done,
Wistful for love, oh, yours, just yours,
Dearest of all, the Other One.
August 14, 1914.
And now I fear I must write in another strain. Up to this time
I have been too happy. I have existed in a magic Bohemia,
largely of my own making. Hope, faith, enthusiasm have been mine.
Each day has had its struggle, its failure, its triumph.
However, that is all ended. During the past week we have lived breathlessly.
For in spite of the exultant sunshine our spirits have been under a cloud,
a deepening shadow of horror and calamity. . . . WAR.
Even as I write, in our little village steeple the bells are ringing madly,
and in every little village steeple all over the land. As he hears it
the harvester checks his scythe on the swing; the clerk throws down his pen;
the shopkeeper puts up his shutters. Only in the cafes
there is a clamor of voices and a drowning of care.
For here every man must fight, every home give tribute.
There is no question, no appeal. By heredity and discipline
all minds are shaped to this great hour. So to-morrow each man
will seek his barracks and become a soldier as completely
as if he had never been anything else. With the same docility
as he dons his baggy red trousers will he let some muddle-headed General
hurl him to destruction for some dubious gain. To-day a father, a home-maker;
to-morrow fodder for cannon. So they all go without hesitation,
without bitterness; and the great military machine that knows not humanity
swings them to their fate. I marvel at the sense of duty, the resignation,
the sacrifice. It is magnificent, it is FRANCE.
And the Women. Those who wait and weep. Ah! to-day I have not seen one
who did not weep. Yes, one. She was very old, and she stood
by her garden gate with her hand on the uplifted latch. As I passed
she looked at me with eyes that did not see. She had no doubt
sons and grandsons who must fight, and she had good reason, perhaps,
to remember the war of ~soixante-dix~. When I passed an hour later
she was still there, her hand on the uplifted latch.
The men have gone. Only remain graybeards, women and children.
Calvert and I have been helping our neighbors to get in the harvest.
No doubt we aid; but there with the old men and children
a sense of uneasiness and even shame comes over me. I would like to return
to Paris, but the railway is mobilized. Each day I grow more discontented.
Up there in the red North great things are doing and I am out of it.
I am thoroughly unhappy.
Then Calvert comes to me with a plan. He has a Ford car. We will all three
go to Paris. He intends to offer himself and his car to the Red Cross.
His wife will nurse. So we are very happy at the solution,
and to-morrow we are off.
Back again. Closed shutters, deserted streets. How glum everything is!
Those who are not mobilized seem uncertain how to turn.
Every one buys the papers and reads grimly of disaster. No news is bad news.
I go to my garret as to a beloved friend. Everything is just as I left it,
so that it seems I have never been away. I sigh with relief and joy.
I will take up my work again. Serene above the storm I will watch and wait.
Although I have been brought up in England I am American born.
My country is not concerned.
So, going to the Do^me Cafe, I seek some of my comrades.
Strange! They have gone. MacBean, I am told, is in England.
By dyeing his hair and lying about his age he has managed to enlist
in the Seaforth Highlanders. Saxon Dane too. He has joined
the Foreign Legion, and even now may be fighting.
Well, let them go. I will keep out of the mess. But why did they go?
I wish I knew. War is murder. Criminal folly. Against Humanity.
Imperialism is at the root of it. We are fools and dupes.
Yes, I will think and write of other things. . . .
~MacBean has enlisted~.
I hate violence. I would not willingly cause pain to anything breathing.
I would rather be killed than kill. I will stand above the Battle
and watch it from afar.
~Dane is in the Foreign Legion~.
How disturbing it all is! One cannot settle down to anything.
Every day I meet men who tell the most wonderful stories
in the most casual way. I envy them. I too want to have experiences,
to live where life's beat is most intense. But that's a poor reason
for going to war.
And yet, though I shrink from the idea of fighting, I might in some way help
those who are. MacBean and Dane, for example. Sitting lonely in the Do^me,
I seem to see their ghosts in the corner. MacBean listening with his keen,
sarcastic smile, Saxon Dane banging his great hairy fist on the table
till the glasses jump. Where are they now? Living a life
that I will never know. When they come back, if they ever do,
shall I not feel shamed in their presence? Oh, this filthy war!
Things were going on so beautifully. We were all so happy,
so full of ambition, of hope; laughing and talking over pipe and bowl,
and in our garrets seeking to realize our dreams. Ah, these days
will never come again!
Then, as I sit there, Calvert seeks me out. He has joined an ambulance corps
that is going to the Front. Will I come in?
"Yes," I say; "I'll do anything."
So it is all settled. To-morrow I give up my freedom.
The Somme Front,
There is an avenue of noble beeches leading to the Chateau,
and in the shadow of each glimmers the pale oblong of an ambulance.
We have to keep them thus concealed, for only yesterday morning
a Taube flew over. The beggars are rather partial to Red Cross cars.
One of our chaps, taking in a load of wounded, was chased and pelted
the other day.
The Chateau seems all spires and towers, the glorified dream
of a Parisian pastrycook. On its terrace figures in khaki are lounging.
They are the volunteers, the owner-drivers of the Corps,
many of them men of wealth and title. Curious to see
one who owns all the coal in two counties proudly signing for his ~sou~ a day;
or another, who lives in a Fifth Avenue palace, contentedly sleeping
on the straw-strewn floor of a hovel.
Here is a rhyme I have made of such an one:
Jerry MacMullen, the millionaire,
Driving a red-meat bus out there --
How did he win his ~Croix de Guerre~?
Bless you, that's all old stuff:
Beast of a night on the Verdun road,
Jerry stuck with a woeful load,
Stalled in the mud where the red lights glowed,
Prospect devilish tough.
"Little Priscilla" he called his car,
Best of our battered bunch by far,
Branded with many a bullet scar,
Yet running so sweet and true.
Jerry he loved her, knew her tricks;
Swore: "She's the beat of the best big six,
And if ever I get in a deuce of a fix
Priscilla will pull me through."
"Looks pretty rotten right now," says he;
"Hanged if the devil himself could see.
Priscilla, it's up to you and me
To show 'em what we can do."
Seemed that Priscilla just took the word;
Up with a leap like a horse that's spurred,
On with the joy of a homing bird,
Swift as the wind she flew.
Shell-holes shoot at them out of the night;
A lurch to the left, a wrench to the right,
Hands grim-gripping and teeth clenched tight,
Eyes that glare through the dark.
"Priscilla, you're doing me proud this day;
Hospital's only a league away,
And, honey, I'm longing to hit the hay,
So hurry, old girl. . . . But hark!"
Howl of a shell, harsh, sudden, dread;
Another . . . another. . . . "Strike me dead
If the Huns ain't strafing the road ahead
So the convoy can't get through!
A barrage of shrap, and us alone;
Four rush-cases -- you hear 'em moan?
Fierce old messes of blood and bone. . . .
Priscilla, what shall we do?"
Again it seems that Priscilla hears.
With a rush and a roar her way she clears,
Straight at the hell of flame she steers,
Full at its heart of wrath.
Fury of death and dust and din!
Havoc and horror! She's in, she's in;
She's almost over, she'll win, she'll win!
~Woof! Crump!~ right in the path.
Little Priscilla skids and stops,
Jerry MacMullen sways and flops;
Bang in his map the crash he cops;
Shriek from the car: "Mon Dieu!"
One of the ~blesse/s~ hears him say,
Just at the moment he faints away:
"Reckon this isn't my lucky day,
Priscilla, it's up to you."
Sergeant raps on the doctor's door;
"Car in the court with ~couche/s~ four;
Driver dead on the dashboard floor;
Strange how the bunch got here."
"No," says the Doc, "this chap's alive;
But tell me, how could a man contrive
With both arms broken, a car to drive?
Thunder of God! it's queer."
Same little ~blesse/~ makes a spiel;
Says he: "When I saw our driver reel,
A Strange Shape leapt to the driving wheel
And sped us safe through the night."
But Jerry, he says in his drawling tone:
"Rats! Why, Priscilla came in on her own.
Bless her, she did it alone, alone. . . ."
~Hanged if I know who's right.~
As I am sitting down to my midday meal an orderly gives me a telegram:
~Hill 71. Two couche/s. Send car at once.~
The uptilted country-side is a checker-board of green and gray, and,
except where groves of trees rise like islands, cultivated to the last acre.
But as we near the firing-line all efforts to till the land cease,
and the ungathered beets of last year have grown to seed.
Amid rank unkempt fields I race over a road that is pitted with obus-holes;
I pass a line of guns painted like snakes, and drawn by horses
dyed khaki-color; then soldiers coming from the trenches,
mud-caked and ineffably weary; then a race over a bit of road that is exposed;
then, buried in the hill-side, the dressing station.
The two wounded are put into my car. From hip to heel
one is swathed in bandages; the other has a great white turban on his head,
with a red patch on it that spreads and spreads. They stare dully, but make
no sound. As I crank the car there is a shrill screaming noise. . . .
About thirty yards away I hear an explosion like a mine-blast,
followed by a sudden belch of coal-black smoke. I stare at it in a dazed way.
Then the doctor says: "Don't trouble to analyze your sensations.
Better get off. You're only drawing their fire."
Here is one of my experiences:
That boy I took in the car last night,
With the body that awfully sagged away,
And the lips blood-crisped, and the eyes flame-bright,
And the poor hands folded and cold as clay --
Oh, I've thought and I've thought of him all the day.
For the weary old doctor says to me:
"He'll only last for an hour or so.
Both of his legs below the knee
Blown off by a bomb. . . . So, lad, go slow,
And please remember, he doesn't know."
So I tried to drive with never a jar;
And there was I cursing the road like mad,
When I hears a ghost of a voice from the car:
"Tell me, old chap, have I `copped it' bad?"
So I answers "No," and he says, "I'm glad."
"Glad," says he, "for at twenty-two
Life's so splendid, I hate to go.
There's so much good that a chap might do,
And I've fought from the start and I've suffered so.
'Twould be hard to get knocked out now, you know."
"Forget it," says I; then I drove awhile,
And I passed him a cheery word or two;
But he didn't answer for many a mile,
So just as the hospital hove in view,
Says I: "Is there nothing that I can do?"
Then he opens his eyes and he smiles at me;
And he takes my hand in his trembling hold;
"Thank you -- you're far too kind," says he:
"I'm awfully comfy -- stay . . . let's see:
I fancy my blanket's come unrolled --
My ~feet~, please wrap 'em -- they're cold . . . they're cold."
There is a city that glitters on the plain. Afar off we can see
its tall cathedral spire, and there we often take our wounded
from the little village hospitals to the rail-head. Tragic little buildings,
these emergency hospitals -- town-halls, churches, schools;
their cots are never empty, their surgeons never still.
So every day we get our list of cases and off we go, a long line of cars
swishing through the mud. Then one by one we branch off
to our village hospital, puzzling out the road on our maps.
Arrived there, we load up quickly.
The wounded make no moan. They lie, limp, heavily bandaged,
with bare legs and arms protruding from their blankets.
They do not know where they are going; they do not care.
Like live stock, they are labeled and numbered. An orderly brings along
their battle-scarred equipment, throwing open their rifles
to see that no charge remains. Sometimes they shake our hands
and thank us for the drive.
In the streets of the city I see French soldiers wearing the ~fourragere~.
It is a cord of green, yellow or red, and corresponds to
the ~Croix de Guerre~, the ~Me/daille militaire~ and the Legion of Honor.
The red is the highest of all, and has been granted only to
one or two regiments. This incident was told to me by a man who saw it:
The Blood-Red ~Fourragere~
What was the blackest sight to me
Of all that campaign?
~A naked woman tied to a tree
With jagged holes where her breasts should be,
Rotting there in the rain.~
On we pressed to the battle fray,
Dogged and dour and spent.
Sudden I heard my Captain say:
"~Voila\!~ Kultur has passed this way,
And left us a monument."
So I looked and I saw our Colonel there,
And his grand head, snowed with the years,
Unto the beat of the rain was bare;
And, oh, there was grief in his frozen stare,
And his cheeks were stung with tears!
Then at last he turned from the woeful tree,
And his face like stone was set;
"Go, march the Regiment past," said he,
"That every father and son may see,
And none may ever forget."
Oh, the crimson strands of her hair downpoured
Over her breasts of woe;
And our grim old Colonel leaned on his sword,
And the men filed past with their rifles lowered,
Solemn and sad and slow.
But I'll never forget till the day I die,
As I stood in the driving rain,
And the jaded columns of men slouched by,
How amazement leapt into every eye,
Then fury and grief and pain.
And some would like madmen stand aghast,
With their hands upclenched to the sky;
And some would cross themselves as they passed,
And some would curse in a scalding blast,
And some like children cry.
Yea, some would be sobbing, and some would pray,
And some hurl hateful names;
But the best had never a word to say;
They turned their twitching faces away,
And their eyes were like hot flames.
They passed; then down on his bended knee
The Colonel dropped to the Dead:
"Poor martyred daughter of France!" said he,
"O dearly, dearly avenged you'll be
Or ever a day be sped!"
Now they hold that we are the best of the best,
And each of our men may wear,
Like a gash of crimson across his chest,
As one fierce-proved in the battle-test,
The blood-red ~Fourragere~.
For each as he leaps to the top can see,
Like an etching of blood on his brain,
A wife or a mother lashed to a tree,
With two black holes where her breasts should be,
Left to rot in the rain.
So we fight like fiends, and of us they say
That we neither yield nor spare.
Oh, we have the bitterest debt to pay. . . .
Have we paid it? -- Look -- how we wear to-day
Like a trophy, gallant and proud and gay,
Our blood-red ~Fourragere~.
It is often weary waiting at the little ~poste de secours~. Some of us
play solitaire, some read a "sixpenny", some doze or try to talk in bad French
to the ~poilus~. Around us is discomfort, dirt and drama.
For my part, I pass the time only too quickly, trying to put into verse
the incidents and ideas that come my way. In this way I hope to collect
quite a lot of stuff which may some day see itself in print.
Here is one of my efforts:
Never knew Jim, did you? Our boy Jim?
Bless you, there was the likely lad;
Supple and straight and long of limb,
Clean as a whistle, and just as glad.
Always laughing, wasn't he, dad?
Joy, pure joy to the heart of him,
And, oh, but the soothering ways he had,
Jim, our Jim!
But I see him best as a tiny tot,
A bonny babe, though it's me that speaks;
Laughing there in his little cot,
With his sunny hair and his apple cheeks.
And my! but the blue, blue eyes he'd got,
And just where his wee mouth dimpled dim
Such a fairy mark like a beauty spot --
That was Jim.
Oh, the war, the war! How my eyes were wet!
But he says: "Don't be sorrowing, mother dear;
You never knew me to fail you yet,
And I'll be back in a year, a year."
'Twas at Mons he fell, in the first attack;
For so they said, and their eyes were dim;
But I laughed in their faces: "He'll come back,
Will my Jim."
Now, we'd been wedded for twenty year,
And Jim was the only one we'd had;
So when I whispered in father's ear,
He wouldn't believe me -- would you, dad?
There! I must hurry . . . hear him cry?
My new little baby. . . . See! that's him.
What are we going to call him? Why,
Jim, just Jim.
Jim! For look at him laughing there
In the same old way in his tiny cot,
With his rosy cheeks and his sunny hair,
And look, just look . . . his beauty spot
In the selfsame place. . . . Oh, I can't explain,
And of course you think it's a mother's whim,
But I know, I know it's my boy again,
Same wee Jim.
Just come back as he said he would;
Come with his love and his heart of glee.
Oh, I cried and I cried, but the Lord was good;
From the shadow of Death he set Jim free.
So I'll have him all over again, you see.
Can you wonder my mother-heart's a-brim?
Oh, how happy we're going to be!
Aren't we, Jim?
The road lies amid a malevolent heath. It seems to lead us
right into the clutch of the enemy; for the star-shells,
that at first were bursting overhead, gradually encircle us.
The fields are strangely sinister; the splintered trees
are like giant toothpicks. There is a lisping and a twanging overhead.
As we wait at the door of the dugout that serves as a first-aid
dressing station, I gaze up into that mysterious dark,
so alive with musical vibrations. Then a small shadow detaches itself
from the greater shadow, and a gray-bearded sentry says to me:
"You'd better come in out of the bullets."
So I keep under cover, and presently they bring my load. Two men
drip with sweat as they carry their comrade. I can see that they all three
belong to the Foreign Legion. I think for a moment of Saxon Dane.
How strange if some day I should carry him! Half fearfully
I look at my passenger, but he is a black man. Such things only happen
This is what I have written of the finest troops in the Army of France:
Kelly of the Legion
Now Kelly was no fighter;
He loved his pipe and glass;
An easygoing blighter,
Who lived in Montparnasse.
But 'mid the tavern tattle
He heard some guinney say:
"When France goes forth to battle,
The Legion leads the way.
~"The scourings of creation,
Of every sin and station,
The men who've known damnation,
Are picked to lead the way."~
Well, Kelly joined the Legion;
They marched him day and night;
They rushed him to the region
Where largest loomed the fight.
"Behold your mighty mission,
Your destiny," said they;
"By glorious tradition
The Legion leads the way.
~"With tattered banners flying
With trail of dead and dying,
On! On! All hell defying,
The Legion sweeps the way."~
With grim, hard-bitten faces,
With jests of savage mirth,
They swept into their places,
The men of iron worth;
Their blooded steel was flashing;
They swung to face the fray;
Then rushing, roaring, crashing,
The Legion cleared the way.
~The trail they blazed was gory;
Few lived to tell the story;
Through death they plunged to glory;
But, oh, they cleared the way!~
Now Kelly lay a-dying,
And dimly saw advance,
With split new banners flying,
The ~fantassins~ of France.
Then up amid the ~melee~
He rose from where he lay;
"Come on, me boys," says Kelly,
"The Layjun lades the way!"
~Aye, while they faltered, doubting
(Such flames of doom were spouting),
He caught them, thrilled them, shouting:
"The Layjun lades the way!"~
They saw him slip and stumble,
Then stagger on once more;
They marked him trip and tumble,
A mass of grime and gore;
They watched him blindly crawling
Amid hell's own affray,
And calling, calling, calling:
"The Layjun lades the way!"
~And even while they wondered,
The battle-wrack was sundered;
To Victory they thundered,
But . . . Kelly led the way.~
Still Kelly kept agoing;
Berserker-like he ran;
His eyes with fury glowing,
A lion of a man;
His rifle madly swinging,
His soul athirst to slay,
His slogan ringing, ringing,
"The Layjun lades the way!"
~Till in a pit death-baited,
Where Huns with Maxims waited,
He plunged . . . and there, blood-sated,
To death he stabbed his way.~
Now Kelly was a fellow
Who simply loathed a fight:
He loved a tavern mellow,
Grog hot and pipe alight;
I'm sure the Show appalled him,
And yet without dismay,
When Death and Duty called him,
He up and led the way.
~So in Valhalla drinking
(If heroes meek and shrinking
Are suffered there), I'm thinking
'Tis Kelly leads the way.~
We have just had one of our men killed, a young sculptor of immense promise.
When one thinks of all the fine work he might have accomplished,
it seems a shame. But, after all, to-morrow it may be the turn of any of us.
If it should be mine, my chief regret will be for work undone.
Ah! I often think of how I will go back to the Quarter
and take up the old life again. How sweet it will all seem.
But first I must earn the right. And if ever I do go back,
how I will find Bohemia changed! Missing how many a face!
It was in thinking of our lost comrade I wrote the following:
The Three Tommies
That Barret, the painter of pictures, what feeling for color he had!
And Fanning, the maker of music, such melodies mirthful and mad!
And Harley, the writer of stories, so whimsical, tender and glad!
To hark to their talk in the trenches, high heart unfolding to heart,
Of the day when the war would be over, and each would be true to his part,
Upbuilding a Palace of Beauty to the wonder and glory of Art . . .
Yon's Barret, the painter of pictures, yon carcass that rots on the wire;
His hand with its sensitive cunning is crisped to a cinder with fire;
His eyes with their magical vision are bubbles of glutinous mire.
Poor Fanning! He sought to discover the symphonic note of a shell;
There are bits of him broken and bloody, to show you the place where he fell;
I've reason to fear on his exquisite ear the rats have been banqueting well.
And speaking of Harley, the writer, I fancy I looked on him last,
Sprawling and staring and writhing in the roar of the battle blast;
Then a mad gun-team crashed over, and scattered his brains as it passed.
Oh, Harley and Fanning and Barret, they were bloody good mates o' mine;
Their bodies are empty bottles; Death has guzzled the wine;
What's left of them's filth and corruption. . . . Where is the Fire Divine?
I'll tell you. . . . At night in the trenches, as I watch and I do my part,
Three radiant spirits I'm seeing, high heart revealing to heart,
And they're building a peerless palace to the splendor and triumph of Art.
Yet, alas! for the fame of Barret, the glory he might have trailed!
And alas! for the name of Fanning, a star that beaconed and paled,
Poor Harley, obscure and forgotten. . . .
Well, who shall say that they failed!
No, each did a Something Grander than ever he dreamed to do;
And as for the work unfinished, all will be paid their due;
The broken ends will be fitted, the balance struck will be true.
So painters, and players, and penmen, I tell you: Do as you please;
Let your fame outleap on the trumpets, you'll never rise up to these --
To three grim and gory Tommies, down, down on your bended knees!
Daventry, the sculptor, is buried in a little graveyard near one of our posts.
Just now our section of the line is quiet, so I often go and sit there.
Stretching myself on a flat stone, I dream for hours.
Silence and solitude! How good the peace of it all seems!
Around me the grasses weave a pattern, and half hide
the hundreds of little wooden crosses. Here is one with a single name:
Who was Aubrey I wonder? Then another:
~To Our Beloved Comrade.~
Then one which has attached to it, in the cheapest of little frames,
the crude water-color daub of a child, three purple flowers
standing in a yellow vase. Below it, painfully printed, I read:
~To My Darling Papa -- Thy Little Odette.~
And beyond the crosses many fresh graves have been dug.
With hungry open mouths they wait. Even now I can hear the guns
that are going to feed them. Soon there will be more crosses,
and more and more. Then they will cease, and wives and mothers
will come here to weep.
Ah! Peace so precious must be bought with blood and tears.
Let us honor and bless the men who pay, and envy them
the manner of their dying; for not all the jeweled orders
on the breasts of the living can vie in glory with the little wooden cross
the humblest of these has won. . . .
The Twa Jocks
Says Bauldy MacGreegor frae Gleska tae Hecky MacCrimmon frae Skye:
"That's whit I hate maist aboot fechtin' -- it makes ye sae deevilish dry;
Noo jist hae a keek at yon ferm-hoose them Gairmans are poundin' sae fine,
Weel, think o' it, doon in the dunnie there's bottles and bottles o' wine.
A' hell's fairly belchin' oot yonner, but oh, lad, I'm ettlin' tae try. . . ."
~"If it's poose she'll be with ye whateffer,"
says Hecky MacCrimmon frae Skye.~
Says Bauldy MacGreegor frae Gleska: "Whit price fur a funeral wreath?
We're dodgin' a' kinds o' destruction, an' jist by the skin o' oor teeth.
Here, spread yersel oot on yer belly, and slither along in the glaur;
Confoond ye, ye big Hielan' deevil! Ye don't realize there's a war.
Ye think that ye're back in Dunvegan, and herdin' the wee bits o' kye."
~"She'll neffer trink wine in Dunfegan," says Hecky MacCrimmon frae Skye.~
Says Bauldy MacGreegor frae Gleska: "Thank goodness! the ferm-hoose at last;
There's no muckle left but the cellar, an' even that's vanishin' fast.
Look oot, there's the corpse o' a wumman, sair mangelt and deid by her lane.
Quick! Strike a match. . . . Whit did I tell ye!
A hale bonny box o' shampane;
Jist knock the heid aff o' a bottle. . . .
Haud on, mon, I'm hearing a cry. . . ."
~"She'll think it's a wean that wass greetin',"
says Hecky MacCrimmon frae Skye.~
Says Bauldy MacGreegor frae Gleska:
"Ma conscience! I'm hanged but yer richt.
It's yin o' thae waifs of the war-field, a' sobbin' and shakin' wi' fricht.
Wheesht noo, dear, we're no gaun tae hurt ye.
We're takin' ye hame, my wee doo!
We've got tae get back wi' her, Hecky. Whit mercy we didna get fou!
We'll no touch a drap o' that likker --
that's hard, man, ye canna deny. . . ."
~"It's the last thing she'll think o' denyin',"
says Hecky MacCrimmon frae Skye.~
Says Bauldy MacGreegor frae Gleska: "If I should get struck frae the rear,
Ye'll tak' and ye'll shield the wee lassie, and rin for the lines like a deer.
God! Wis that the breenge o' a bullet? I'm thinkin' it's cracket ma spine.
I'm doon on ma knees in the glabber; I'm fearin', auld man, I've got mine.
Here, quick! Pit yer erms roon the lassie.
Noo, rin, lad! good luck and good-by. . . .
~"Hoots, mon! it's ye baith she'll be takin',"
says Hecky MacCrimmon frae Skye.~
Says Corporal Muckle frae Rannoch: "Is that no' a picture tae frame?
Twa sair woundit Jocks wi' a lassie jist like ma wee Jeannie at hame.
We're prood o' ye baith, ma brave heroes. We'll gie ye a medal, I think."
Says Bauldy MacGreegor frae Gleska: "I'd raither ye gied me a drink.
I'll no speak for Private MacCrimmon, but oh, mon, I'm perishin' dry. . . ."
~"She'll wush that Loch Lefen wass whuskey," says Hecky MacCrimmon frae Skye.~
Over the spine of the ridge a horned moon of reddish hue
peers through the splintered, hag-like trees. Where the trenches are,
rockets are rising, green and red. I hear the coughing of the Maxims,
the peevish nagging of the rifles, the boom of a "heavy"
and the hollow sound of its exploding shell.
Running the car into the shadow of a ruined house, I try to sleep.
But a battery starts to blaze away close by, and the flame
lights up my shelter. Near me some soldiers are in deep slumber;
one stirs in his sleep as a big rat runs over him, and I know by experience
that when one is sleeping a rat feels as heavy as a sheep.
But how ~can~ one possibly sleep? Out there in the dark
there is the wild tattoo of a thousand rifles; and hark! that dull roar
is the explosion of a mine. There! the purring of the rapid firers.
Desperate things are doing. There will be lots of work for me
before this night is over. What a cursed place!
As I cannot sleep, I think of a story I heard to-day.
It is of a Canadian Colonel, and in my mind I shape it like this:
"I'm going, Billy, old fellow. Hist, lad! Don't make any noise.
There's Boches to beat all creation, the pitch of a bomb away.
I've fixed the note to your collar, you've got to get back to my Boys,
You've got to get back to warn 'em before it's the break of day."
The order came to go forward to a trench-line traced on the map;
I knew the brass-hats had blundered, I knew and I told 'em so;
I knew if I did as they ordered I would tumble into a trap,
And I tried to explain, but the answer came like a pistol: "Go."
Then I thought of the Boys I commanded -- I always called them "my Boys" --
The men of my own recruiting, the lads of my countryside;
Tested in many a battle, I knew their sorrows and joys,
And I loved them all like a father, with more than a father's pride.
To march my Boys to a shambles as soon as the dawn of day;
To see them helplessly slaughtered, if all that I guessed was true;
My Boys that trusted me blindly, I thought and I tried to pray,
And then I arose and I muttered: "It's either them or it's you."
I rose and I donned my rain-coat; I buckled my helmet tight.
I remember you watched me, Billy, as I took my cane in my hand;
I vaulted over the sandbags into the pitchy night,
Into the pitted valley that served us as No Man's Land.
I strode out over the hollow of hate and havoc and death,
From the heights the guns were angry, with a vengeful snarling of steel;
And once in a moment of stillness I heard hard panting breath,
And I turned . . . it was you, old rascal, following hard on my heel.
I fancy I cursed you, Billy; but not so much as I ought!
And so we went forward together, till we came to the valley rim,
And then a star-shell sputtered . . . it was even worse than I thought,
For the trench they told me to move in was packed with Boche to the brim.
They saw me too, and they got me; they peppered me till I fell;
And there I scribbled my message with my life-blood ebbing away;
"Now, Billy, you fat old duffer, you've got to get back like hell;
And get them to cancel that order before it's the dawn of day.
"Billy, old boy, I love you, I kiss your shiny black nose;
Now, home there. . . . Hurry, you devil,
or I'll cut you to ribands. . . . See . . ."
Poor brute! he's off! and I'm dying. . . . I go as a soldier goes.
I'm happy. My Boys, God bless 'em! . . . It had to be them or me.
Ah! I never was intended for a job like this. I realize it more and more
every day, but I will stick it out till I break down. To be nervous,
over-imaginative, terribly sensitive to suffering, is a poor equipment
for the man who starts out to drive wounded on the battlefield. I am haunted
by the thought that my car may break down when I have a load of wounded.
Once indeed it did, and a man died while I waited for help.
Now I never look at what is given me. It might unnerve me.
I have been at it for over six months without a rest. When an attack
has been going on I have worked day and night, until as I drove
I wanted to fall asleep at the wheel.
The winter has been trying; there is rain one day, frost the next.
Mud up to the axles. One sleeps in lousy barns or dripping dugouts.
Cold, hunger, dirt, I know them all singly and together. My only consolation
is that the war must soon be over, and that I will have helped.
When I have time and am not too tired, I comfort myself with scribbling.
I'm crawlin' out in the mangolds to bury wot's left o' Joe --
Joe, my pal, and a good un (God! 'ow it rains and rains).
I'm sick o' seein' him lyin' like a 'eap o' offal, and so
I'm crawlin' out in the beet-field to bury 'is last remains.
'E might 'a bin makin' munitions -- 'e 'adn't no need to go;
An' I tells 'im strite, but 'e arnsers, "'Tain't no use chewin' the fat;
I've got to be doin' me dooty wiv the rest o' the boys" . . . an' so
Yon's 'im, yon blob on the beet-field wot I'm tryin' so 'ard to git at.
There was five of us lads from the brickyard; 'Enry was gassed at Bapome,
Sydney was drowned in a crater, 'Erbert was 'alved by a shell;
Joe was the pick o' the posy, might 'a bin sifely at 'ome,
Only son of 'is mother, 'er a widder as well.
She used to sell bobbins and buttons -- 'ad a plice near the Waterloo Road;
A little, old, bent-over lydy, wiv glasses an' silvery 'air;
Must tell 'er I planted 'im nicely,
cheer 'er up like. . . . (Well, I'm blowed,
That bullet near catched me a biffer) -- I'll see the old gel if I'm spared.
She'll tike it to 'eart, pore ol' lydy, fer 'e was 'er 'ope and 'er joy;
'Is dad used to drink like a knot-'ole, she kept the 'ome goin', she did:
She pinched and she scriped fer 'is scoolin', 'e was sich a fine 'andsome boy
('Alf Flanders seems packed on me panties) --
'e's 'andsome no longer, pore kid!
This bit o' a board that I'm packin' and draggin' around in the mire,
I was tickled to death when I found it. Says I, "'Ere's a nice little glow."
I was chilled and wet through to the marrer, so I started to make me a fire;
And then I says: "No; 'ere, Goblimy, it'll do for a cross for Joe."
Well, 'ere 'e is. Gawd! 'Ow one chinges a-lyin' six weeks in the rain.
Joe, me old pal, 'ow I'm sorry; so 'elp me, I wish I could pray.
An' now I 'ad best get a-diggin' 'is grave (it seems more like a drain) --
And I 'opes that the Boches won't git me till I gits 'im safe planted away.
(~As he touches the body there is a tremendous explosion.
He falls back shattered.~)
A booby-trap! Ought to 'a known it! If that's not a bastardly trick!
Well, one thing, I won't be long goin'. Gawd! I'm a 'ell of a sight.
Wish I'd died fightin' and killin'; that's wot it is makes me sick. . . .
Ah, Joe! we'll be pushin' up dysies . . .
together, old Chummie . . . good-night!
To-day I heard that MacBean had been killed in Belgium.
I believe he turned out a wonderful soldier. Saxon Dane, too,
has been missing for two months. We know what that means.
It is odd how one gets callous to death, a mediaeval callousness.
When we hear that the best of our friends have gone West,
we have a moment of the keenest regret; but how soon again
we find the heart to laugh! The saddest part of loss, I think,
is that one so soon gets over it.
Is it that we fail to realize it all? Is it that it seems
a strange and hideous dream, from which we will awake and rub our eyes?
Oh, how bitter I feel as the days go by! It is creeping more and more
into my verse. Read this:
I wonder 'oo and wot 'e was,
That 'Un I got so slick.
I couldn't see 'is face because
The night was 'ideous thick.
I just made out among the black
A blinkin' wedge o' white;
Then ~biff!~ I guess I got 'im ~crack~ --
The man I killed last night.
I wonder if account o' me
Some wench will go unwed,
And 'eaps o' lives will never be,
Because 'e's stark and dead?
Or if 'is missis damns the war,
And by some candle light,
Tow-headed kids are prayin' for
The Fritz I copped last night.
I wonder, 'struth, I wonder why
I 'ad that 'orful dream?
I saw up in the giddy sky
The gates o' God agleam;
I saw the gates o' 'eaven shine
Wiv everlastin' light:
And then . . . I knew that I'd got mine,
As 'e got 'is last night.
Aye, bang beyond the broodin' mists
Where spawn the mother stars,
I 'ammered wiv me bloody fists
Upon them golden bars;
I 'ammered till a devil's doubt
Fair froze me wiv affright:
To fink wot God would say about
The bloke I corpsed last night.
I 'ushed; I wilted wiv despair,
When, like a rosy flame,
I sees a angel standin' there
'Oo calls me by me name.
'E 'ad such soft, such shiny eyes;
'E 'eld 'is 'and and smiled;
And through the gates o' Paradise
'E led me like a child.
'E led me by them golden palms
Wot 'ems that jeweled street;
And seraphs was a-singin' psalms,
You've no ideer 'ow sweet;
Wiv cheroobs crowdin' closer round
Than peas is in a pod,
'E led me to a shiny mound
Where beams the throne o' God.
And then I 'ears God's werry voice:
"Bill 'agan, 'ave no fear.
Stand up and glory and rejoice
For 'im 'oo led you 'ere."
And in a nip I seemed to see:
Aye, like a flash o' light,
~My angel pal I knew to be
The chap I plugged last night.~
Now, I don't claim to understand --
They calls me Bonehead Bill;
They shoves a rifle in me 'and,
And show me 'ow to kill.
Me job's to risk me life and limb,
But . . . be it wrong or right,
This cross I'm makin', it's for 'im,
The cove I croaked last night.
A Lapse of Time and a Word of Explanation
The American Hospital, Neuilly,
Four years have passed and it is winter again. Much has happened.
When I last wrote, on the Somme in 1915, I was sickening with typhoid fever.
All that spring I was in hospital.
Nevertheless, I was sufficiently recovered to take part
in the Champagne battle in the fall of that year, and to "carry on"
during the following winter. It was at Verdun I got my first wound.
In the spring of 1917 I again served with my Corps; but on the entry
of the United States into the War I joined the army of my country.
In the Argonne I had my left arm shot away.
As far as time and health permitted, I kept a record of these years,
and also wrote much verse. All this, however, has disappeared
under circumstances into which there is no need to enter here.
The loss was a cruel one, almost more so than that of my arm;
for I have neither the heart nor the power to rewrite this material.
And now, in default of something better, I have bundled together
this manuscript, and have added to it a few more verses, written in hospitals.
Let it represent me. If I can find a publisher for it, ~tant mieux~.
If not, I will print it at my own cost, and any one who cares for a copy
can write to me --
12 ~bis~, Rue des Petits Moineaux,
"There's something in your face, Michael, I've seen it all the day;
There's something quare that wasn't there when first ye wint away. . . ."
"It's just the Army life, mother, the drill, the left and right,
That puts the stiffinin' in yer spine and locks yer jaw up tight. . . ."
"There's something in your eyes, Michael, an' how they stare and stare --
You're lookin' at me now, me boy, as if I wasn't there. . . ."
"It's just the things I've seen, mother, the sights that come and come,
A bit o' broken, bloody pulp that used to be a chum. . . ."
"There's something on your heart, Michael, that makes ye wake at night,
And often when I hear ye moan, I trimble in me fright. . . ."
"It's just a man I killed, mother, a mother's son like me;
It seems he's always hauntin' me, he'll never let me be. . . ."
"But maybe he was bad, Michael, maybe it was right
To kill the inimy you hate in fair and honest fight. . . ."
"I did not hate at all, mother; he never did me harm;
I think he was a lad like me, who worked upon a farm. . . ."
"And what's it all about, Michael; why did you have to go,
A quiet, peaceful lad like you, and we were happy so? . . ."
"It's thim that's up above, mother, it's thim that sits an' rules;
We've got to fight the wars they make, it's us as are the fools. . . ."
"And what will be the end, Michael, and what's the use, I say,
Of fightin' if whoever wins it's us that's got to pay? . . ."
"Oh, it will be the end, mother, when lads like him and me,
That sweat to feed the ones above, decide that we'll be free. . . ."
"And when will that day come, Michael, and when will fightin' cease,
And simple folks may till their soil and live and love in peace? . . ."
"It's coming soon and soon, mother, it's nearer every day,
When only men who work and sweat will have a word to say;
When all who earn their honest bread in every land and soil
Will claim the Brotherhood of Man, the Comradeship of Toil;
When we, the Workers, all demand: `What are we fighting for?' . . .
Then, then we'll end that stupid crime, that devil's madness -- War."
"Tell Annie I'll be home in time
To help her with her Christmas-tree."
That's what he wrote, and hark! the chime
Of Christmas bells, and where is he?
And how the house is dark and sad,
And Annie's sobbing on my knee!
The page beside the candle-flame
With cruel type was overfilled;
I read and read until a name
Leapt at me and my heart was stilled:
My eye crept up the column -- up
Unto its hateful heading: ~Killed~.
And there was Annie on the stair:
"And will he not be long?" she said.
Her eyes were bright and in her hair
She'd twined a bit of riband red;
And every step was daddy's sure,
Till tired out she went to bed.
And there alone I sat so still,
With staring eyes that did not see;
The room was desolate and chill,
And desolate the heart of me;
Outside I heard the news-boys shrill:
"Another Glorious Victory!"
A victory. . . . Ah! what care I?
A thousand victories are vain.
Here in my ruined home I cry
From out my black despair and pain,
I'd rather, rather damned defeat,
And have my man with me again.
They talk to us of pride and power,
Of Empire vast beyond the sea;
As here beside my hearth I cower,
What mean such words as these to me?
Oh, will they lift the clouds that low'r,
Or light my load in years to be?
What matters it to us poor folk?
Who win or lose, it's we who pay.
Oh, I would laugh beneath the yoke
If I had ~him~ at home to-day;
One's home before one's country comes:
Aye, so a million women say.
"Hush, Annie dear, don't sorrow so."
(How can I tell her?) "See, we'll light
With tiny star of purest glow
Each little candle pink and white."
(They make mistakes. I'll tell myself
I did not read that name aright.)
Come, dearest one; come, let us pray
Beside our gleaming Christmas-tree;
Just fold your little hands and say
These words so softly after me:
"God pity mothers in distress,
And little children fatherless."
~"God pity mothers in distress,
And little children fatherless."~
. . . . .
What's that? -- a step upon the stair;
A shout! -- the door thrown open wide!
My hero and my man is there,
And Annie's leaping by his side. . . .
The room reels round, I faint, I fall. . . .
"O God! Thy world is glorified."
What d'ye think, lad; what d'ye think,
As the roaring crowds go by?
As the banners flare and the brasses blare
And the great guns rend the sky?
As the women laugh like they'd all gone mad,
And the champagne glasses clink:
Oh, you're grippin' me hand so tightly, lad,
I'm a-wonderin': what d'ye think?
D'ye think o' the boys we used to know,
And how they'd have topped the fun?
Tom and Charlie, and Jack and Joe --
Gone now, every one.
How they'd have cheered as the joy-bells chime,
And they grabbed each girl for a kiss!
And now -- they're rottin' in Flanders slime,
And they gave their lives -- for ~this~.
Or else d'ye think of the many a time
We wished we too was dead,
Up to our knees in the freezin' grime,
With the fires of hell overhead;
When the youth and the strength of us sapped away,
And we cursed in our rage and pain?
And yet -- we haven't a word to say. . . .
We're glad. We'd do it again.
I'm scared that they pity us. Come, old boy,
Let's leave them their flags and their fuss.
We'd surely be hatin' to spoil their joy
With the sight of such wrecks as us.
Let's slip away quietly, you and me,
And we'll talk of our chums out there:
~You with your eyes that'll never see,
Me that's wheeled in a chair.~
Was It You?
"Hullo, young Jones! with your tie so gay
And your pen behind your ear;
Will you mark my cheque in the usual way?
For I'm overdrawn, I fear."
Then you look at me in a manner bland,
As you turn your ledger's leaves,
And you hand it back with a soft white hand,
And the air of a man who grieves. . . .
~"Was it you, young Jones, was it you I saw
(And I think I see you yet)
With a live bomb gripped in your grimy paw
And your face to the parapet?
With your lips asnarl and your eyes gone mad
With a fury that thrilled you through. . . .
Oh, I look at you now and I think, my lad,
Was it you, young Jones, was it you?~
"Hullo, young Smith, with your well-fed look
And your coat of dapper fit,
Will you recommend me a decent book
With nothing of War in it?"
Then you smile as you polish a finger-nail,
And your eyes serenely roam,
And you suavely hand me a thrilling tale
By a man who stayed at home.
~"Was it you, young Smith, was it you I saw
In the battle's storm and stench,
With a roar of rage and a wound red-raw
Leap into the reeking trench?
As you stood like a fiend on the firing-shelf
And you stabbed and hacked and slew. . . .
Oh, I look at you and I ask myself,
Was it you, young Smith, was it you?~
"Hullo, old Brown, with your ruddy cheek
And your tummy's rounded swell,
Your garden's looking jolly ~chic~
And your kiddies awf'ly well.
Then you beam at me in your cheery way
As you swing your water-can;
And you mop your brow and you blithely say:
`What about golf, old man?'
~"Was it you, old Brown, was it you I saw
Like a bull-dog stick to your gun,
A cursing devil of fang and claw
When the rest were on the run?
Your eyes aflame with the battle-hate. . . .
As you sit in the family pew,
And I see you rising to pass the plate,
I ask: Old Brown, was it you?~
"Was it me and you? Was it you and me?
(Is that grammar, or is it not?)
Who groveled in filth and misery,
Who gloried and groused and fought?
Which is the wrong and which is the right?
Which is the false and the true?
The man of peace or the man of fight?
Which is the ME and the YOU?"
~Les Grands Mutiles~
~I saw three wounded of the war:
And the first had lost his eyes;
And the second went on wheels and had
No legs below the thighs;
And the face of the third was featureless,
And his mouth ran cornerwise.
So I made a rhyme about each one,
And this is how my fancies run.~
The Sightless Man
Out of the night a crash,
A roar, a rampart of light;
A flame that leaped like a lash,
Searing forever my sight;
Out of the night a flash,
Then, oh, forever the Night!
Here in the dark I sit,
I who so loved the sun;
Supple and strong and fit,
In the dark till my days be done;
Aye, that's the hell of it,
Stalwart and twenty-one.
Marie is stanch and true,
Willing to be my wife;
Swears she has eyes for two . . .
Aye, but it's long, is Life.
What is a lad to do
With his heart and his brain at strife?
There now, my pipe is out;
No one to give me a light;
I grope and I grope about.
Well, it is nearly night;
Sleep may resolve my doubt,
Help me to reason right. . . .
(~He sleeps and dreams.~)
I heard them whispering there by the bed . . .
Oh, but the ears of the blind are quick!
Every treacherous word they said
Was a stab of pain and my heart turned sick.
Then lip met lip and they looked at me,
Sitting bent by the fallen fire,
And they laughed to think that I couldn't see;
But I felt the flame of their hot desire.
He's helping Marie to work the farm,
A dashing, upstanding chap, they say;
And look at me with my flabby arm,
And the fat of sloth, and my face of clay --
Look at me as I sit and sit,
By the side of a fire that's seldom lit,
Sagging and weary the livelong day,
When every one else is out on the field,
Sowing the seed for a golden yield,
Or tossing around the new-mown hay. . . .
Oh, the shimmering wheat that frets the sky,
Gold of plenty and blue of hope,
I'm seeing it all with an inner eye
As out of the door I grope and grope.
And I hear my wife and her lover there,
Whispering, whispering, round the rick,
Mocking me and my sightless stare,
As I fumble and stumble everywhere,
Slapping and tapping with my stick;
Old and weary at thirty-one,
Heartsick, wishing it all was done.
Oh, I'll tap my way around to the byre,
And I'll hear the cows as they chew their hay;
There at least there is none to tire,
There at least I am not in the way.
And they'll look at me with their velvet eyes
And I'll stroke their flanks with my woman's hand,
And they'll answer to me with soft replies,
And somehow I fancy they'll understand.
And the horses too, they know me well;
I'm sure that they pity my wretched lot,
And the big fat ram with the jingling bell . . .
Oh, the beasts are the only friends I've got.
And my old dog, too, he loves me more,
I think, than ever he did before.
Thank God for the beasts that are all so kind,
That know and pity the helpless blind!
Ha! they're coming, the loving pair.
My hand's a-shake as my pipe I fill.
What if I steal on them unaware
With a reaping-hook, to kill, to kill? . . .
I'll do it . . . they're there in the mow of hay,
I hear them saying: "He's out of the way!"
Hark! how they're kissing and whispering. . . .
Closer I creep . . . I crouch . . . I spring. . . .
Ugh! What a horrible dream I've had!
And it isn't real . . . I'm glad, I'm glad!
Marie is good and Marie is true . . .
But now I know what it's best to do.
I'll sell the farm and I'll seek my kind,
I'll live apart with my fellow-blind,
And we'll eat and drink, and we'll laugh and joke,
And we'll talk of our battles, and smoke and smoke;
And brushes of bristle we'll make for sale,
While one of us reads a book of Braille.
And there will be music and dancing too,
And we'll seek to fashion our life anew;
And we'll walk the highways hand in hand,
The Brotherhood of the Sightless Band;
Till the years at last shall bring respite
And our night is lost in the Greater Night.
The Legless Man
(~The Dark Side~)
~My mind goes back to Fumin Wood, and how we stuck it out,
Eight days of hunger, thirst and cold, mowed down by steel and flame;
Waist-deep in mud and mad with woe, with dead men all about,
We fought like fiends and waited for relief that never came.
Eight days and nights they rolled on us in battle-frenzied mass!
"Debout les morts!" We hurled them back. By God! they did not pass.~
They pinned two medals on my chest, a yellow and a brown,
And lovely ladies made me blush, such pretty words they said.
I felt a cheerful man, almost, until my eyes went down,
And there I saw the blankets -- how they sagged upon my bed.
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