A treasury of war poetry, British and American poems of the world war, 1914-1919/Belgium
ORACE that Cæsar knew,
That won stern Roman praise,
What land not envies you
The laurel of these days?
You built your cities rich
Around each towered hall,—
Without, the statued niche
Within, the pictured wall.
Your ship-thronged wharves, your marts
With gorgeous Venice vied.
Peace and her famous arts
Were yours: though tide on tide
Of Europe's battle scourged
Black field and reddened soil,
From blood and smoke emerged
Peace and her fruitful toil.
Yet when the challenge rang,
"The War-Lord comes; give room!"
Fearless to arms you sprang
Against the odds of doom.
Like your own Damien
Who sought that leper's isle
To die a simple man
For men with tranquil smile.
So strong in faith you dared
Defy the giant, scorn
Ignobly to be spared,
Though trampled, spoiled, and torn.
And in your faith arose
And smote, and smote again,
Till those astonished foes
Reeled from their mounds of slain.
The faith that the free soul,
Untaught by force to quail,
Through fire and dirge and dole
Prevails and shall prevail.
Still for your frontier stands
The host that knew no dread,
Your little, stubborn land's
Nameless, immortal dead.
NOT with her ruined silver spires,
Not with her cities shamed and rent,
Perish the imperishable fires
That shape the homestead from the tent.
Wherever men are staunch and free,
There shall she keep her fearless state,
And homeless, to great nations be
The home of all that makes them great.
GONE is the spire that slept for centuries,
Whose image in the water, calm, and low
Was mingled with the lilies green and snow,
And lost itself in river mysteries.
The church lies broken near the fallen spire;
For here, among these old and human things,
Death swept along the street with feet of fire,
And went upon his way with moaning wings.
Above the cluster of these homes forlorn,
Where giant fleeces of the shells are rolled,
O'er pavements by the kneeling herdsmen worn,
The wounded saints look out to see their fold.
And silence follows fast, no evening peace,
But leaden stillness, when the thunder wanes,
Haunting the slender branches of the trees,
And settling low upon the listless plains.
[Lines dedicated to one of her priests, by whose words they were prompted.]
[Reprinted by permission of the Proprietors of Punch.]
LAND of the desolate, Mother of tears,
Weeping your beauty marred and torn,
Your children tossed upon the spears,
Your altars rent, your hearths forlorn,
Where Spring has no renewing spell,
And Love no language save a long Farewell!
Ah, precious tears, and each a pearl
Whose price—for so in God we trust
Who saw them fall in that blind swirl
Of ravening flame and reeking dust—
The spoiler with his life shall pay,
When Justice at the last demands her Day.
O tried and proved, whose record stands
Lettered in blood too deep to fade,
Take courage! Never in our hands
Shall the avenging sword be stayed
Till you are healed of all your pain,
And come with Honour to your own again.
May 19, 1915.
LOW and brown barns, thatched and repatched and tattered,
Where I had seven sons until to-day,
A little hill of hay your spur has scattered. . . .
This is not Paris. You have lost the way.
You, staring at your sword to find it brittle,
Surprised at the surprise that was your plan,
Who, shaking and breaking barriers not a little,
Find never more the death-door of Sedan—
Must I for more than carnage call you claimant,
Paying you a penny for each son you slay?
Man, the whole globe in gold were no repayment
For what you have lost. And how shall I repay?
What is the price of that red spark that caught me
From a kind farm that never had a name?
What is the price of that dead man they brought me?
For other dead men do not look the same.
How should I pay for one poor graven steeple
Whereon you shattered what you shall not know?
How should I pay you, miserable people?
How should I pay you everything you owe?
Unhappy, can I give you back your honour?
Though I forgave, would any man forget?
While all the great green land has trampled on her
The treason and terror of the night we met.
Not any more in vengeance or in pardon
An old wife bargains for a bean that's hers.
You have no word to break: no heart to harden.
Ride on and prosper. You have lost your spurs.
IN that Valhalla where the heroes go
A careful sentinel paced to and fro
Before the gate, burnt black with battle smoke,
Whose echoes to the tread of armèd men awoke,
And up the fiery stairs whose steps are spears
Came the pale heroes of the bloodstained years.
There were lean Cæsars from the glory fields
With heart that only to a sword-thrust yields;
And there were Generals decked in pride of rank,
Red scabbard swinging from the weary flank;
And slender youths, who were the sons of kings,
And barons with their sixteen quarterings.
And while the nobles went with haughty air
The courteous sentinel questioned: "Who goes there?"
And as each came, full lustily he cried
His string of titles, ere he passed inside . . . .
And presently there was a little man,
A silent mover in the regal van.
His hand still grasped his rifle, and his eyes
Seemed blinded with the light from Paradise. . . .
His was a humble guise, a modest air—
The sentinel held him sharply: "Who goes there?"
There were no gauds tacked to that simple name,
But every naked blade leapt out like flame,
And every blue-blood warrior bowed his head—
"I am a Belgian," this was all he said.
Men's cheering echoed thro' the battle's Hell.
"Pass in, mon brave," said that wise sentinel.