The Great War

from November: Poems in War Time, an electronic edition

November
Five Preludes

I

UP dripping from the sea

Her weeds all watery,

She dashed against the windows as she came

The fringy hem of her wet

Cloak, and set

Me shivering closer to the genial flame.

Bleak was her face, turned westward from the grey

Uncompromising dawn of a grim day,

As though she would not countenance

Even his ungracious greeting!

O, when she turned her back on all romance

And left, so long ago, the East behind her,

Her heart of hope already had stopped beating.

Grey woman, going by my door.

There's nothing can remind her

Of colour any more!

II

O BUT a wood on a November day!--

Do you know the thing I say?

Do you see the russet bracken

That the sunlight lies among?--

See the shafts of brass among the dreamy grey

Pillars, where the low sun strikes, flashing?

Above the cold still under-air

In the morning, pale above you,

Can you hear the north-wind passing

Over with his wingy flight?

Can you feel the quiet glee

Of the world's untroubled heart?--

Summer's dead, the bracken's dead:

In the earth the trees have buried

Safely with their sap their treasure:

All for wrestling, all for mirth,

They stand ready.

Do you see how glad and gay

Is the Earth with all her trees?

How they welcome in the season

Rude and gruff ? How they give

Themselves to the November

Day, and to the rough

Hands of winter?--

They have humour to enjoy

The changing moods of time:

To smile with the cold light and say

"I take you, too, November!"

III

HOW lovelily the larches bear their dead

And the young oaks carry their widow- weeds !

Gladder than Spring it is to see their glory

When the air is cold above the snow.

I say it's a glad thing to see that tall young larch

Standing all maiden-stately in gold apparel

To welcome him who now shall strip her bare.

Or yon, her sister, lovelier in thinner gossamer,

As it were sunny gleaming dew-drops veiling

her:

And to know Winter laments naught but hath his own pure splendour.

Winter!--when you stand here amid the wood,

There's some sublime gladness that summer could not tell

Comes forth to praise you! Among these comrades

I hear another mightier word of freedom spoken.

They weep, but not corrosive tears.

They let grief go, it also frees them.

Stedfast, evading naught, from life they withhold nothing.

Even their grief is presently a toy

For the spirit of young laughter.

IV

WHEN joy escapes me, it is not this sin or that I have committed, but, longing after some unattained delight, I have forgotten my Divine Companion.

Numb to His touch, what can I know of joy? It is only in His presence that my spirit ventures forth from its shadowy lair:--only responding to His touch my spirit ventures.

But I forget, and unaccountably my busy day is empty: meaningless seem the dear greetings of my friends.

In His love is my meaning: vainly I seek my self elsewhere !--I have outgrown my mind and body. My spirit is no more at home except in His companionship.

There only, is health for me, purpose and happiness. But I forget: I recognise Him not: I am no longer part of His delight, but my own burden: my body and soul heavy with a forgetfulness that cuts me off from knowing Him at hand: that, looking in His face, is still alone, and lying in His bosom, desolate.

V

IF we withheld thee not, O thou divine delight,

Thou radiance, whom we hide in our un- happiness,

Our days would shine like gold thread in the woof of night.

And God would take their labour for his comely dress.

O thou divine delight, did we withhold thee never

But dared with every breath to give thee utterance,

Fear would have lost his foothold on the earth for ever.

All of it caught again into the starry dance.

Aloof from thee, the oppressor holds himself, a stranger;

The unjust shelters him from thee with shields of scorn:

Mightest thou but rejoice in these, thou wouldst endanger

The last withholding thrones that keep thee yet unborn.

Thou art not childish glee, nor gladness only art thou:

Thou art Creative Power whom we have disobeyed :

Thou art the pulse of God within us here and now:

'Tis not of Death--of thee O life, we are afraid.