The Great War

from A Treasury of War Poetry, an electronic edition

O Glorious France

You have become a forge of snow-white fire,

A crucible of molten steel, O France!

Your sons are stars who cluster to a dawn

And fade in light for you, O glorious France!

They pass through meteor changes with a song

Which to all islands and all continents

Says life is neither comfort, wealth, nor fame,

Nor quiet hearthstones, friendship, wife nor child,

Nor love, nor youth's delight, nor manhood's power,

Nor many days spent in a chosen work,

Nor honored merit, nor the patterned theme

Of daily labor, nor the crowns nor wreaths

Of seventy years.

These are not all of life,

O France, whose sons amid the rolling thunder

Of cannon stand in trenches where the dead

Clog the ensanguined ice. But life to these

Prophetic and enraptured souls is vision,

And the keen ecstasy of fated strife,

And divination of the loss as gain,

And reading mysteries with brightened eyes

In fiery shock and dazzling pain before

The orient splendour of the face of Death,

As a great light beside a shadowy sea;

And in a high will's strenuous exercise,

Where the warmed spirit finds its fullest strength

And is no more afraid, and in the stroke

Of azure lightning when the hidden essence

And shifting meaning of man's spiritual worth

And mystical significance in time

Are instantly distilled to one clear drop

Which mirrors earth and heaven.

This is life

Flaming to heaven in a minute's span

When the breath of battle blows the smouldering spark.

And across these seas

We who cry Peace and treasure life and cling

To cities, happiness, or daily toil

For daily bread, or trail the long routine

Of seventy years, taste not the terrible wine

Whereof you drink, who drain and toss the cup

Empty and ringing by the finished feast;

Or have it shaken from your hand by sight

Of God against the olive woods.

As Joan of Arc amid the apple trees

With sacred joy first heard the voices, then

Obeying plunged at Orleans in a field

Of spears and lived her dream and died in fire,

Thou, France, hast heard the voices and hast lived

The dream and known the meaning of the dream,

And read its riddle: how the soul of man

May to one greatest purpose make itself

A lens of clearness, how it loves the cup

Of deepest truth, and how its bitterest gall

Turns sweet to soul's surrender.

And you say:

Take days for repetition, stretch your hands

For mocked renewal of familiar things:

The beaten path, the chair beside the window,

The crowded street, the task, the accustomed sleep,

And waking to the task, or many springs

Of lifted cloud, blue water, flowering fields --

The prison-house grows close no less, the feast

A place of memory sick for senses dulled

Down to the dusty end where pitiful Time

Grown weary cries Enough!