The Great War

from A Treasury of War Poetry, an electronic edition

Place de la Concorde

August 14, 1914

[Since the bombardment of Strasburg, August 14, 1870, her statue in Paris, representing Alsace, has been draped in mourning by the French people.]

Near where the royal victims fell

In days gone by, caught in the swell

Of a ruthless tide

Of human passion, deep and wide:

There where we two

A Nation's later sorrow knew --

To-day, O friend! I stood

Amid a self-ruled multitude

That by nor sound nor word

Betrayed how mightily its heart was stirred.

A memory Time never could efface --

A memory of Grief --

Like a great Silence brooded o'er the place;

And men breathed hard, as seeking for relief

From an emotion strong

That would not cry, though held in check too long.

One felt that joy drew near --

A joy intense that seemed itself to fear --

Brightening in eyes that had been dull,

As all with feeling gazed

Upon the Strasburg figure, raised

Above us -- mourning, beautiful!

Then one stood at the statue's base, and spoke --

Men needed not to ask what word;

Each in his breast the message heard,

Writ for him by Despair,

That evermore in moving phrase

Breathes from the Invalides and Père Lachaise --

Vainly it seemed, alas!

But now, France looking on the image there,

Hope gave her back the lost Alsace.

A deeper hush fell on the crowd:

A sound -- the lightest -- seemed too loud

(Would, friend, you had been there!)

As to that form the speaker rose,

Took from her, fold on fold,

The mournful crape, gray-worn and old,

Her, proudly, to disclose,

And with the touch of tender care

That fond emotion speaks,

'Mid tears that none could quite command,

Placed the Tricolor in her hand,

And kissed her on both cheeks!

Notes

[Since the bombardment of Strasburg, August 14, 1870, her statue in Paris, representing Alsace, has been draped in mourning by the French people.]