The Great War

from A Treasury of War Poetry, an electronic edition

To Fellow Travellers in Greece

March-September, 1914

'T was in the piping time of peace

We trod the sacred soil of Greece,

Nor thought, where the Ilissus runs,

Of Teuton craft or Teuton guns;

Nor dreamt that, ere the year was spent,

Their iron challenge insolent

Would round the world's horizons pour,

From Europe to the Australian shore.

The tides of war had ebb'd away

From Trachis and Thermopylæ,

Long centuries had come and gone

Since that fierce day at Marathon;

Freedom was firmly based, and we

Wall'd by our own encircling sea;

The ancient passions dead, and men

Battl'd with ledger and with pen.

So seem'd it, but to them alone

The wisdom of the gods is known;

Lest freedom's price decline, from far

Zeus hurl'd the thunderbolt of war.

And so once more the Persian steel

The armies of the Greeks must feel,

And once again a Xerxes know

The virtue of a Spartan foe.

Thus may the cloudy fates unroll'd

Retrace the starry circles old,

And the recurrent heavens decree

A Periclean dynasty.