The Great War

from A Treasury of War Poetry, an electronic edition

The Trenches

Endless lanes sunken in the clay,

Bays, and traverses, fringed with wasted herbage,

Seed-pods of blue scabious, and some lingering blooms;

And the sky, seen as from a well,

Brilliant with frosty stars.

We stumble, cursing, on the slippery duck-boards.

Goaded like the damned by some invisible wrath,

A will stronger than weariness, stronger than animal fear,

Implacable and monotonous.

Here a shaft, slanting, and below

A dusty and flickering light from one feeble candle

And prone figures sleeping uneasily,

Murmuring,

And men who cannot sleep,

With faces impassive as masks,

Bright, feverish eyes, and drawn lips,

Sad, pitiless, terrible faces,

Each an incarnate curse.

Here in a bay, a helmeted sentry

Silent and motionless, watching while two sleep,

And he sees before him

With indifferent eyes the blasted and torn land

Peopled with stiff prone forms, stupidly rigid,

As tho' they had not been men.

Dead are the lips where love laughed or sang,

The hands of youth eager to lay hold of life,

Eyes that have laughed to eyes,

And these were begotten,

O Love, and lived lightly, and burnt

With the lust of a man's first strength: ere they were rent,

Almost at unawares, savagely; and strewn

In bloody fragments, to be the carrion

Of rats and crows.

And the sentry moves not, searching

Night for menace with weary eyes.