The Great War

from A Treasury of War Poetry, an electronic edition

The Messines Road

I

The road that runs up to Messines

Is double-locked with gates of fire,

Barred with high ramparts, and between

The unbridged river, and the wire.

None ever goes up to Messines,

For Death lurks all about the town,

Death holds the vale as his demesne,

And only Death moves up and down.

II

Choked with wild weeds, and overgrown

With rank grass, all torn and rent

By war's opposing engines, strewn

With d├ębris from each day's event!

And in the dark the broken trees,

Whose arching boughs were once its shade,

Grim and distorted, ghostly ease

In groans their souls vexed and afraid.

Yet here the farmer drove his cart,

Here friendly folk would meet and pass,

Here bore the good wife eggs to mart

And old and young walked up to Mass.

Here schoolboys lingered in the way,

Here the bent packman laboured by,

And lovers at the end o' the day

Whispered their secret blushingly.

A goodly road for simple needs,

An avenue to praise and paint,

Kept by fair use from wreck and weeds,

Blessed by the shrine of its own saint.

III

The road that runs up to Messines!

Ah, how we guard it day and night!

And how they guard it, who o'erween

A stricken people, with their might!

But we shall go up to Messines

Even thro' that fire-defended gate.

Over and thro' all else between

And give the highway back its state.