The Great War

from A Treasury of War Poetry, an electronic edition

To a Soldier in Hospital

Courage came to you with your boyhood's grace

Of ardent life and limb.

Each day new dangers steeled you to the test,

To ride, to climb, to swim.

Your hot blood taught you carelessness of death

With every breath.

So when you went to play another game

You could not but be brave:

An Empire's team, a rougher football field,

The end -- perhaps your grave.

What matter? On the winning of a goal

You staked your soul.

Yes, you wore courage as you wore your youth

With carelessness and joy.

But in what Spartan school of discipline

Did you get patience, boy?

How did you learn to bear this long-drawn pain

And not complain?

Restless with throbbing hopes, with thwarted aims,

Impulsive as a colt,

How do you lie here month by weary month

Helpless, and not revolt?

What joy can these monotonous days afford

Here in a ward?

Yet you are merry as the birds in spring,

Or feign the gaiety,

Lest those who dress and tend your wound each day

Should guess the agony.

Lest they should suffer -- this the only fear

You let draw near.

Greybeard philosophy has sought in books

And argument this truth,

That man is greater than his pain, but you

Have learnt it in your youth.

You know the wisdom taught by Calvary

At twenty-three.

Death would have found you brave, but braver still

You face each lagging day,

A merry Stoic, patient, chivalrous,

Divinely kind and gay.

You bear your knowledge lightly, graduate

Of unkind Fate.

Careless philosopher, the first to laugh,

The latest to complain,

Unmindful that you teach, you taught me this

In your long fight with pain:

Since God made man so good -- here stands my creed --

God's good indeed.