The Great War

from Poems of the Great War, an electronic edition

The Red Country

In the red country

The sky flowers

All day.

Strange mechanical birds

With struts of wire and glazed wings

Cross the impassive sky

Which burgeons ever and again

With ephemeral unfolding flowers,

White and yellow and brown,

That spread and dissolve.

And smaller rapid droning birds go by,

And bright metallic bees whose sting is death.

Behind the hills,

Behind the whispering woods whose leaves are falling

Yellow and red to cover the red clay,

Misshapen monsters squat with wide black maws

Gulping smoke and belching flame.

From the mirk reed beds of the age of coal,

Wallowing out of their sleep in the earlier slime,

They are resurrected and stagger forth to slay --

The prehistoric Beasts we thought were dead.

They are blinded with long sleep,

But men with clever weapons

Goad them to fresh pastures.

Beside still waters

They drink of blood and neigh a horrible laughter,

And their ponderous tread shakes happy cities down,

And the thresh of their flail-like tails

Makes acres smoulder and smoke

Blackened of golden harvest.

The Beasts are back,

And men, in their spreading shadow,

Inhale the odor of their nauseous breath.

Inebriate with it they fashion other gods

Than the gods of day-dream.

Of iron and steel are little images

Made of the Beasts.

And men rush forth and fling themselves for ritual

Before these gods, before the lumbering Beasts, --

And some make long obeisance.

Umber and violet flowers of the sky,

The sun, like a blazing Mars, clanks across the blue

And plucks you, to fashion into a nosegay

To offer Venus, his old-time paramour.

But now she shrinks

And pales

Like Cynthia, her more ascetic sister...

Vulcan came to her arms in the grimy garb

Of toil, he smelt of the forge and the racketing workshop,

But not of blood.

And, if she smells these flowers, they bubble ruby blood

That trickles between her fingers.

Yet is a dream flowing over the red country,

Yet is a light growing, for all the black furrows of the red country...

The machines are foe or friend

As the world desires.

The Beasts shall sleep again.

And in that sleep, when the land is twilight-still

And men take thought among the frozen waves of the dead,

The Sowers go forth once more,

Sowers of vision, sowers of the seed

Of peace or war.

Shall it be peace indeed?

Great shadowy figures moving from hill to hill

Of tangled bodies, with rhythmic stride and cowled averted head,

What do you sow with hands funereal --

New savageries imperial,

Unthinking pomps for arrogant, witless men?

Or seed for the people in strong democracy?

What do you see

With your secret eyes, and sow for us, that we must reap again?