The Great War

from Poems of the Great War, an electronic edition

A Ballad of Deathless Dons

or:

"When the Assault Was Intended to the City"

(In honor of an Oxford Corps composed of those concerning whom it may be said most truly, in Mr. Belloc's words, that they are

"Dons admirable! Dons of Might!...

Dons English, worthy of the land.")

I

The Regulars fight with all their might, the Navy keeps the seas,

The Terrier1 sniffs on bridges and cliffs, wherever a foe might sneeze,

K's keen recruit is learning to shoot, the Boy Scout scouteth still, --

And after them all, the dons, the dons! -the agèd dons do drill!

They know, they know how well things go on the Merton fields of France;

But the S.C.R.'s must be fields of Mars -- they dare leave nought to chance;

"Louvain!" is the word, and their souls are stirred; for they think of their matchless tuns,

And the ground shall be dusted ere Oxford's crusted port shall be broached by Huns.

II

The proud Professors toe the line

And turn to the left for right incline.

Forgot, forgot are their divers lores

In the patriot stress of forming fours.

Their mortar-boards are a hive for bees

(Which they often were) as they stand at ease.

Though every morn they are wisdom's fount

In matters which nowadays hardly count,

Each afternoon each neophyte

Gets totally mixed between left and right

(And a don at maths. and a logic don

Turn each to each and are pounced upon).

At the terrible voice of the tu -- the sergeant

Their gills go gules and their locks more argent.

And still as the breath comes short, and the knees

Wobble in places, and many a wheeze

Is torn from the depth of complaining tums,

Down the weak line the whisper comes:

"Memento Louvain!" -- or "Rheims, μέμνησθε!"

"Oxford!" they cry, "shall beer-swillers fleece thee?"

And still -- though their breath comes yet more short --

They drill like mad to preserve her port.

III

See, in the foremost rank,

His brow with sudor dank,

His gown unpipeclayed in his loyal hurry,

Private Professor Gilbert Murray! --

Hear, oh, hear,

With almost swooning ear,

The sergeant (Chiron in disguise),

With how sarcastic drawl he

Damneth the eyes

Of Private Prof. Eng. Lit. Sir Walter Raleigh! --

See yet again

With uncontrollèd pleasure

There, marking time amain

As with such feet as make a lyric measure,

Like Æschylus upon the Marathon day, --

Next to that nice ex-proctor, --

Private and Poet Laureate Dr.

Bridges, M.A.! --

And see -- but let your eyes with pride be dim! --

Him who professes Art and Archæology

Standing as rear-rank man to him

Of Anthropology.

(Well knows the latter how to dodge,

That bullets in no deadly place may lodge!) --

Him of Eng. Law behold,

Not overbold

To reason why when sergeants bid him charge:

Him of Greek History, him of Geography,

All very fine and large,

This, swift to seize advantage of topography,

That, to announce how ne'er a corps did train

So well since Sparta went upon the wane.

And there be others:

A publisher and sundry heads of houses,

Spurred by North Oxford spouses,

Bidden go forth by yet more agèd mothers;

And, standing desperately at attention

(But looking forward to their tea and scones),

Innumerable dons

And parsons beyond mention.

IV

They are not afraid of the Boys' Brigade, for they've taken the kiddies' guns,

Which shoot nohow -- but they've learnt by now to depend on the end that stuns.

And all the rules of the Final Schools combine in a splendid spur,

When the Pyrrhic phalanx does right-about-turn and the order is "As you were!"

Oh, K's recruit is learning to shoot, the Boy Scout scouteth still, --

But after them all, the dons, the dons! -- the deathless dons do drill!

"Louvain!" is the word, and their souls are stirred; for they think of their matchless tuns,

And the ground shall be dusted ere Oxford's crusted port shall be broached by Huns!

Notes

(In honor of an Oxford Corps composed of those concerning whom it may be said most truly, in Mr. Belloc's words, that they are "Dons admirable! Dons of Might!... Dons English, worthy of the land.")

1. Obsolete word signifying a mere voluntary fighter unfit even for adequate defence purposes.