The Great War

from Poems of the Great War, an electronic edition

They Held Their Ground

Grey broke the light of that Sabbath dawn

On the English pickets,

Gold rose the sun o'er the unreaped corn

And the Hainault thickets.

Through the park at home, where the young rooks caw'd,

And the dew lay deep on the churchyard sward,

Went Mary, arisen to meet her Lord --

While Mons must be held for England.

Clear broke the day as the bugles blew, --

Who shall hear them to-morrow?

Sternly the thunder of Edom grew,

And the tally of sorrow.

Right wing, left wing, centre attacked,

Legions launched like a cataract,

But the English stood to their plighted pact, --

Yes, Mons must be held for England!

Pitiless noon, when the screaming shard

Left the air acrid.

But they looked on Malplaquet and Oudenarde,

So the soil was sacred.

And they thought (who knows?) on some Surrey lane,

On some mother's kiss, or some school refrain,

And they tightened the girths of their saddles again,

Since Mons must be held for England.

Red set the sun in the angry skies

Ere the fight was over.

Fierce were the beams of the cruisers' eyes

By the cliffs of Dover.

News -- ill news -- for Namur is lost!

No need for the Eagle to count the cost.

But Mons was the merest hill at the most,

Yet Mons had been held for England.

Lord, Who hast known what a slain Son is,

Judge Thou their labor!

Lifted they eyes to the vanities?

Deceived their neighbor?

Sift Thou the souls that are utterly Thine,

Clean are those cold hands of covert design;

Silent they lie in their last long line,

Who died to hold Mons for England!