The Great War

from Poems of the Great War, an electronic edition

The Pyres

Pyres in the night, in the night!

And the roaring yellow and red.

Trooper, trooper, why so white?

We are out to gather our dead.

We have brought dry boughs from the bloody wood

And the torn hill-side;

We have felled great trunks, wet with blood

Of brothers that died;

We have piled them high for a flaming bed,

Hemlock and ash and pine for a bed,

A throne in the night, a throne for a bed --

And we go to gather our dead.

There where the oaks loom, dark and high,

Over the sombre hill,

Body on body, cold and still,

Under the stars they lie.

There where the silver river runs,

Careless and calm as fate,

Mowed, mowed by the terrible guns,

The stricken brothers wait.

There by the smoldering house, and there

Where the red smoke hangs on the heavy air,

Under the ruins, under the hedge,

Cheek by cheek at the forest-edge;

Back to breast, three men deep,

Hearing not bugle or drum,

In the desperate trench they died to keep,

Under the starry dome they sleep,

Murmuring, "Brothers, come!"

This way! I heard a call

Like a stag's when he dies.

Under the willows I saw him fall.

Under the willows he lies.

Give me your hand. Raise him up.

Lift his head. Strike a light.

This morning we shared a crust and a cup.

He wants no supper to-night.

Take his feet. Here the shells

Broke all day long,

Moaning and shrieking hell's

Bacchanalian song!

Last night he helped me bear

Men to hell's fĂȘting.

To-morrow, maybe, somewhere,

We, too, shall lie waiting.

Pyres in the night, in the night!

Weary and sick and dumb,

Under the flickering, faint starlight

The drooping gleaners come.

Out of the darkness, dim

Shadowy shadow-bearers,

Dragging into the bale-fire's rim

Pallid death-farers.

Pyres in the night, in the night!

In the plain, on the hill.

No volleys for their last rite.

We need our powder -- to kill.

High on their golden bed,

Pile up the dead!

Pyres in the night, in the night!

Torches, piercing the gloom!

Look! How the sparks take flight!

Stars, stars, make room!

Smoke, that was bone and blood!

Hark! The deep roar.

It is the souls telling God

The glory of war!