The Great War

from Poems of the Great War, an electronic edition

Master and Pupil

(To J. F. R.)

Two years ago I taught him Greek,

And used to give him hints on bowling:

His classics were a trifle weak;

His "action" needed some controlling.

Convinced of my superior nous

I thought him crude, and I was rather

Inclined, as master of his House,

To treat him like a heavy father.

I wrote the usual reports

Upon his "lack of concentration";

Though certainly at winter Sports

He did not earn this condemnation.

I took him out San Moritz way

One Christmas, and our rĂ´les inverted,

For in the land of ski and sleigh

His mastery was soon asserted.

I thought him just a normal lad,

Well-mannered, wholesome, unaffected;

The makings of a Galahad

In him I had not yet detected;

And when I strove to mend his style,

Blue-penciling his exercises,

I little guessed that all the while

His soul was ripe for high emprises.

Two years ago! and here I am,

Rejected as unfit; still trying

(As Verrall taught me on the Cam)

To make Greek Plays electrifying.

And he who, till he was eighteen,

Found life one long excuse for laughing,

For eighteen solid months has been

Continuously "strafed" or "strafing."

He writes me letters from the front

Which prove, although he doesn't know it,

That though his words are plain and blunt,

He has the vision of a poet;

And lately, on his eight days' rest,

After long months of hard campaigning,

He came, and lo! an angel guest

I was aware of entertaining.

About himself he seldom spoke,

But often of his widowed mother,

And how she nobly bore the stroke

That robbed them of his sailor brother.

And still, from loyalty or whim,

He would defer to my opinion,

Unconscious how I envied him

His hard-earned gift of self-dominion.

For he had faced the awful King

Of Shadows in the darksome Valley,

And scorned the terrors of his sting

In many a perilous storm and sally.

Firm in the faith that never tires

Or thinks that man is God-forsaken,

From war's fierce seven-times-heated fires

He had emerged unseared, unshaken.

There are, alas! no sons of mine

To serve their country in her trial,

Embattled in the cause divine

Of sacrifice and self-denial;

But if there were, I could not pray

That God might shield them from disaster

More strongly than I plead to-day

For this my pupil and my master.